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Markelle Fultz isn’t the only Class of 2017 point guard entering the new NBA season with a revamped jump shot. Check out the stylings on young Lonzo Ball, who’s still working his way back from mid-July arthroscopic surgery on the balky left knee that limited him to 52 games during his rookie run for the Los Angeles Lakers, but who’s back in the gym, cleared for everything but full-contact 5-on-5 and, from the looks of it, firing away with a tweaked windup and delivery:
With the caveat that I’m no shot doctor, the motion doesn’t look 180 degrees different from last year’s model — just a bit tighter, more muted, more abbreviated and potentially quicker. The ball doesn’t seem to travel quite as far to the left of Lonzo’s head before he brings it back to snap it loose, releasing it closer to the center of his body than he had before.
It’s not the drastic reconstruction some had hoped for after Ball experienced perhaps the worst shooting start to a career in NBA history, but it’s a start, and it’s got at least a couple of observers — pretty important ones in Lakerland — very excited for the possibilities of what the playmaking UCLA product could produce in his second pro season. From Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times:
While hesitating to call it a total teardown, both [Lakers general manager Rob] Pelinka and [Lakers president of basketball operations Magic] Johnson talked about the changes in Ball’s jumper — a form at least partly responsible for the second-worst three-point percentage of anyone brave enough to attempt as many as he did.
“I think his shot looks incredible,” Pelinka said. “I feel like you can boil it down to release, the spin on the ball and arch. So I had many conversations with Zo, of … just get those things right where you feel fluid about it. He would take things in. The way he’s shooting the ball looks a lot more fluid now.”
And from Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com:
Johnson explained that Ball didn’t alter his motion as much as where he sets and releases his shot; he now brings the ball a bit more in front and straight away, with his follow-through also more out in front.
“And, man, it is beautiful,” Johnson said.
“We explained that this is going to be the most important offseason, and while he could be on the court, his shot looked great. He is going to be ready to have a breakout season and build on what he did last season, because it was only a couple of things he had to do better, and that was driving to the basket, finish and get the midrange in terms of getting his shot where he is on balance. It is not his shot. He just has to be on balance. … I am excited for Lonzo, and he is going to be fine.”
Truth be told, Ball doesn’t necessarily need to take a monster step forward as a shot-maker to be a positive contributor for Luke Walton’s Lakers.
His defensive gifts alone — as a 6-foot-6 guard capable of checking either backcourt position, as a smart positional defender who can execute his help responsibilities in Walton’s scheme, as an opportunistic gambler who uses his length and instincts to knife into passing lanes for steals and deflections — marked him as a helper as a rookie, ranking 20th out of 120 2017-18 freshmen in win shares and fourth in Value Over Replacement Player, according to Basketball-Reference.com. He finished third among all point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric, and the Lakers — who finished 13th out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency — allowed two fewer points per 100 possessions with Ball on the court than when he was off it, according to NBA.com’s stat tool.
Just by sticking his man, pitching in on the glass — only four guards grabbed a higher share of available rebounds last season — and moving the rock, Ball earned his keep. To take the next step, though, he’s got to become dangerous on the other end: a threat to make something happen outside the context of a hit-ahead feed or a swing-swing extra pass, someone opponents have to guard … or, at least, someone who can credibly make them pay for not guarding him.
Adding strength in the offseason that could help him finish through traffic inside and create more separation from defenders ought to pay dividends on that score. But ultimately, Ball’s best shot at making significant improvement as a scorer for himself and a floor-spacer for others is proving he can consistently knock down perimeter shots at something approaching the 41.2 percent clip he put up in his lone year on campus in Westwood.
If Lonzo becomes a viable catch-and-shoot option, someone who can kickstart a fast break and then present a threat as a release-valve trailer to capitalize on the attention drawn by the Lakers’ troupe of newly imported ball-handlers (LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson) and returning offensive mainstays (Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram), then he could play an important role in helping L.A.’s offense rise from the bottom third of the league up to playoff-caliber respectability. It’s something that Johnson, Pelinka, Walton and the rest of the Lakers’ braintrust is counting on, and so far, the powers that be seem to think that last year’s No. 2 pick is off to the right kind of start.
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