Does Lonzo Ball make sense for New Orleans Pelicans’ future timeline?

Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans have some tough choices for their future, but Lonzo Ball might not be a part of the answer if he doesn’t start playing downhill.

Things are getting dicey for the New Orleans Pelicans as they’ve plummeted to 14th place in the Western Conference, just 3 games ahead of the injury-excused Golden State Warriors for the worst record in the league.

With plenty of blame and fingerpointing to go around from all angles of the organization, one of the most frustrating players to watch has been point guard Lonzo Ball, who has looked both like a brilliant, multi-tooled leading guard and at like he belongs in the team’s second unit.

Starting in 10, but only playing in 13 of the team’s 21 games so far this season, we don’t have the biggest sample size for Lonzo, but there’s certainly reason for discouragement.

After a 2-of-10 from three-point range and 2-of-12 overall shooting performance in an ugly home loss to the Dallas Mavericks, questions have been raised about Lonzo’s ability to be this team’s ballhandler and leading guard. Overall, Ball posted 6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 turnover without a free-throw attempt.

Lonzo Ball isn’t having a bad season and I’m still convinced he’s a very, very good NBA player, but he has to prove he’s more valuable than just a shooting threat with sneaky passing ability.

On the year, Ball is averaging career-highs scoring 10.9 points, 6.8 three-point attempts per contest, and shooting but has seen tick-backs since his Lakers’ days, averaging a career-low 4.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

He’s still averaging 5.6 assists, which is a lower than his rookie-high of 7.2 per contest, but just barely better than the 5.4 he averaged last year in Los Angeles.

With other options in house, the New Orleans Pelicans might decide Lonzo isn’t the best long-term value compared to someone like Frank Jackson.

At this point, Pelicans fans have to realize that their 2019-2020 season is more about learning than winning. Some of the biggest takeaways so far come from some of the lesser-known players on this team showing really exciting skillsets that’ll keep them in the league for a long time.

Displaying his skills in a 19 game, 15.6 minutes-per-contest sample size is 21-year-old backup point guard Frank Jackson.

Having a nice season off the bench in New Orleans, Jackson averages 7.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists, while shooting a less-than-impressive 38% from the floor with a 32.1% rate from three-point range, but still plays confident and consistent basketball.

Jackson is the same age as Ball, but went 31st overall in the same draft, lacking the same pedigree of the second-overall pick in Lonzo.

When evaluating the two side-by-side, they’re kind of similar players in practice, though Lonzo’s big frame and court vision beat Jackson in the intangibles department.

New Orleans Pelicans, Frank Jackson, Lonzo Ball
Frank Jackson vs Lonzo Ball per 36 minutes. Stats courtesy of /

Certainly, Ball carries the day in the passing category, but as a whole, I feel comfortable saying these two players aren’t that far apart in terms of production.

On the other hand, when it comes time to actually execute the gameplan for the New Orleans Pelicans, Jackson is showing a lot of the same things fans want from Lonzo.

Either way, I feel that it’s a damning statement for Lonzo, as he’s performing at a comparable level to what’s been a pretty pedestrian season from Jackson in terms of the expected performance of a rotation-level talent.

Eventually, a team is going to pay a healthy sum for the services of Ball, while Frank Jackson will probably never get the mega-deal that’ll be owed to Lonzo.

Including his brother, it seems like a better, less-expensive guard could be on the board in the 2020 NBA Draft for these New Orleans Pelicans.

When you think about the player talent on this New Orleans Pelicans squad, one of their biggest stockpiled positions is also one with some of the least answers.

Right now, Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick, Lonzo Ball, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, and Didi Louzada are all being paid to play guard for the Pelicans.

Not only can they not afford the contracts to keep all of those players together for the future, but there’s also just not enough minutes for all eight players to be happy.

Redick and Holiday are getting older, Moore seems destined for a new home after the season, and Louzada has yet to sniff the NBA, so they’ll need to ensure a young player is on the roster.

However, this team’s stockpile of picks makes it pretty obvious that they’re willing to upgrade positions of dissatisfaction.

Whether it’s in the draft, free agency, or a trade, this team would be shortsighted not to be targeting a more handle-savvy guard to help run their offense, especially if Ball isn’t going to get to the rim.

Last night, I finally got a chance to watch Cole Anthony play for North Carolina. While the Heels took a vicious home beatdown from my alma mater Ohio State Buckeyes, Anthony jumped off the page as a difference-maker, someone whose skills will certainly translate in the NBA.

Further, Ball’s brother LaMelo is projected to be the number one pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and the tape shows Ball who might have an even higher ceiling than his uber-talented sibling.

Come time for the 2020 offseason, the New Orleans Pelicans are going to have a full season sample size to evaluate their players in addition to a ton of assets that could turn them into a tough-out in the West next year.

If Lonzo doesn’t prove he can control the reigns of the starting point position, the team would be prudent to explore other options, including Jackson, to help stabilize the position for the next decade of basketball in the Big Easy.

Next. Is Redick the key to the Pelicans offense?. dark

Lonzo Ball has a lot of time left in the season to keep refining his game and prove he’s a long-term fit for the New Orleans Pelicans. However, if he continues to play roughly even to players like Jackson, the team might have to make a move to benefit their own future.