Lonzo Ball has best night as pro, growing in stride with Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 29: Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans: (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 29: Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans: (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Ripping apart the Houston Rockets defense, as limited as they were, Lonzo Ball posted his best night not only in New Orleans but as an NBA hooper last night.

Closing the calendar year 2019 with a five-game winning streak in tow, the New Orleans Pelicans might’ve found their point guard of the future in their final win of the decade, as Lonzo Ball continues to blossom into a brilliant offensive director.

In last night’s 127-112 win over the Houston Rockets, Lonzo took clear control of the Pelicans on the offensive end, as his teammates struggled to find a flow in the first half.

Finishing with 27 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals, Ball finished with a +12 plus/minus and scored his most points so far in a Pelicans uniform in just over 40 minutes as a member of the team’s starting five.

Lonzo tied Brandon Ingram for last night’s team-high in points, but he was key in setting up many of Jrue Holiday‘s 25 points and was even more crucial in feeding a red-hot E’Twaun Moore for 25 points off the bench, as Ball found the veteran guard wide open many times beyond the arc.

Continuing a season-long trend, Lonzo Ball looked very impressive from beyond the three-point line, where he buried a career-high last night, going 7-of-12 from the perimeter to improve his average to 36.1% on the season.

While the 22-year-old point guard struggled at times out of the gate, including a demotion to the bench just a few weeks ago, he’s quickly risen and looks like a key cog in the Pelicans’ future.

Clearly seeing the court with a refreshingly high level of basketball IQ, Lonzo Ball continues to prove his interest in attacking opponents more frequently on drives to the painted area.

Over the last six games where the Pelicans have gone 5-1, Ball has averaged 13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.5 steals while shooting 43.9% from three-point range. Ball has delivered starts in four straight contests and has averaged 28 minutes over the stretch.

At the beginning of the year, many fans around the organization were frustrated by some of the sloppy turnovers and lack of team-oriented basketball played by Lonzo, but he’s really started to make some strides.

Seemingly, it was just a matter of shedding the rust built up from an ankle injury suffered last March that help him out of basketball activities until the start of camp; he wasn’t able to make the most of the offseason like many of his healthy colleagues.

Growing alongside a team of fresh faces, Lonzo Ball is coming into his own at the same time the rest of the team is just starting to figure out what this season holds.

Not just rising as one of the best young scoring and distributing threats for this team, Lonzo has made a defensive leap along with the rest of this Pelicans squad.

Holding opponents to 40.4% on 7.8 field goal attempts per game over the last six contests, Ball is making life harder on opposing shooters than the 46.8% rate on 10.2 attempts that currently represent his seasonal average.

Over the last six games, his defensive rating has also crashed down to a highly impressive 102 rating, as his 113 season rating to this point has simply not impressed in the stat sheet or to the eyes.

Apparently, the team’s leaders decided on a defensive overhaul that better suit what the whole team does best on that end of the floor. That being said, there’s been a clear boost in intensity from Lonzo since the team starting finding its defensive stronghold.

Considering Ball is usually tasked with taking on a plenty capable scoring guard from the other team, he’s done a really nice job finding a greater comfort zone as a ball-stopper in this New Orleans Pelicans’ defensive revamp.

During his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, there were times when Lonzo Ball looked like he could make a leap and become one of the elite defensive players in the NBA. Since joining the Pelicans, his defense had clearly regressed, but he’s suddenly looking very good on that end.

When he was drafted with the second-overall pick in 2017, the Lakers hoped Lonzo would bringing game-altering impact as their team’s leading guard. In New Orleans, he’s starting to show signs that he could fill that role when it comes time.

Still not overly impressive in his season averages through 26 games played, Ball is averaging 10.8 points, 5.2 assists, and 5.8 rebounds with a 49.1% true shooting percentage, though all those numbers are feeling a slow rise.

Lonzo Ball was always going to be most impactful when playing alongside Zion Williamson, who should make his NBA debut sometime halfway through January. When these two finally get a chance to share the regular-season hardwood, Lonzo’s value could shoot through the roof.

For now, the New Orleans Pelicans will have a few more games to get Lonzo even more comfort in the starting five, a group that he’s hoping to stick with when Zion returns to action. Right now, he looks like the fit with that group over J.J. Redick, who will still play heavy minutes off the bench.

Next. 3 Questions for Zion's return to action. dark

Things are on a sharp uptick in New Orleans and Lonzo Ball is a big reason why their fortunes have turned for the best. With continued performance like the one from last night, one that seems repeatable with focus, Ball is going to help this team win for a long time.