Lonzo Ball is the engine behind Pelicans’ resurgence over last 20 games

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - FEBRUARY 08: Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - FEBRUARY 08: Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Taking over as the team’s leading ballhandler, Lonzo Ball continues to be a driving force behind the New Orleans Pelicans’ recent offensive success.

After coming into the season as one of the biggest question marks on the roster, Lonzo Ball has come into his own as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans and it’s really starting to show up night-after-night on the court.

Continuing to develop with one of the most exciting, young rosters in the league, continues to look like a longterm fit not only for New Orleans but as a member of the NBA.

Last night, he stepped up in a big way against a very good Indiana Pacers team, especially with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson out of the Pelicans’ lineup.

In the win, he posted 15 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting, but in his 39 minutes of run time, he showed composure, confidence, and clutch.

On one particular possession inside of two-minutes, he stared down Myles Turner at the top of the key, used his footwork to turn the perimeter defender slightly out of position, and then Ball turned on the burners, winning a footrace to the basket for a crucial Pelicans’ bucket.

Earlier in the season, Ball was moved to a role on the bench as he struggled to consistently be in sync with his teammates.

Whether it was a matter of getting healthy following an ankle injury that ended his previous season or just developing chemistry, he’s been pretty breathtaking to watch for most of the year.

When he’s on the floor, Lonzo Ball is the motor that keeps this New Orleans Pelicans’ offense turning. His combination of floor vision and basketball IQ continues to result in high-percentage looks for his teammates.

This isn’t to say Lonzo is a perfect or even a known quantity basketball player; he’s not. Fortunately, we’re seeing all the tools you’d want to see in the development in a young, leading guard this season.

Obviously, Ball needs to continue working on his jump shot, or perhaps shooting form in general. His paltry 55.8% free-throw rate this season and 47.4% free-throw rate on his career are discouraging for a player who is at his best when attacking the rim.

Coming into the season, we were made aware of Lonzo’s work with shooting coach Fred Vinson, who has drastically adjusted the hitched jumper that plagued the early days of the point guard’s career.

If Vinson and Ball are able to spend more time on his shot this summer, particularly on free throws, it seems like Ball becomes that much better for the Pelicans.

Lonzo Ball fits what the New Orleans Pelicans want to be going into the future, especially as he continues to find comfort with the team.

The New Orleans Pelicans are seemingly using this season as a competitive audit to learn how their current coaching staff operates with their core of players. Fortunately for them, the players and coaching have started to really develop good chemistry.

One of the big things they had to learn is if their three-player pieces from the Los Angeles Lakers, Ingram, Ball, and Josh Hart would able to learn to fly in a brand-new organization. Certainly, they’ve gotten really optimistic results on all three up to this point.

As the team continues to get healthy and starts to really feel like a unit on the floor, Ball continues to showcase his ability as a team’s leading man.

Over the last 20 games, Lonzo is averaging 14 points, 8.8 assists, and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 37.9% from three on 7.3 attempts per game. Over that span of games, the Pelicans are 12-8 and really starting to make some noise in the West’s eighth-seed race.

The efficiency in his performance has been tangible. When he’s on the floor, the offense has had a certain cool about it, which is great, because they were clearly pushing way too hard as a team at the start the season.

For bigs, having a guard like Ball has to be a dream come true, no matter the size or skillset.

The chemistry between Ball and Zion Williamson has already been recounted and displayed; the two seem like a potentially transcendent two-man pairing.

Alongside Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes, the combination makes the most sense with Ball acting as the pick-and-roll point guard, as in all sets, the team can theoretically get a lot of downhill action going towards the rim.

However, when you put him on the floor with Nicolò Melli, it allows the stretch four to space the arc and draw bigs out of the paint, which gives Ball immense options with so much court to work.

Creating room around the court is what separates the good teams from the bad, but being able to create with no room is what separates the fine guards from the great. When the Pelicans are creating space and Lonzo can create within those windows, it’s basketball poetry.

Thanks to his basketball instinct and IQ, Ball is processing an opposing defensive unit at an incredibly high level, which is why sometimes it seems like he pulls a perfect assist out of thin air.

His combination of size and creativity was what created so much intrigue around his standing as a prospect. Now watching his skillset come into fruition in the NBA is a complete joy.

When Lonzo Ball becomes eligible for his rookie-scale contract extension this summer, it seems beyond a good bet that he’ll be able to get a deal done before the start of the 2020-2021 season, though it’ll be a matter of his finish this season and the dollar amount on the Pelicans’ end.

Certainly, the Pelicans will have the motivation to get the deal done. They’ll be interested in solidifying their books heading into the future, as answers are always more valuable than questions in an NBA front office.

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As the New Orleans Pelicans continue to not only push for the playoffs but learn what the future could hold for their promising young roster, the positive development from Lonzo Ball has to be incredibly encouraging.