His early career was plagued with controversy, but Lonzo has quietly turned into a leader for the New Orleans Pelicans and could be a future All-Star.
Very few players have as much hype and controversy coming out of college as the New Orleans Pelicans’ Lonzo Ball. His outspoken and sometimes misguided father, signature Big Baller Brand shoe company and reality TV show ensured Ball and his family were constantly in the headlines. Add that he was drafted second by the Los Angeles Lakers and ended up playing with LeBron James, and you have a recipe for a tabloid bonanza.
All of this attention took its toll and Ball struggled in his second season after a strong rookie campaign. He was then jettisoned to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of a package for Anthony Davis and Ball quickly became an afterthought, as most agreed the centerpiece of the trade was combo-forward Brandon Ingram.
Since coming to the New Orleans Pelicans Ball has put his head down and gone to work. Rookie superstar Zion Williamson and All-Star forward Ingram have gotten most of the press, but Ball has quietly improved his all-around game and become a floor leader for the surging Pelicans.
He’s up to a career-high 11.9 points per game and is adding 6.7 assists and 6.1 rebounds to what has become a very solid all-around game. Ball is also a plus defender, and at 6-foot-6 can guard multiple positions. Ball currently finds himself near or in the top-ten in several categories for guards, including assists (13th), rebounds (7th), blocks (12th) and steals (14th). The numbers are more impressive when considering Ball is doing this from the point guard position.
Ball’s all-around game and ability as a defensive stopper have drawn some comparisons to Draymond Green, and at just 22 years old, Ball should continue to progress as he learns how to play point guard, the most difficult position in the NBA.
Ball is definitely on the rise, but will have to improve parts of his game if he wants to be considered one of the top point guards in the league.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – DECEMBER 29: Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans: (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
What Ball Needs to Improve
Shooting and Turnovers
Though Ball is scoring at a career-high clip and shooting a decent 36.6 percent from 3-point range, hitting 2.4 per game on 6.4 attempts, he still needs to improve his shooting if he wants to make the leap to the next level of point guards. Ball is shooting just 40 percent from the field overall and has struggled with his mid-range game and shots in the paint. Ball isn’t blazing fast, but he can get to the hoop for runners and bunnies that he often misses. Ball has a bad habit of short-arming close shots and doesn’t always do a good job of using his size to his advantage.
With players like Zion, Ingram and veteran J.J. Redick, Ball is never likely to be a top-end scorer when it comes to volume, but he can improve his efficiency, especially around the rim, where he has a size advantage over nearly every point guard in the league.
Ball also needs to clean up his turnovers. He’s averaging three per game, which wouldn’t be bad if he were also averaging 10 assists. Ball’s assist numbers have dropped since his rookie season, largely due to sharing primary ball handling duties with Jrue Holiday and now Zion, but his turnover numbers are a career worst and that must improve.
Part of this is not Ball’s fault. He is a gifted passer with incredible court vision, which sometimes leads to spectacular passes that his teammates are not ready for or can’t handle. Ball has to be better at recognizing the moment, when to try and thread the needle and which players are capable of catching his passes. Ball also has the troubling habit of being sloppy with the ball and often coughs it up simply because of a lack of focus.
Most of these things will improve with time as Ball learns the position and takes on more of a leadership role. Ball has the type of all-around offensive and defensive game to become one of the most valuable players in the NBA at his position. If he can improve his shooting (especially from close range), overall offensive efficiency and mental lapses, Ball has the chance to evolve into an All-Star for the New Orleans Pelicans.