New Orleans Pelicans: Grading how Lonzo Ball did
The name on people’s lips during the Pelicans’ season was often Lonzo Ball, which should also be the case this summer.
Ball entered the current season in a crucial moment of his career. The former UCLA point guard will be a restricted free agent in just a few weeks and, given his strong overall play this season, he should have plenty of suitors.
At the end of the day, the Pelicans control Ball’s future. If they match whatever is offered, they will retain his services. Zion Williamson has indicated that he wants Ball to be a long-term fixture in the big easy, but the franchise itself has not implied much about his future.
Either way, I think Ball quashed plenty of doubts about him this season. The most noticeable and mediatic improvement was his three-point shooting, as he went from a laughing stock after last season’s Lake Buena Vista bubble to a legit threat from beyond the arc.
Ball sustained his outside shot for the entirety of the year. His volume skyrocketed—he took eight threes per game, a two-digit increase over last season—but it was ultimately beneficial for the team. A lot of the time, Ball was the sole Pelican to provide the spacing that Williamson and Brandon Ingram crave.
Beyond the three, though, I thought Ball was generally impressive. He started to make his free throws more often (more on that later) and, very sporadically, had some more adventurous forays into the opposing paint that ended with quirky floaters, leaners, or one-legged fadeaways.
The one offensive facet of Ball’s game that was dimmed a bit this season was his passing. He still connected on some spectacular lobs or executed inventive reads from time to time, but this was the first season in his career that Ball has not been largely pushed into a floor general role.
The ball passed more through the hands of the aforementioned Williamson and Ingram, so Ball didn’t get the touches that a regular point guard might. However, this shift in role actually played to his strengths. Going as far back as his only season in Westwood, Ball is much better as a quick playmaker who doesn’t pound the ball at all.
He has improved setting up a half-court offense every year since coming into the league, but I still believe that Ball adds more value linking things across the floor rather than always having to organize.
On the defensive side of the basketball, Ball was pretty good when engaged but his effort waivered from game to game. Like I wrote about over the course of the season, I believe that Ball’s feel for the game, anticipation, and physical tools give him the potential to be one of the premier guard defenders in the entire association.
However, I’m not sure that Ball has fully bought into this end of the floor, even if he did finish the season strongly. His motor needs to improve over the course of an entire season, rather than just bringing it on some nights. Once he adds that consistency, then Ball will really blossom.
Let’s see if that is in New Orleans, though.