Lonzo Ball is the most polarizing athlete in the NBA. LeBron James and Steph Curry have their share of haters, but they don’t have a reality TV star father who picks fights with the president of the United States.
From the moment the 6-foot-6 Ball entered the NBA, he’s had a big target on his back. Everyone tried to test him. Patrick Beverley picked him up fullcourt on opening night. Jamal Murray tried to embarrass him. And the Lakers and Magic Johnson didn’t do the Chino Hills, Calif., product any favors by publicly making him the face of arguably the most storied franchise in the league. Because of the hype surrounding him, Ball’s game has been dissected and scrutinized like no other rookie.
They made fun of his unorthodox windup on his jump shot. Twitter nearly exploded when he cut his hair. He was ruthlessly bashed by pundits on TV and wannabe pundits on social media when he was shooting less than 30 percent from the field earlier in the season.
Fox Sports’ Rob Parker has already called him a bust. Parker has been making that declaration for months and reiterated it on FS1’s “Undisputed,” even going as far as suggesting the Lakers should trade Lonzo because his father is becoming too much of a distraction.
ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith said he is “petrified” that Lonzo is a bust, and points to Ball’s lack of aggression as his biggest road block.
But despite all the noise around him, Ball has been able to quietly put together an outstanding rookie season. If the season ended today, Ball would finish the season with 10.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 7.0 assists in 38 games. He would become only the fourth rookie in NBA history to accomplish that stat line. The other four are fellow rookie Ben Simmons, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson. It’s probably safe to say those guys are not busts.
Back in November, Ball made history by becoming the youngest NBA player (20 years, 15 days) to record a triple-double. He posted 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 13 assists against the Milwaukee Bucks. The previous youngest player to post a triple-double was LeBron James. It’s probably safe to say LeBron is not a bust.
Here’s the bottom line on Lonzo. Don’t judge him by what you hear, judge him by what you see.
What we’ve seen in Ball’s last 10 games is a player whose arrow keeps pointing up. He’s averaging 11.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. He’s making 42 percent of his field goals and 36 percent of his 3-point shots.
No one seems to be talking about his sidewinder shot now.
He’s also averaging 1.9 steals per game, which would put him sixth overall in the entire league. His defense has been a pleasant surprise because several scouts thought he would struggle on the defensive end.
We shouldn’t knock Lonzo because he’s different. Everything about him is not the norm these days. His shot is a little off. He’s a bit distant and guarded. He’s not the classic AAU product. We should embrace all his uniqueness.
It’s already well documented and heavily dissected that Lonzo’s shot is a work in progress. That’s a given. But instead of focusing on the left side of the box score, we should start looking at the right side of the box score. Lonzo fills up the stat sheet. He’s a true point guard. He’s not a shooting guard masking as a point guard like Curry, Russell Westbrook, or James Harden. He’s a throwback to when point guards initiate the offense and not hijack the offense.
After missing the last six weeks because of a sprained knee, Ball returned to action and his shot looks even better. He was perfect against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 26, making all four his field goals, all three of his 3-point shots, and both of his free throws.
The Lakers are on a roll of late. At 26-34, they’ve already surpassed last season’s win total and are poised to make a run at the final playoff spot if things break their way in these last 22 games. The Lakers are eighth in scoring and among the leaders in pace. If you put the blame on Lonzo for the Lakers’ early season woes, you have to give him credit for creating a style of play that is fun to watch. The ball hops around and usually finds the open guy. When Ball plays pick-and-roll, he makes the right decision 90 percent of the time.
When ESPN writer Ramona Shelburne asked Magic if he has any regrets drafting Lonzo Ball, he said “no, not for one minute.”
“He’s everything we thought he would be and more,” Magic said.