It’s been a productive summer for the NBA. Three of the oldest and most marketable franchises got the top three draft picks, superstars were traded and signed, and one rookie in particular has created a large amount of buzz in a relatively short amount of time in the City of Angels. Lonzo Ball, the 6’6″ point guard from Chino Hills, has been rocketed to superstardom from the ever-increasing talking points about his play, hype, and his father’s controversial statements over the past eight months. Every personality has thrown their two cents in on his game, and spent even more of their pocket change spilling hot air on what they think of Lavar’s borderline delusional statements. I won’t waste your time with any of that nonsense.
Instead, we’re here to talk about a new Lakers era, if all goes well for Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka, and Magic Johnson. The past few seasons were supposed to be rebuilding years, the lean years of Kobe’s career, and the transition period to a young core spearheaded by D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. Obviously, that vision will never see fruition as the Lakers have found a better prescription.
Lonzo is in another league as far as playmaking is concerned when comparing Ball to Russell. Topping out around five assists per game last season, Russell leaves a lot to be desired from a playmaking standpoint. He creates his own shot decently, but he’s much better off as a spot-up shooter, as he’s consistently knocked down his three-pointers for the past two seasons at a 35% rate, or league average. That’s the highlight of his game, knocking down spot-up three-pointers. Do you really want your franchise being led by a non-facilitator who’s better off spotting-up in the corner for open threes rather than attacking the defense and kicking it out to open shooters?
I don’t see a world where letting Lonzo, a natural passer, run your offense is worse off than letting D’Angelo Russell lead your team. I abhor college basketball’s crooked approach to pimping players for profit before allowing them to move on and actually play with the best players in the world, but watching Lonzo change the culture of the struggling UCLA Bruins was impressive to watch for one season. He racked up assist after assist, breaking the Bruins record for assists in a season, and becoming only the second freshman after TJ Ford in the 2001-02 season to lead the NCAA in assists.
Ball’s passing, along with his IQ, willingness to defend, and leadership, are the small intangibles that separate him from the pack. Russell could only fake it for so long, regardless of how poor the situation he was in, he should’ve done more for this Lakers franchise. They expected a franchise-leading point guard, and he couldn’t deliver. His stats don’t scream elite, he doesn’t always pass the eye test, and his defense is laughable. Where can you say that about Lonzo?
I’ve already stated his 7.6 assists led the NCAA, but how about the fact his 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6 rebounds is the first 14, six, and six stat line since Jason Kidd was a sophomore at Cal in the ’93-’94 season? How about his nine assists that all came in the second half of UCLA’s second round tournament match-up against Cincinnati, where the Bruins overcame a three-point halftime deficit? Doubters will point to his father’s mouth and terrible shooting performance numbers he put up in the summer league to say he won’t be a success, he’s not a “natural scorer” after all.
Scratch those complaints and ignore the idiotic remarks. The people who don’t see this young man’s ability to get an entire team involved in an offense for the elite ability that it is, well, they’re why we have managers like Billie King, and owners like James Dolan. I prefer to look at the positives, assess the strengths and weaknesses, and then go from there. Somewhere in that process other people like to add a lot of unnecessary steps when the simple question they should be asking is “Can this player help us win?” In the case of Lonzo Ball, quite simply, the answer is yes.