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Josh Jackson Scouting Report – Offense

Getting to the Rim

Josh Jackson possesses a level of athleticism and physical superiority that would be a welcome addition to a team that’s used its last two 1st Round picks on D’Angelo Russell & Brandon Ingram, both of whom are lacking in this respect. This is most evident in transition, where he’s fantastic at both filling a lane or cleaning up as the trailer. When he is able to collect his feet and get on the runway, he can tear the rim off of the backboard.

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Trailer

In half court situations, he’s capable of overwhelming an overmatched defender with his physical advantages rather than always having to rely on technical expertise. He frequently uses the motion of the offense — often in Weave situations at Kansas — to gain a step on his defender. From there his physical gifts kick in on straight line drives, where bigs are too slow to stay with him, and guards are too small to not get bumped off of their spot.

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Weave

When he needs to change direction, he has a crisp crossover dribble that he’s capable of using left-to-right or right-to-left with near equal proficiency, which is an encouraging attribute for a wing, although he’s much better at finishing with his right hand than his left.

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Crossover

Despite the beautiful inside out + crossover combo above, the vast majority of Jackson’s ventures to the rim are straight line drives that don’t involve changes of direction, which can separate a decent scorer off of the dribble from an excellent one. If Jackson’s initial penetration is thwarted he will generally shoot a pull-up jumper while going right, with limited success, or a step-back jumper while going left, with a bit more accuracy. That type of shot is a win for the defense. 

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Stepback

Over the course of the 7 games I watched while evaluating Jackson, I didn’t see him utilize any jab steps or other triple threat moves to create a shot opportunity, nor did I see him as the ball handler on more than a couple of pick & rolls. To be fair, Kansas doesn’t really put him in the position to run either of those actions. He is most frequently used as the screener on pick & pops and in the aforementioned Weave scenarios. Neither situation lends itself to triple threat opportunities, and unlike most NBA teams, Kansas’ Weave doesn’t usually end in a ball screen, at least not at Jackson’s position. These are areas I would heavily emphasize in any pre-draft workout with him. You can be a high-caliber scorer in the NBA without a deadly 3-point jumper (Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade), but you need to excel in the pick & roll and/or out of triple threat position in order to get there. If I had to guess based on his footwork in other scenarios, Jackson won’t be that kind of guy, but that’s admittedly speculative on my part. 

 


 

The Truth About His Jumper

Jackson has steadily improved his 3-point percentage throughout the season, shooting a respectable 35.3% on 2.6 attempts per game. Yet even Jackson’s most ardent supporters concede this is a relative area of weakness, and this notion is furthered by his 56.3 FT%, a figure that is typically more predictive of NBA 3-point percentage than NCAA 3-point percentage and doesn’t bode well for him going forward.

Almost all of his 3-point attempts are spot up jumpers, with his feet set. I charted 59 of his 71 3-point attempts on the season,  with an emphasis on the closest defender. Please note that the following chart consists of my estimates, and are NOT as exact as the SportsVU data on nba.com that this information mimics. With that “grain of salt” disclaimer:

These stark results can be read in one of two ways. The optimistic version is that while he may not be a knockdown shooter overall, opponents will have to at have at least a modicum of respect for his jumper, otherwise, he’ll make them pay. The more skeptical interpretation is that he’ll be open for shorter windows of time at a longer distance on the NBA level, spotlighting his relative inability to make contested jumpers.

The reasons for this discrepancy could be answered 5 different ways by 5 different shooting coaches (which I do not claim to be), but my observation is that Jackson is consistent with his feet on nearly all of his shots, and the problem is with his shooting stroke, which he speeds up in an effort to get his shot off against closeouts.

The fixability of that is debatable, and the cause of that flaw is likely related to shot mechanics that are beyond the scope of this scouting report, but I don’t think it would be wise to draft him under the presumption that this will change. If it does, it’s a pleasant surprise. 

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Contested

 


 

How Does He Fit Alongside Brandon Ingram?

Unlike the offensive fit between Lonzo Ball & D’Angelo Russell, a Josh Jackson/Brandon Ingram pairing is questionable on the offensive end due to their limited shooting ability. In Ingram’s case, he is merely a theoretical shooter at this point, with Laker fans hoping that his college success behind the 3-point line (41% on 5.4 attempts per game) translates long term in ways that it hasn’t during his rookie season (30.2% on 3.0 attempts per game). 

The combination of two wing players who are subpar 3-point shooters relative to other wings around the league is untenable and further exacerbated by the fact that neither of the PFs in the young core (Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Jr.) are 3-point threats as well. Most functional offenses in 2017 have a bare minimum of 3 players who can at least pose a credible threat from 3-point range on the floor for most of the game, and in many cases, they have 4.

Zooming out a bit to look at the young core as a whole, the Lakers only have one player (D’Angelo Russell) where you could make a credible argument that he will eventually be an above average shooter relative to his position. Jordan Clarkson, Ingram, Randle, Nance, Jr, & Tarik Black don’t fit that description, and you have to cling to a 4-11 performance from behind the arc in the D-League in order to convince yourself that 3-point proficiency is in the cards for Ivica Zubac.

Drafting for need is folly in the first place, but while you can make a decent argument that Brandon Ingram will one day be a good shooter, Josh Jackson’s shooting deficiency would be stacked upon an existing Laker weakness. That would ultimately need to be addressed if the Lakers drafted him, where it would be wise to move a couple of those players in exchange for players who are more effective at spacing the floor.

 


 

What Offensive Position Does He Play?

Jackson is not a SG by any stretch of the imagination, at least within the context of the Lakers’ offense. Beyond the questions surrounding his spot up shooting ability, he has almost no experience running the types of action that would be required of him at this position. Think about how Nick Young & Jordan Clarkson get their points, often navigating off-ball screens, catching & firing off of kickbacks, or utilizing drag screens in transition. Jackson doesn’t run any of these actions — nor does Ingram, for that matter — and it’s a stretch of the imagination to believe that either will be able to do so anytime soon. If they struggle on spot up 3’s, they’re nowhere near being capable of being functional shooters without their feet set.

Josh Jackson Scouting Report OReb

Jackson actually starts at PF for Kansas, alongside a three-guard lineup of Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, & Svi Mykhailiuk, playing the majority of his minutes at that position. He’s often used in pick & pop situations and as a high post/low post option against zone defenses, where the 4 & 5 positions are interchangeable. I believe that Jackson primarily projects to be a SF in the NBA, but his secondary position will likely be a small ball PF rather than SG.

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Pick and Pop

 


 

Basketball Intelligence & Court Vision

Freak athleticism and basketball IQ are often antithetical. Gifted athletes can be prisoners of their own talents, dominating on lower levels via sheer physical supremacy, never learning how to do things the “right” way because they could achieve results without doing so. Conversely, middling athletes need to understand the game on a deeper level if they ever hope to compete on the NBA stage, where they start from a deficit that most cannot overcome. 

Josh Jackson is the rare exception to this rule, demonstrating a degree of spatial intelligence that rivals his physical tools. He’s not only bigger, faster, and stronger. . . he’s smarter too. This is most evident in his ability to drive & dish or drive & kick, where he’s able to read help defenders and move the ball accurately with either hand. 

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Drive and Dish

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Drive and Kick

This attribute also manifests itself when he’s the recipient of the pass, as he’s fantastic at both relocating on the perimeter and cutting from the weak side to exploit available passing lanes. 

Josh Jackson Scouting Report Cutter

I usually loathe player comparisons as they relate to incoming draft prospects, as their accuracy rarely survives superficial scrutiny, but Josh Jackson reminds me quite a bit of a bigger and younger Andre Iguodala. He’s a phenomenal athlete with a good deal of intelligence and ball-handling ability, but also a questionable jumper and skill set as an individual scorer. Yet the book is hardly written on Jackson in these respects, as those are skill-based weaknesses, which can be developed over the course of time at the NBA level. This scenario would take him out of Andre Iguodala territory and into the Kawhi Leonard stratosphere, with Leonard being a shining example of someone with similar attributes coming out of college, who was able to drastically improve his game in the exact areas where Jackson is weak.

But the road to retrospectively foolish draft analysis is paved with faulty assumptions of improvement, so proceed with caution.

NEXT UP: Josh Jackson Scouting Report – Defense

Jordan Clarkson & the Reality of Regression

By: Michael Taylor
(Video By: Tom Zayas)

Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., Brandon Ingram, and Ivica Zubac: this is the order in which Los Angeles has amassed its treasure trove of young talent. For each highlight play, there’s been frustration. For every moment a “Baby Laker” takes a step forward, lumps are taken the next. Development is unique in and of itself, as it brings excitement to those who envision what the future could hold.

The Lakers hold two blue chip prospects in D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram (three if Julius Randle is included). Early on, Zubac looks to be a considerable steal, while high-flyer Larry Nance, Jr. projects a high-end role player, and Tarik Black is banging on the door to be considered as part of the young core.

This year, all the previously mentioned Lakers have made improvements to their game in some form or fashion. Truthfully speaking, I cannot say the same for Jordan Clarkson.

For all the things Jordan Clarkson has going for him (oozes athleticism, height, & length), role stability is not one of them. As a rookie, he entered the league as a point guard, and as a sophomore he was moved to shooting guard, providing solace to Laker fans with his consistent play amid the worst season in Lakers history. 

Whatever passing chops he flashed as a rookie are now being posted on milk cartons around Los Angeles.

Even casual fans can see that Clarkson fails to make the simple read here. As he approaches the basket, Pau Gasol has fully committed to him. Tarik Black is so open that Clarkson can almost hand him the ball, yet his eyes are glued to the rim akin to that of a dog to a bone. However, stats tend to often disagree with the eye test, right? Wrong.

Statistically, his 12.6 AST% is the lowest of his career, and his 12.7 TOV% nearly matches it. This leads to a 1.11 AST/TO ratio, which is only higher than  Robinson, Black, Zubac, and Mozgov. To paint an even darker picture, that ranks 178th in the NBA, among guards. Conversely, his unwillingness to pass can lead to some terrible shot selection, which is another valid criticism of his 2016-2017 season.

The play ends in a contested step-back three which rightfully annoys Luke Walton. What’s concerning here is Clarkson’s lack of awareness, as reversing the ball would lead to an open Lou three.

There’s an underlying reason as to why Jordan Clarkson’s gunner mentality is a glaring issue. 37.0% (5.5 POSS) of his entire offense comes out of Pick and Rolls, even though he’s only generating .77 Points Per Possession on a 42.6% eFG and turning it over 16.0% of the time. For comparison’s sake, Austin Rivers runs Pick and Rolls on 33.6% of his possessions and generates .92 Points Per Possession on a 50.8% eFG while turning it over 15.7% of the time. Austin Rivers isn’t an elite player, but he’s in the 78th percentile, and Jordan Clarkson is in the 41st percentile. This helps explain why most of Clarkson’s shots (30.5%) come off 3-6 dribbles, and he’s shooting only 47.4% eFG on those shots.

All of this is a fancy way of saying that the play type he runs the most is the play type he is the least efficient at.

 

He rejects the screen from Randle and does a nice job of putting Damian Lillard on his hip. There’s a split second where Randle has a window for a pocket pass but Clarkson misses it, causing him to take a runner from a poor angle. This play is emblematic of his struggle’s all season.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Hope remains in the form of glimpses.

 

In the limited plays that Clarkson’s had his head up, taking what the defense gives him, he has shown promise. This turnover (credited to Clarkson) is encouraging in that he makes the correct read. As Gobert commits to Clarkson, he gives it up to Mozgov. While the pass could have been more on the numbers, it’s a pass that Mozgov needs to catch. Not only does Clarkson make the correct read, he’s smart enough to reject the lob over Gobert, which Mozgov is calling for.

As for his shooting, his TS% sits at 52.8, while the league average is around 54%. His 3 Point shooting has not improved, and weirdly enough he’s taking more corner threes than ever this season at 20.7% despite shooting a career-low 26.7%. So, as a below average shooter, what else does he bring?

Not much.

His TRB% and AST% sit at a career low (5.7 and 12.6 respectively), while his -2.47 Defensive Real-Plus-Minus sits at 79th among PGs. While his effort is lauded (T-26 in loose balls recovered per game at 1.0), it’s often negated due to defensive mistakes attributed to poor judgment and fundamentals.

This brings us to the main issue. Jordan Clarkson doesn’t do anything other than score, and even then, he usually fails to score efficiently. 

Around mid-December, Luke Walton showed Jordan Clarkson footage of the end of his 1st campaign and was quoted as saying:

“We kind of just want him to be in attack mode, but be ready to make the right play each time. Sometimes that’s a shot. Sometimes that’s a pass.”

 

For all intents and purposes, that has not yet happened, and the level at which he shoots with reckless abandon is becoming indefensible.

If there is any silver lining, it is that playing next to Lou Williams poisoned Jordan Clarkson like a cyanide pill. Pete Zayas, the OG, likens Lou to an invasive species that comes in and wrecks shop, but in doing so alters the rest of the ecosystem. The second unit was built around Lou, and it’s hard to argue its effectiveness, especially when the bench was healthy.

Jordan Clarkson is not nearly as efficient, as Lou is a sizzling 60.1 TS% and in the 94th percentile (!!!) in Pick and Rolls. Lou thrives in early offense with a lot of drag screens that free him up for jumpers. He’s adept at rejecting screens and drawing fouls, making him a highly effective scorer, and the same cannot be said for Jordan Clarkson. He doesn’t have near the natural feel for the game that D’Angelo Russell has, nor the craftiness of a 13-year prep-to-pro vet like Lou Williams. Where a more freelance/read and react offense better suits the Russell and Williams, it does not favor Clarkson’s style of play.

 


 

The Lakers are coming to a crossroads with Clarkson, and I would argue that change is coming sooner rather than later. There’s reason to believe that Jordan Clarkson can perform better with some immediate changes. He’ll start playing as the backup PG after the Lakers traded Lou Williams to Houston. Trading Lou does a few things: it frees up Russell for more minutes, and in JC’s case, liberates him by giving him the ball and removing a ball stopper from common lineups. These final games could give the Lakers a chance to see if Clarkson can rediscover some of the passing ability he flashed as a rookie.

While I’m very skeptical, I believe he can accomplish this return — to an extent. If he cannot, there should be a serious discussion about moving Clarkson to attain as much talent as possible while his stock is still reasonably high, as hard as that is to say.

At 24, there is a higher chance than fans would like to admit that this is what he is. Or rather, he is what he is going to be. You don’t often see players transform in their mid 20’s, and Clarkson is unlikely to break that mold. However, he does not have to transform as much as return to the rookie form that got him named to the 1st Team All-Rookie team. As someone who was watched Clarkson closely throughout the season, the early returns have not been promising.

Over the past twelve games, his numbers have dropped across the board. He’s posting a 50.6 TS%, 6.4 TRB%, 10.1 AST%, and 16.2 TOV%, leading to a 0.95 AST/TO ratio. As a Lakers fan, perhaps it’d be better stand with the optimist’s view of “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

His contract is team-friendly at 4 years $50 million, which is roughly around 13.3% of the cap this season, 11.2% next season, and will likely stay around that level for the next two seasons. While his development has stagnated, he’s done it once (the end of his rookie season), so surely he could do it again. For young NBA players progress is not, and will never be, linear, but in the case of Clarkson, at 24 in his 3rd season, his time is running up. In a league where assets have never been more valuable, how he performs on the court from now to the end of the season is as important as ever.


The Professional Scorer

 

What Makes Lou Williams So Great and Why the Lakers Should Still Trade Him

By: Chuck Lee

Imagine the terror one must feel as a defender as Lou Williams gets a step on you driving hard to his left. Maybe he pulls up and hits beyond the arc. Or he can take it into the open space behind you and finish at the basket. Or worst of all, you’re going to hear a whistle sending him to the line yet again for more free throws.

Williams is having by far the most effective season of his career. Not only is he averaging his most points per game this season (the Lakers’ leading scorer at 18.6), but on a per 36 minute basis, he is scoring 27.7 points, over five points more than when he Sixth Man of the Year at Toronto. His true shooting percentage is 60.9%, also the highest mark of his career. He is one of only two Lakers this season who have a positive on court net rating, and the team is over 14 points worse off per 100 possessions when he’s not on the floor.

Despite his stellar year, Williams is likely the leading candidate among the Lakers to be traded before the trade deadline, and for a haul ranging from a lottery protected late pick to a non-star young prospect. Not to take anything away from his individual brilliance, but this is a move that the Lakers should probably make.


View post on imgur.com

Just before the Allstar break, after he dropped 29 in 24 minutes on the Kings, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger complimented him and called him “a hired-gun professional scorer.” Yes, Williams is a specialist, but one who’s reaching the peak of his craft. If you’re a regular watcher of Laker games, you know these three things about him:

1) He is a right handed player who LOVES going to his left.
2) He can somehow hit shots up to 23+ feet away through contact after the whistle blows.
3) He draws an ungodly amount of fouls.

Taking a look at his shot chart and you can see that he hits at a high volume at a league average level or above from the left side of the court.  This is an impressive feat considering that he takes so many pull up 3’s rather than the typically more efficient catch and shoot variety. Lakers broadcaster Stu Lantz calls him the “Drifter” for his ability to make shots going full speed to his left and pulling up while still drifting in that direction. In order to do that, he usually takes a quick dribble with his left hand which he gathers the ball with above his waist before shooting it with his right over his head.

Coaches teach on-ball defenders to keep the inside hand or arm either on the dribbler or poking at the ball, particularly when forcing them to the sideline. While an extended forearm making contact with the dribbler is a foul per NBA rules players don’t usually don’t get called for it if the extension isn’t so obvious, such as with repeated touches rather than continuous contact. Kobe used to take that a bit further and pin the offensive player’s own hand to his hip so that any attempt at a crossover would result in the ball popping out.

The moment Williams sees a defender’s arm extended toward or touching him he will quickly swing up his shooting right hand without the ball into the defender’s arm and then gather with his left.

This is much quicker than a two handed swing through because it’s only with one hand and without the ball.

As the foul is being called, Williams is often then still able to shoot it as the ball isn’t in the shooting hand until after it draws contact (or else it would have just popped out) for the and-one. He can even do this going to his right on occasion, where his left hand does nothing but sweep up to the guide position while he dribbles, gathers and then shoots with his right hand.

Defenders know that he’s hunting for the foul, and yet they still get caught over and over again with their hands in the cookie jar. When Williams gets a step on them and they try to slow his penetration, their instincts take over. And even when they do remember to take their hands out of there it’s still a problem because Lou will take it all the way to the basket where he’s an excellent finisher for his size.

Check out his defender trying to slide while pulling both arms away to a safe position. Williams simply uses this to his advantage by driving around him into the paint:

Throughout his career, Williams’ teams have put in specific plays that cater to his special abilities. Coaches Dwane Casey, Byron Scott, and Luke Walton all have made the A.I. or Iverson set (named after his former teammate Allen Iverson) a key part of their playbook when he’s on the floor:

After the wing to wing cut, he either just drives or receives a ball screen.  Most of the time he ends up attacking along the left sideline, with three teammates spaced out on the weakside.

Another play the Lakers run for him is what LFR calls ‘Chin Fist’, which also gets the ball going into a ball screen towards the left sideline:

Other times they will have him zipper cut from the baseline to the top of the key and then receive a ball screen there (“Zip Fist”).  These are all plays in the half court that set Williams up going to his left with the floor spaced out.  In early offense situations, he simply attacks off of drag screens.  As a scorer in all of these actions, he is deadly efficient.  He is in the 94th percentile in scoring efficiency off of ball screens at 1.06 points per possession (PPP), drawing fouls on 18.1% of these possessions, the same rate as James Harden, according to Synergy / NBA.com.


This creates a dilemma.  Williams is too good at scoring and his style too specialized for coaches to run much else while he’s on the floor.  Outside of play calls out of stoppages, the Lakers run few actions for other players when he is on the floor, such as a simple ball screen for Jordan Clarkson.  Although a capable spot up shooter, Williams spends many of his off ball possessions like this:

Yes, he is capable of hitting from 35+ feet out, and the space makes it easier for him to receive the ball and then get another screen, but often this results in the play being reset with the ball in his hands rather than creating an advantage.  If this happens then his defender can get in the way of Clarkson’s driving lane without consequence.  Clarkson, who spends much of his time on the court with Williams and is averaging only 0.76 PPP on his own pick and shoot plays (43 percentile), is 92 a percentile scorer on off-ball screens (1.22 PPP) but only uses them at 6.3% frequency out of all of his playtypes.  Their other perimeter partner for much of the season, Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram, was often reduced to either standing in the corner or bringing the ball up to set up the play and then getting out of the way.

It’s not really fair to blame Williams for Clarkson’s regression as an all around player this season or Ingram’s rookie struggles.

Their combination has worked despite its deficit of outside shooting and spacing, as the heavily played trio is in two of the Lakers’ top three lineups by net rating on the season.  But with Williams dominating the style of play, it will be difficult for the Lakers to assess what they really have among some of their young players. The thirty year old guard also does not fit into the time frame of when the Lakers’ young core hits their prime nor does he fit the style that head coach Luke Walton prefers for the team.


Williams is actually a good passer in the pick and roll when he has space.  He’s adept at pocket passes to the roll man for either the finish or the short roll, as well as hitting bigs cutting along the baseline.  What he doesn’t do is reliably skip the ball to the weak side when the defensive alignment calls for it, the kind of play that can get the ball moving and more players involved.  Many possessions with Williams on the floor result in one player bringing it up the floor, getting a screen and then shooting without a single front court pass being thrown.  Teams like the Bucks have been able to shut him down for stretches by trapping him on ball screens using mobile defenders who refused to give him space to either turn the corner or throw the pocket pass.

Coach Walton has on several occasions stated his preference for a passing and motion based offense and lengthy defenders who can switch.   He won’t be able to completely implement this with Lou taking up half of the meaningful guard shifts in the rotation.

The former Warriors assistant coach pays particular attention to the number of passes his team makes per game as an indicator of team play, but with the style that the bench plays, they’ve thrown around 292 passes per game.

This is only 10 more than with Byron Scott’s isolation driven offense and far less than the roughly 320 that his old team averaged.

The defensive end presents another challenge.  As an offensively minded 6’1 guard, Williams often fails to make rotations on help side defense, or when he does get there, is too small to make a difference.  Although the Lakers have done a decent job covering at that end with certain lineups featuring mobile big men, playing him at shooting guard results often results in situations where the lack of backcourt height can be exploited by certain teams.

Lou’s ideal role is to provide a shot of adrenaline to the bench unit, not to try to close out games by himself on a young team still struggling to find its identity.  Despite his being one of the NBA leaders in fourth quarter scoring, his efficiency has dipped in fourth quarter clutch situations where opponents are locked in defensively and where he has to go against their best lineups.  In the twenty three games that were within five points with three minutes to go, Williams has shot just 25% and his on court net rating drops to -33.3 per 100 possessions.  A contending team would do well to have him feast on opposing benches and then shift back to a more versatile five man lineup when the competition heats up.


Based on media chatter around the trade deadline, Lou is likely to be moved to a team that’s a better fit in terms of its stage of contention.  For the Lakers the case for moving goes beyond just keeping their draft pick.  Also, it will be difficult for his trade value to become higher after this season.  But in the case that he isn’t moved, Lakers fans shouldn’t be all that disappointed.  He’s putting up great production on a relatively cheap contract.  And we get a bit more time to appreciate a scoring master at his craft.

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D’Angelo Russell Rant

This was not intended to be a podcast of its own, but we had a few requests for it, so here you go. Here’s my D’Angelo Russell rant, regarding his recent struggles.

Lonzo Ball Scouting Report – Offense

Many Laker fans have clamored for D’Angelo Russell to move to SG since he was drafted, where he can tap into his natural scoring ability without the burden of running the offense. To that end, Lonzo Ball represents the “pure PG” who can facilitate this change, capable of orchestrating the action just as he did at UCLA, and thereby establishing the natural order of the Laker backcourt for the next decade.

Not so fast.

Ball is a remarkable facilitator in transition, whipping advance passes up court that are as effective as they are simple. He has unparalleled spatial intelligence for a 19 year old, and punishes the transgressions of cheating defenders with swift adjudications that put his teammates in the advantageous position of attacking opponents whose feet are not set.

Yet the requirements of the PG position go beyond the gifts that court vision and unselfishness can bestow upon others, and Ball is lacking in two critical areas: the pick & roll, and making reads out of organized sets.

The latter concerns me less than the former does. Few college offenses are nearly as sophisticated as their NBA equivalents, a fact that is exacerbated by the prevalence of zone defenses and the talent discrepancies between respective NCAA programs. College PGs get relatively little experience making the type of reads against high caliber man defenses that they need to make in the pros, so there is an inevitable learning curve that all of them experience as they transition to the NBA. Despite his considerable talents, I don’t expect Lonzo Ball to be any different in this respect. UCLA’s offense is relatively basic, and the lion’s share of his half court responsibility involves delivering the ball to shooters as they come off of pin-down screens.

The half court decisions that he is required to make don’t extend far beyond this and a couple of other simple actions. Teams have also taken to running a good deal of zone against the Bruins, which require a different set of reads from Ball which are not as directly translatable to the next level. I have little doubt that he will be able to adapt, as many less talented players have before him, but to expect him to be capable of immediately navigating NBA defenses while orchestrating an NBA offenses is unrealistic.

My pick & roll concerns have deeper roots. Prior to UCLA, he took the basketball world by storm at Chino Hills High School, with an unconventional style of play that included 70-foot outlet passes, 30-foot three point attempts, blistering pace…and very few ball screens, which is a phenomenon that has persisted during his time in Westwood. In the 5 games that I charted, he was involved in just 18 ball screens or handoffs, a remarkably low number relative to his position, generating just 13 points (0.72 PPP). The NBA game is far more pick & roll intensive than college is, and he will need to add this to his repertoire in order to fulfill his potential as a PG.

This is where Ball’s unusual shooting form will likely hurt him the most.

Ball is notoriously reticent to shoot mid range jumpers, which on its surface demonstrates an understanding of what constitutes a good shot, but the reality of the NBA is that sometimes the defense is going to succeed in protecting both the basket and the 3-point line over the course of 24 seconds. Quite often, that mid range look is all that is available, especially if a team is incapable of spacing the floor out to the 3-point line at 4 or 5 different positions. One of the means by which NBA defenses accomplish this is by soft hedging/corralling pick & rolls, with the defensive guard fighting over the screen and the big hanging back in the paint.

If Lonzo Ball has taken this type of shot in an organized game, I haven’t seen it. While there is danger in speculating about something that player doesn’t do, the individual components of his shot don’t translate toward this part of his game developing particularly well. He typically uses a step-back move to create space on his pull-up 3-point attempts, but that is not available against a soft hedge due to the back pressure from the defensive guard. Furthermore, the additional space is necessary for him due to his shooting stroke, which crosses both his body and his head on the way up, and can be bothered throughout that process as a result by the hedging/corralling big.

Ball’s workaround for this is a teardrop off of one foot. These shots are typically very low percentage, with few exceptions.

His ability to attack switches is questionable as well, as he possesses an average first step and good-but-not-great moves off of the dribble. This was the most common coverage that he faced in the games that I charted, where he was usually only capable of attacking opposing 5’s with a stepback jumper. One of the most significant differences between NCAA and NBA level talent is the mobility of the big men, so if he’s struggling to get a decent shot off against switches at UCLA, it could be very problematic in the pros.

Lonzo Ball’s difficulty against soft hedges and switches both point toward the same conclusion: the NBA is going to make him prove that he can score on them when he has the ball in his hands.

I am more bullish on him as a spot up shooter than most, and believe that the negative effects of his shooting stroke are mostly counteracted by his excellent footwork and tremendous range. His ability to hit from 30+ feet compromises the defense regardless of how they decide to defend him. If they help off of him, he’s quick to get the shot up, capable of converting at a high rate, and the defender won’t be close enough for his shooting stroke to be disadvantageous. If they stay at home on him, he has now effectively spaced the floor for teammates by taking a help defender much farther away from the basket than they would usually be.

He has some catch & shoot ability coming off of screens as well, where he uses quality footwork to quickly get into his shot, and often leans back a bit to mitigate against the contestability of his shooting stroke. Despite that fact, his success at the NBA level will likely be determined by how much space he’s able to create prior to the catch.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, Lonzo Ball’s limitations in the pick & roll, inexperience running a pro-style offense, and spot up shooting ability may lead him to begin his career as a PG in transition, but a SG in half court situations.

The Lakers are an ideal fit to mask his offensive deficiencies and accentuate his positive attributes. Ball isn’t nearly as ball dominant as you might expect from a player who is amongst the NCAA leaders in assists per game, and has a great feel for back cuts and counters off of the ball. If Luke Walton wants to go further down the path of the Golden State Warriors, who run more off-ball screens and fewer on-ball screens than nearly every other team in the league, a D’Angelo Russell/Lonzo Ball backcourt would go a long way toward achieving that. Russell’s immersive education in pick & roll play and offensive organization over the last 6 months minimizes Ball’s weaknesses and inexperience, Ball impacts the game in transition in a way that Russell never will, and both can spot up and work as a cutter while the other runs the show. Their biggest collective weakness is the ability to get to the basket off of the dribble, which certainly matters, but isn’t a fatal flaw within a Laker offense that presumably seeks to emulate the ball and player movement of the Warriors more than it’s been capable of with their existing talent.

Lonzo Ball’s effectiveness in the NBA may largely hinge on who drafts him. Much of his success at UCLA is predicated on simply making the “right play” over and over again, and getting the ball to excellent NCAA-level finishers (Leaf, Holiday, Alford, etc.) in advantageous positions, where they can exploit a closeout or mismatch through the force of their own talents. In many ways, Ball’s value is proportional to the talent that he’s surrounded by, so a team like Brooklyn, with limited talented that could desperately use a sun for their planets to orbit, could be disastrous for his career. Conversely, he could fit in seamlessly with a talented older team (Boston), which is unusual for a player his age, or become a foundational piece for a young team with a collection of weapons surrounding him. (Lakers, Phoenix, Minnesota)

But make no mistake…Ball is a genius, and I do no throw that term around lightly.

His court vision, spatial awareness, intelligence, and unselfishness draw rightful comparisons to NBA greats like Magic Johnson & Jason Kidd. He has almost single-handedly changed the culture of UCLA basketball, turning them from a group of mismatched individual talent into a cohesive and historically effective offense. Even his ability to make open 3’s from NBA range have an application in the modern game, despite his unique delivery. Yet his inexperience in running the most common of NBA plays is worrisome, and the aforementioned shooting form may very well prevent him from growing significantly in this area. This enormous polarization within his skill set makes him one of the more fascinating prospects in years, with the potential to make both his supporters and skeptics look spectacularly wrong in retrospect.

Ultimately, an NBA team will have to ask itself two questions before they draft Lonzo Ball:

  1. Can he fit into what we do, or do we need to adopt an entirely different style of play that is built around him?
  2. Can a PG be a star player if he can’t score effectively on the pick & roll?

I’m glad that my job doesn’t depend on being able to answer either of them correctly.

Coming Soon: Lonzo Ball Scouting Report – Defense

Russell’s Return

D’Angelo Russell’s return saw him put up the first double-double of his career, posting an impressive 22 points, 10 assists, & 7 rebounds with solid defense in 34 minutes of action in a 120-116 win over the Denver Nuggets. In this video, Pete Zayas takes a look at deeper look at his big game.