Lonzo Ball is the most unconventional prospect that I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t particularly close, a sentiment that Nate Duncan & Mike Schmitz echoed on recent episodes of the Laker Film Room Podcast. Rarely do you find such a well-regarded lead guard prospect with such a low Usage Rate (18.1%), who’s generally uninspiring in a “this guy can get me a bucket when I need it” sense.
He’s statistically staggering, on both ends of the spectrum. His 67.3% True Shooting Percentage is nearly unprecedented for a freshman PG in a major conference. He led the nation in assists, despite not dominating the ball the way that most PGs do. His Offensive Rating was a jaw-dropping 131.3.
Yet the extremity of his statistics can be as anxiety provoking as they are mind-blowing, a fact that is exacerbated by his bizarre shooting mechanics. He took 8 mid range jumpers all year. He turned the ball over on 32.7% of the possessions that he used in the Pick & Roll. The aforementioned Usage Rate. Why should we trust a guy that we can’t rely on as a scorer who also turns the ball over with frequency on the NBA’s most common play with the 2nd pick in the NBA Draft? Because those criticisms aren’t valid in the first place, and we’ve been looking at those perceived weaknesses through the lens of volume rather than effectiveness.
Mid Range Game
The notion that Lonzo Ball’s infrequency from mid range is evidence of his ineptitude needs to be turned on its head. The ability to avoid taking shots from an area that is well-established to have a low Points Per Possession return is a good thing. The goal of a defense is to surrender the longest, most well contested 2-point shots possible, preferably off of the dribble. Conversely, the best offenses in the NBA seek the Holy Trinity of shot attempts: free throws, layups/dunks, & open 3-pointers.
It’s no coincidence that UCLA’s historically productive offense was conducted by a player who eschewed mid range shots in exchange for those more efficient looks. This mentality contributed heavily to his low Usage Rate, as he consistently passed up a decent shot to get a great one for either himself or a teammate.
But the reality of the NBA is that sometimes the defense DOES win a possession, forcing a mid range shot with a respectable contest, and that happens more frequently than it does in college due in part to the shorter shot clock. So the question is…can Ball hit these shots if he needs to?
We don’t have a definitive answer to that question, but this is what we do know:
- 4-8 on his mid range jumpers. (4-7 vs. Man Defense)
- 6-12 (62.5 aFG%) on his pull up jumpers off of pick & rolls.
- 3-3 on runners off of the pick & roll.
- 56-122 (45.9%) on 3pt attempts that were between the college & NBA lines.
In most respects, the sample sizes are too small to draw any conclusions…and that’s the point. He’s anywhere from respectable to downright good from a percentage perspective, so the only basis for the notion that his mid range game is a weakness is due to his miniscule volume, in area where avoiding volume is a good thing.
Pick & Roll Play
Lonzo Ball’s pick & roll play is the most misinterpreted part of his game, as he’s often portrayed as an ineffectual scorer who can’t create off of ball screens. The reality is that his Points Per Possession data in pick & rolls looks like this:
UCLA’s pick & rolls were designed were to maximize shot attempts to spot up shooters and roll men, while minimizing shot attempts for the ball handler, whether it was Ball running the pick & roll or someone else. These are far more efficient shots than having the ball handler shoot off of a pick & roll, and Ball did well to maximize these attempts.
Ball can score when he needs to. He isn’t going to break down a hedging big with a devastating inside-out dribble, or split a trap with a low & tight crossover, but he’s very good at identifying and exploiting the mistakes in pick & roll coverages. He’s at his best in the pick & roll when the hedging big leaves before the screened guard has recovered. Watch as he attacks the defensive big right as that big starts to recover to his man.
The presence of TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh reduced the necessity for Ball to pull-up from mid range off of pick & rolls to virtually nothing, due to their pick & pop ability. Regardless of whether or not the opposing big is hedging hard or dropping back into the paint, a popping big can exploit defensive pick & roll coverages in a way that makes the pull-up jumper a secondary option.
The circumstances with the Lakers are quite different, with no credible 3-point threat amongst their bigs and only decent mid range threats in Timofey Mozgov & Ivica Zubac. As a result, Ball will likely have to be more of a scorer in pick & roll situations if he ends up in Los Angeles. On this play, he snakes the pick & roll to rid himself of the back pressure from the trailing defensive guard, and knocks down the jumper.
Ball’s biggest weakness in the pick & roll is his propensity to settle for stepback 3’s when switched onto a big. He’d be well served to improve his inside-out dribble and hesitation moves as a counter to the stepback, which would allow him to attack the basket when the big applies ball pressure.
NCAA Division 1 analytics guru and Laker Film Room contributor Cranjis McBasketball has done a ton of great work on Ball’s pick & roll abilities that I highly recommend. The statistical case for his pick & roll ability is strong.
Quality in Quantity
Lonzo Ball’s basketball ethos is simple and devastatingly effective. He’s constantly seeking the most efficient shot, for either himself or his teammates, has a strong grasp on what those shots are, and knows how to get them. Despite arriving there in a different manner, his statistical profile is quite similar to Steve Nash’s, as a highly efficient scorer on low volume that maximizes the opportunities of the entire team. He can shoot from mid range…he just knows that should be the last resort. He can create quality looks on the pick & roll…but they’re usually for others.
And if you’re wondering why he doesn’t do those things more often, you’re missing the point.