I believe that Lonzo Ball’s scoring ability will be what determines he’s ceiling in the NBA. He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker that he simply needs to be a threat that the defense has to respect. In this video, I take a look at where he is as a scorer, and what he needs to work on to maximize his ability.
Tania Ganguli of the LA Times joins Pete & Darius to provide amazing insight regarding the possibility of LeBron James joining the Lakers in 2018, the dynamic inside the Buss family, the D’Angelo Russell trade, and life as an NBA beat reporter.
Lonzo Ball was named MVP of the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League, leading the Lakers to the championship behind a dominant performance that permeated the team’s style of play. In this video, I take a look at all of the passes that Ball made that created an advantage. Not just assists, but hockey assists, free throw assists, and potential assists where he created a good look but the shooter missed the shot.
In this episode of the Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete channels his inner Morpheus to describe Lonzo Ball’s Summer League performance, as Darius takes a more even-keeled approach, along with their reactions about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Ivica Zubac.
Lonzo Ball had a dominant 36 point, 11 assist, 8 rebound, & 5 steal performance while leading the Lakers to a comeback, 103-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Here’s my breakdown of how he did it.
Summer League is a ton of fun. Diehard fans from across the league converge on Las Vegas to give an enthusiastic welcome to their teams’ latest 1st Round picks, in a convention-style atmosphere that brings every component of the basketball world to the same place. You’re just as likely to stand behind a current or former NBA player/coach in line to get a beer & hot dog as a fellow fan. Last year, I got to shake Nick Van Exel’s hand and tell him that he was my favorite player growing up before scurrying away in starstruck embarrassment. I laughed as I listened to an overzealous Toronto Raptors fan sing “I’m In Love With Caboclo” at the top of his lungs to the tune of the O.T. Genasis hit “CoCo” until the perpetually two-years-away-from-being-two-years-away Bruno Caboclo acknowledged him with a laugh. How often do you get to watch games with the fans of dozen different teams who are so rabid that they know pretty much every player on YOUR team’s’ roster? This environment, combined with getting together with friends, both old and new, amidst the usual fuckery of Vegas makes Summer League a necessary pilgrimage for any hardcore fan.
But how much does the basketball matter?
Lonzo Ball & the Rookie Class
Lonzo Ball will surely be greeted with raucous enthusiasm as he makes his Lakers debut on Friday night, as the purple & gold take on the Clippers at 5:30pm PST, with no less than face of the franchise expectations and a stacked supporting cast. Lonzo has doubled down on this hype, expecting the Lakers to “win the whole thing“.
But he has a few obstacles to overcome if he wants to achieve this. The prospects at the top of the draft rarely compete in 1-on-1 settings leading up to it, much less in 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 situations. The scrimmages during the Lakers’ week-long Summer League practice schedule represent Ball’s first competitive 5-on-5 play since March, against much tougher and older opponents, with unfamiliar teammates, and a new playbook. Ball’s game is so predicated on having synergy with his teammates while being the most savvy player on the court that I expect him to struggle a bit, particularly in half court situations. The PGs who tend to thrive in Summer League are those with athletic advantages and the ability to drive to the basket against largely disorganized defenses. Kris Dunn was a future all-star at this time last year, as was Emmanuel Mudiay two years ago, and as such I expect guys like De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith, Jr. to look better in Summer League than Ball does.
Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma should have smoother transitions, both as older players and guys who mostly thrive off of the shot creation of others. Kuzma in particular may raise some eyebrows, as he will be able to show off his passing and improved pick & pop ability amidst spacing that he never enjoyed at Utah, as noted in my recent video on how he fits in with the Lakers. Despite his rookie status, Hart is older than six of his teammates on the Lakers Summer League roster, and has a 3-&-D + fill the wing type of game that shouldn’t be impacted much by this unique environment. Both Kuzma & Hart thrive in transition as well, so that may be the recipe for a Lakers Summer League title. If the rookies are able to get the requisite defensive stops that they’ll need to get out and run alongside their more experienced teammates, they’ll be in business. (Ssidenote: I will be making a drinking game out of how often Kuzma falls down while in Vegas. His tendency to do so is Hibbert-esque)
Thomas Bryant should be a bit more of an adventure. He’s capable of picking & popping in a way that’s simpatico with Ball’s tendencies and runs the floor well, but he has questionable defensive awareness and decision-making that may be exacerbated in a Summer League setting.
Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have the most NBA experience on the Lakers Summer League roster, making them the seasoned pros of the team at the ripe, old ages of 19 and 20. As such, the expectations on them are rightfully much higher. Last year, I heard an NBA Front Office executive mention that you start to worry about your 2nd year guys if they don’t look like the best players on the court in Summer League, under the premise that they’ve had the benefit of a full year in the NBA, with access to all of the strength, conditioning, knowledge, and coaching that it provides. While that is a bit reductive, players like Devin Booker & D’Angelo Russell thrived, while Jaylen Brown has made quick work of the Utah Summer League this year.
It is fair to expect Brandon Ingram to be the best player on the team, after a season in which he played 2,279 NBA minutes, easily the most in his rookie class and the rest of this roster combined. I’ll be looking for him to continue the prowess that he demonstrated in attacking the basket toward the end of the year, while expecting an improved shooting stroke from 3-point range and the free throw line, as well as more disruption on the defensive end with his considerable length.
Zubac should be the primary beneficiary of whatever shot creation that Ball can muster, and I’d like to see him extending his range beyond the 3-point line. He is capable of hitting that shot, but it was under-utilized last year during the regular season, and the Summer League provides an excellent opportunity to get his feet wet in that respect. This, along with improved defensive awareness in pick & roll situations would constitute a successful Summer League for the big fella.
This week could be a bit of a coming out party for David Nwaba, whose defensive abilities can help the Lakers get out in transition, where he can fill a wing with the best of ’em in Vegas, and his feel for back-cut opportunities jives very well with the passing prowess of Ball and Kuzma. It may be too much to ask him to demonstrate a competent 3-point shot at this point, but that’s the only thing that stands in the way between him and a 10-year NBA career.
This is going to be the first time we’ll see the “Lakers” in any incarnation since April 12th, a stretch of nearly 3 months. We’re champing at the bit to get our first look at Lonzo, Kuzma, Hart, & Bryant, and see what improvements Ingram & Zubac have made. As a result of our eagerness, both the good and bad of Summer League are inevitably over-analyzed to an absurd degree. Every. Single. Year. Summer League is ultimately a mix of talented kids and journeyman veterans who just met each other, with a week’s worth of practice, with an assistant coach, all trying to showcase themselves for various leagues around the world. It barely qualifies as organized basketball.
So I’d suggest that you get out to Vegas this weekend if you can, set your DVR if you can’t, and treat any success that the young guys have as found money, while brushing off any struggles. But I know you won’t, and I’ll be arguing with someone about why Lonzo Ball isn’t the next Kendall Marshall at some point in the next week.
And that’s why I love you guys.
In Part 2 of our series on how Lonzo Ball will run the Lakers’ offense…after some significant roster changes…we take a look at Floppy, a common half court set in the NBA.
In part one of our series on how Lonzo Ball will run the Lakers Playbook, Pete Zayas takes a look at the early offense action of Delays & Down Screens.
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.