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Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball Summer League Passing Compilation

Lonzo Ball Lakers Summer League Passing Compilation from Laker Film Room on Vimeo.

 

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.

Laker Film Room Podcast – Lonzo is The One

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.

Lakers Summer League Preview

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.

The “Veterans”

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.

R-E-L-A-X

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.

We’re Looking at Lonzo Ball’s Weaknesses All Wrong

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.

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