Editor’s Note: I’d like to welcome Dicky Fung to the team here at Silver Screen and Roll! He has a unique background working in the realm of basketball, likes to dig deep in his observations, and should be a great addition to our team here! Make sure to give him a follow over on Twitter as well! Now onto the good stuff...
“Lonzo Ball is a bust.” “Lonzo Ball is overrated.” “LaVar Ball is putting too much pressure on his son.” “Lonzo’s not even the best rookie on his team.” “Lonzo Ball is trash.”
We have heard these echoing narratives early on in the Los Angeles Lakers’ season. The struggles of the 20-year-old rookie has been a hot topic, and rightfully so, because the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has not lived up to the hefty standards set by his father LaVar Ball.
Through 12 games, the former UCLA product is averaging a pedestrian 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 6.9 assists on the year. Ball is barely getting to the free-throw line, where he’s averaging just over one attempt per game. Even when he’s at the line, he’s shooting an awful 53 percent from the charity stripe.
And that’s not all.
The biggest concern is how his career 55 percent shooting at UCLA has not translated well into the NBA, where he’s shooting just 29 percent from the field, including 23 percent from deep. Ball has struggled to finish at the rim as well, shooting just 38 percent inside.
There are multiple reasons why he’s shooting such a low percentage, and there’s more going on than you’d think. Sure, opposing teams are pressing him harder than others, partly due to the hype he’s received and the things that are coming out of his father’s mouth. However, most of it is due to poor decision making.
The main detractors will point out he’s a bust for not being able to score, but will not realize that Lonzo Ball was never meant to be a scorer, even if a newfound offensive game would morph him into a much better player. He’s not a volume scorer, and he’s probably not gifted in his offensive skills to ever be one. Hence, that’s why most compared him to future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd.
"My life, I've been pretty much passing. [At] UCLA we had great shooters on the floor," Ball said. "It's a little bit new for me, but I'll get used to it. Everyone is playing me for the pass. I can get into the lanes, I just have to take advantage”
"It's in my head to be honest," Ball told ESPN after the Celtics loss. "I know I can shoot the ball."
Teams are daring Ball to shoot, and point guards are sagging off of him. Even still, he can’t seem to find his rhythm. History suggests he’s right.
Supporters will point out that he was a career 55 percent shooter in college, including 41 percent from deep. The shots should start to fall sooner rather than later. And when that happens, the rest of his game will open up for him, as the defense will have to respect his jumper. That’s when Ball will be able to use his height and length to get past defenders. Ball may not be athletic like the Russell Westbrooks or the John Walls, but he’s got quick enough feet and high enough basketball IQ to learn to penetrate and kick to open shooters.
Perhaps Ball is trying to decipher and adjust to how defenses are playing him, as his shot attempts in his game log suggests he’s taking each game by a different approach. After taking just six shots in the Lakers’ opening loss against the Clippers on Oct. 19th, he would come out and take a whopping 27 shots the very next night. After being held scoreless in a loss against Portland on Nov. 2nd, the poor shooting continued as Lonzo would shoot a combined 6-of-28 the next two games. You don’t need to be a mathematician to figure out these are terrible percentages from your starting point guard.
In short, Ball is also having a difficult time to make the proper reads within the halfcourt offense. His drives to the lane includes shooting over defenders when kick-out passes were open, or the total opposite, where he would at times be too unselfish and pass up open shots.
However, the coach is still eager to withstand and ride out his rookie’s struggles. Coach Luke Walton preaches for Ball to remain aggressive.
"I don't think he can ever be too aggressive," Walton said. "Get into that paint, learn what it's like to take on that contact and finish, and make those reads doing downhill. Whether he makes or misses shots, right now I don't care. He'll figure that out. He's that good of a player."
Many would argue that Ball is making his teammates better, and it may be true. The Lakers were playing .500 basketball just earlier in the week before dropping two straight to Boston and Washington on the road. Ball is still pushing the ball with aggression, where the Lakers are Top-5 in pace. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson has emphasized the importance of playing fast and playing with more possessions. The Lakers are playing team basketball, and it shows. As Lonzo improves, so will the Lakers.
"He's doing everything else. That's not a concern of ours," Lakers center Brook Lopez said. "Just the way he facilitates, he brings everyone up to a whole 'nother level. He instigates the break, he instigates our offense. It's irreplaceable."
Charles Barkley of TNT’s Inside the NBA highlighted a very interesting and valid reason to Ball’s struggles, pointing out the unorthodox release is forcing him to be only “half a player.” Ball has a bad habit of shooting the basketball from his left side of his body instead of bringing the ball straight up above his head. Whenever dribbling or driving the ball from his right hand, Ball would always go back to the left side to release the ball.
It’s becoming predictable enough that even Barkley was able to see this trend, as It makes the release of his shot much slower and easier to be deflected or blocked by NBA athletes.
Chuck speaks on Lonzo's struggles tonight... pic.twitter.com/IlSAG2vowZ— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 3, 2017
What if Barkley nailed it on the head? What if the main reason to Lonzo’s struggles is his shot itself? Could it be that his shooting mechanics are the answer to all his struggles? Is it a topic the Lakers need to address and attempt to revamp his shooting form? LakerFilmRoom dove into Ball’s early offensive struggles in this video:
The hometown product from Chino Hills will have much adversity to overcome and it’s only beginning. The media is having a field day highlighting his recent struggles, and it’s going to test Lonzo’s mental approach every time he releases the basketball.
Ball will have a steep learning curve adapting to NBA talent, and his lack of success on the offensive end will not earn him much love for Rookie of the Year honors. The Lakers have preached this season isn’t about setting a goal in reaching the playoffs, but to ensure the young core continues to grow and improve both individually and as a team. A key part will be making sure Lonzo is on the upward trajectory of becoming the transcendent point guard they drafted him to be.