The Los Angeles Lakers are having a hard time adjusting to life without Lonzo Ball, who is just a few days away from having his sprained left shoulder re-evaluated. The Lakers dropped their fourth game in a row Wednesday night, which also happened to be their worst passing performance of the year.
The Lakers tallied a season-low 14 assists against the Memphis Grizzlies. Even the “good” looks generated were off the mark, and LA shot just 37.6 percent as a team. Their three-point shooting — a paltry 8-of-28 — was even worse. The easy baskets that are generated off the fingertips of Ball are sorely missed for one of the most anemic offense’s in the league.
“We miss Lonzo for a multitude of different reasons. He's just that type of player, he effects the game in a lot of different ways. He gets it out on the break for us and usually ends the game with seven, eight assists,” Larry Nance Jr. said after the game.
As down as the Lakers’ offensive efficiency has been all season, watching the injuries tank it even further has painted a clear picture as to how important Lonzo is to squeezing juice out of it. It’s not always apparent in the heat of the game, but the closer you look, the more obvious it is that Ball has his fingerprints all over the court when he’s playing.
That’s not unique to Lonzo, of course. When a team is missing its starting point guard, who averages 33.9 minutes and 7.1 assists per game, it’s going to stand out.
“This was why I think if you asked anyone in our organization all year about Lonzo's shooting struggles, we'd tell you he'll be fine, because we know how important he is to us with how he plays, and the way that we want to play. The way he pushes the ball, the way he hits whoever's open every time. That's contagious.
“Now that he's not out there with us, we need to make sure that we make it a point that that's still how we're going to play. We're not going to turn into an ISO team, that's not our strengths. We don't have guys that are ready to just go one-on-one,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said.
The team is adjusting to life without Lonzo, something Brandon Ingram admitted is “different” for the Lakers as they’ve grown comfortable playing alongside their rookie floor general.
“It's different. It's different for us. He pushes the pace for us at the point guard position, but I think it's important for us for everybody else to step up. I think tonight we played a game where it was half court, and that's not our game.
“We push the pace, we average a lot of fast break points in this league, and I think that's what we need to get back to,” Ingram said.
The Grizzlies were able to maul the Lakers at the slow, plodding pace they’re comfortable playing at. The Lakers lead the NBA in pace, averaging 104.08 possessions per game. Memphis is on the opposite end of the spectrum, the slowest team in the league at 95.42 possessions per game.
Without Ball pulling down defensive rebounds and immediately looking ahead, the Lakers’ offense had the pizzazz of a hibernating bear against the Grizzlies. That’s what happens when you pull the engine out of an offense, with Memphis keeping the tempo of the game a stagant 95.84.
“Lonzo does a great job of speeding the pace up. He's a great point guard and we're definitely missing him, he sets the table for a lot of us. Pushes the tempo for us. You start with him, he's the point guard,” Kyle Kuzma said.
Life without Lonzo hasn’t been peachy for the Lakers, who were already thin at the point guard position. Hopefully for their sake — and ours — the update on Ball’s shoulder in a few days is a promising one.