LAS VEGAS- Early in the Los Angeles Lakers’ abbreviated training camp to prepare for Las Vegas summer league, Jud Buechler came to a realization about Lonzo Ball that his teammates have quickly come to share.
"If you're a wing you better be paying attention or he's going to hit you in the side of the head,” the Lakers’ summer league head coach said, a warning since-waived Lakers guard David Nwaba confirmed resulted from a real hazard.
"I know it's always coming. I know I've got to look up before I get hit in the head with the ball,” Nwaba said. “He's a great passer and I know I've got to be ready at all times."
While so much of the hoopla surrounding Ball has centered on his mediocre shooting start (38 percent from the field so far in summer league), his passing has been as good or better than advertised. Ball’s quick-hitting feeds have been so good, in fact, that his teammates are still getting used to being ready for them.
“You always have to watch for the ball,” said Lakers center Ivica Zubac with the smile of a man who learned the hard way. “You always have to be careful because if he sees a little bit of open space he's going to pass the ball."
Lakers rookie center Thomas Bryant says the team has had to learn how to deal with Ball’s unique passing vision through their practice sessions.
“I try to always be ready. You just never know when a pass might come your way,” Bryant told Silver Screen and Roll. “I don't want to drop a pass."
He admits that the Lakers’ learning process is ongoing.
“I think sometimes the guys didn’t expect it. The guys adjusted to that real quick,” Bryant said.
The Lakers adjustments weren’t quite as quick as Ball’s outlet passes, but the team is starting to turn his facilitation from a danger to their heads into a danger to their opponents.
The results of their learning were on full display in the Lakers’ 103-102 comeback win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Ball stuffed the box score with a 36 point, 11 assist, eight rebound, five steal and two block, continuing to pad his summer-league leading nine assist per game average.
“That was my third time playing with them,” Ball said. “It's getting better every game and they know when I get the ball, just run."
Ball has played with breakneck pace since high school, and it shows when he is seemingly already redirecting the ball up court into a touchdown pass for Kyle Kuzma even as he rebounds or collects a quick pass from one of his bigs following a board:
"As soon as I get the ball out of bounds, somebody is scoring a layup on the other end,” Zubac said.
"I think [Lonzo and I] have some pretty good chemistry," Lakers rookie forward Kyle Kuzma added. "If I run the floor I know his head is always up."
The way Ball keeps his head up has been infectious for the Lakers, leading to extra passes pinging all over the floor from every member of the roster. It may be “just” summer league, but it’s exactly the type of selfless basketball the Lakers clearly are hoping they can play moving forward.
“Lonzo’s a great player and it’s fun to play with a point guard that’s so pass first, and his head is always up,” Kuzma said. “If you’re a basketball player that’s a person you want to play with.”
As long as you keep your head up.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.