LAS VEGAS — Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers are pushing through the playoffs together, an important development even if it’s just Las Vegas Summer League. Ball may have started things slowly, but he’s captivating crowds as he drives the Lakers’ success with his passing.
“We don't even want to run sets, we have Lonzo. We want to rebound and get out and run, and that's been successful for us,” Lakers summer league coach Jud Buechler said following the Lakers’ win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Lakers are heading to the quarterfinals, three victories away from capturing the championship Lonzo had his eyes on before the NBA descended upon the sweltering heat of Las Vegas. Ball has been the engine, fuel, tires, oil and GPS for Los Angeles.
It’s no coincidence that Lonzo’s averaging 17 points, 9.8 assists (leading all summer leagues [Orlando, Utah and Las Vegas] in this category), 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game and the Lakers are winning now that he’s found his groove. His fingerprints are all over their success because his hands are touching so many different areas of the game.
“[Lonzo impacts the game] with his rebounding, his defense and his passing, so I’m not surprised that even though he didn’t have a big scoring night his fingertips were all over the stat sheet,” Buechler said of Ball after his first summer league triple-double.
After notching another triple-double to lead the Lakers to a win over the Cavaliers, the statistical marvel was barely a footnote. Watching Lonzo assert his will onto a game of basketball is an experience that takes some getting used to. In the blink of an eye the first quarter is over and Ball’s already notched six assists, five points and a handful of rebounds. It all looks so easy you almost miss it.
The offensive sets the Lakers are running in Las Vegas are the same ones head coach Luke Walton installed when he took over as coach last season, the team focused on getting as many members (and potential members) of the roster a chance to get familiar with the kinds of actions the team will be running.
“It's the exact same stuff. That's what we wanted our guys who are on our team, and the guys who are trying to make our team, to feel comfortable coming into camp,” Buechler said. ”So all the offensive sets are sets that Luke would run in the games and they'll learn in training camp.”
What the Lakers are actually learning, though, is that summer league has been more about everyone on the roster getting used to playing with the new conductor in town more so than diagrammed X’s and O’s.
"Practice is one thing, games are another. The first couple games guys are running down, the ball is almost hitting them in the head. That's how good of a passer [Lonzo] is. I think they've learned their lesson and guys are getting out and he's hitting them now,” Buechler said after Lonzo tallied up another 12 assists against Cleveland.
“It's probably 90 percent his talent, 10 percent guys just knowing if they get on the wings they're gonna get easy layups,” Buechler said when asked how much of the Lakers’ success has been the offensive sets versus Lonzo’s impact leading the team. “He's just incredible at getting that ball and pushing it, and we really want him to set the pace for our team.”
Pushing the pace and setting the tone he is:
That’s by design, as Kyle Kuzma explained after another game featuring the No. 27 pick tearing up the court to convert on assists from Ball. The Lakers’ coaching staff is telling everyone to run up the middle of the court in transition. Lonzo’s handling the rest by playing his game.
“I'm just playing how I always play. They're running, they're making the plays catching, and shooting and scoring, so credit to them,” Ball said, sure to compliment his teammates every chance he gets.
The rest of the summer league Lakers are just as quick to rave about playing with Lonzo. Vander Blue, suddenly the elder statesman of a group of young Lakers, was the latest teammate to heap praise on Ball.
“[Lonzo is a] super humble, talented player,” Vander Blue said. ”Sky is the limit, passes the ball better than anybody I've ever played with. Makes the game really easy. He's very coachable, he listens, and he's just a winner. He wants to win more than anybody, and that's what I love about him.”
The Lakers have a chance to move one step closer to winning it all under the summer sun Saturday night against the Brooklyn Nets, but they’ve already notched their biggest victory of the offseason. Lonzo Ball is making believers as he drives the Lakers’ offense with his prodigious passing.