LAS VEGAS — Lonzo Ball being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers may have been destiny, written in lightning by Zeus himself, but the start of their journey together was far from all they dreamed of.
Ball shot 2-of-15 from the floor in his debut at Las Vegas Summer League, launching 11 threes in total and connecting on just one of them. He dished five dimes, but coughed up three turnovers. On a night that was supposed to be the christening of a new era of Lakers basketball, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka sat courtside and witnessed a reminder that rebuilding around a rookie point guard comes with growing pains.
The game started with a bang, though, Lonzo launching a pinpoint lob that Brandon Ingram threw down with authority. It ended with LaVar Ball having the best perspective on an inauspicious start to his son’s Lakers career.
“It’s better for him to start at the bottom than have all this success at the top and now everyone expects it the whole season. He’s gonna grow,” LaVar said as an unofficial postgame unfolded in the back tunnels of the Thomas and Mack Center following the Lakers loss.
One Las Vegas Summer League game means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme, but in the moment it was a definite let down. Lakers fans slammed the arena from top to bottom once again, battling the Las Vegas heat in what’s become a tradition in recent years after the franchise landed four lottery picks in a row. As has watching a No. 2 pick struggle immediately out of the gates.
“Only way I can go now is up,” Lonzo said following the disappointing debut. “That will probably be the worst game I have all week, so hopefully I keep getting better.”
Ball didn’t play out of control. The only real problem with his shot selection was passing out of a layup opportunity or two in the paint. Game 1 in Las Vegas was simply not meant to be for Lonzo, the 41 percent three-point shooter out of UCLA hoisting brick after brick despite being open on the majority of his attempts from outside.
“You can see there’s frustration. It was [Ball’s] debut, he would’ve liked to have shot the ball better. I’m sure he’ll look back five years from now and laugh at tonight. You can see just physically he was disappointed that he wasn’t making shots,” Lakers summer league coach Jud Buechler said.
That frustration isn’t something LaVar expects Lonzo to hold onto. Instead, he saw the silver lining in the overtime loss to the LA Clippers.
“He ain’t gonna be discouraged, this is the worst you can do. He can’t go anywhere but up, and you still keep your team in the game playing your worst game ever. That’s what I like about this,” LaVar said.
Ingram offered up words of encouragement for Ball, a player he was in a similar position to just one year ago. Thursday night, Brandon was the best player on the floor and the clear leader of the team. It’s things like this that has the Lakers hopeful the duo can be the future of the franchise.
“It’s going to be better. Just coming in, first game, little jitters. Just coming into this game, he’s going to be a lot better. We know what he can do, we know how he can affect the game.
“We’ll go back, just look at film, come back here and put the work in. We’re all here for him, we’re all behind him, so he’s going to be better next time,” Ingram said of his new running mate.
The Ball-Ingram lob from media row.
And, sure enough, Lonzo was focused on redeeming himself when the Lakers step back onto the court against the Boston Celtics Saturday afternoon.
“Just bounce back,” Lonzo said of how he’ll put Game 1 behind him. ”I could’ve got into the middle a lot more, but they were sagging a lot. It’s just on me. I missed a lot of shots. It’s my fault.”
It wasn’t all bad, though. Ball’s passing was on full display even if five assists aren’t exactly jaw-dropping numbers. It was clear how infectious Lonzo slinging the ball around the court was, with the team putting together some impressive moments in the first half.
It’s no coincidence ball movement was markedly more fluid during Lonzo’s strongest stretch of controlling the tempo and flow of the game. Expect to see plenty of hockey assists from Ball, like this dream sequence:
“His passing is incredible. That first half you can really see what he can do. If he gets the ball in his hands, when you’re running on that wing you better be paying attention,” Buechler said.
Game 1 may not have gone according to the blueprint, but there’s no better way for Lonzo to make up for a deflating debut than to help lead the Lakers to a win against the Boston Celtics Saturday night in Las Vegas. The team is focused on moving full steam ahead, and with Lonzo having nowhere to go but up, Game 2 should be even more exciting to watch.
*All quotes obtained firsthand.