LAS VEGAS — The Los Angeles Lakers played well as a team Saturday afternoon against the Boston Celtics, but not even a triple-double from Lonzo Ball in a bounce back game was enough to notch the team their first Las Vegas Summer League victory.
“We went through some spurts offensively where we just missed some easy ones, we struggled again shooting the ball, that’s tough. They were switching everything and we didn’t really read that with some slips in our offense,” Lakers summer league coach Jud Buechler said of the team’s effort.
The Lakers got out on a dominant 10-0 run to start the game, with ravenous Lakers fans rattling the Thomas and Mack Center each and every possession.
The fuel in their offense was passing, with the Lakers assisting on all three of their first made field goals while running out of the gates against Boston. Lonzo Ball may have only assisted on one of those makes to start the game — he’d go on to notch a triple-double with 11 assists — but he was the engine of the kinetic energy on offense.
“Having Lonzo, who can pass like that, is pretty contagious,” Kyle Kuzma said. “We’ve got guys that can also pass and do everything because we have a lot of high IQ basketball players. He definitely helps and he makes the easy pass look fun.”
The Lakers are whipping the ball around constantly in Las Vegas, and the numbers validate the eye test. Los Angeles finished the game with 18 assists to Boston’s 11. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers (20) and Golden State Warriors (22) had more assists as a team Saturday night in Las Vegas.
It’s clear that Lonzo’s passing on the Lakers has become infectious, perhaps so much focused on moving the ball it’s too his detriment at times.
“I thought he had more chances to score at the basket. I’d like him to be a little more aggressive, I think he can get all the way to the basket and score some easy ones,” Buechler said while summarizing his thoughts on Game 2 with Ball.
David Nwaba echoed a similar sentiment following the loss.
“[Lonzo’s] a great passer. I don’t know how many assists he finished with, but he’s always looking to kick the ball out, at the same time being aggressive when he can. Sometimes over-passing when has has the open layup, but that’s his role. He’s a good passer and he showed that tonight,” Nwaba said.
But Lonzo’s not the only Laker who’s come down with a case of over-passing, which certainly has its pros and cons.
“I think I over-passed a couple of times too as well, but that’s how you get an open shot. You continue to pass until you find the best shot on the floor. It’s definitely contagious,” Nwaba said.
“It’s definitely contagious,” Lonzo said of his focus on passing. ”My teammates are telling me I’m a little bit too unselfish, I’ve got a lot of layups or dunks I can have. When I make an extra pass, everyone else is too.”
The over-passing is a noticeable aspect of this Lakers summer league squad, and Ball has often been the culprit. There have been numerous occasions of Lonzo having a path to the rim but electing to kick out to an open shooter.
Sunday night it happened with Josh Hart on the receiving end of one of those over-passes, left alone with nothing but the cool air of the arena between him and the basket. He missed. Was it the wrong decision to kick to a wide-open player in the corner, or was Lonzo right to pass to the perimeter with the defense closing in? What happens when it’s Brandon Ingram standing on the perimeter with space?
What’s clear is the Lakers were at their best with Lonzo on the floor Sunday night. The No. 2 pick had the best +/- rating on the team at 7, controlling the flow of the game masterfully. It was an impressive display from Ball, making the right pass over, and over, and over. The value of his ball movement is hardly reflected in his assist totals.
“I needed somebody also that can make the other players better, and also that players want to play with,” Magic Johnson said when discussing the D’Angelo Russell trade back in June.
Fast forward to summer league, and Kuzma’s thoughts on playing with Ball were a reflection of what Magic was hoping for. The No. 27 pick had a dominant game, splashing five threes on his way to a game-high 31 points. Ball found him for scoring opportunities all night long.
“Lonzo’s a great player and it’s fun to play with a point guard that’s so pass first, and his head’s always up. If you’re a basketball player that’s a person you want to play with.”
It’s easy to see why:
Games like that aren’t out of the ordinary for Lonzo, that’s just how he’s always seen the game of basketball.
“That’s just how I’ve been playing my whole life,” Lonzo said. ”It’s just natural to me.”
In Vegas, the vision of Ball leading the Lakers is becoming clearer one pass at a time.
*All quotes obtained firsthand.