After six long months, and a few weeks of confusing injury updates, Lonzo Ball will finally be making his return for the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday against the Golden State Warriors.
Ball will come off the bench and play limited minutes, but head coach Luke Walton will be happy to have the 20-year-old back in any capacity because he is one of the team’s more capable floor generals — and by that I mean the only other NBA point guard on the roster.
The Lakers front office deserves a ton of credit for investing in arguably the perfect mentor for Ball in free agency by signing Rajon Rondo to a one-year, $9 million deal, however, outside of Rondo, the Lakers don’t have insurance at the point guard position. That is a problem and there is no better evidence of it than how the Lakers have looked without Ball in the preseason, particularly the second unit.
In fact, it’s been such a glaring issue that Ball himself pointed it out as one of the biggest problems he’s seen from the bench during preseason.
“I’ll be in the second team. I’ve been watching and we kind of take dip when the second team comes in, so hopefully I can help that out,” Ball said after practice on Tuesday.
If Ball and Rondo can both stay healthy, this won’t be much of an issue. Ball and Rondo, along with James, were among the top 10 in assists in the NBA last season.
When healthy, Ball and Rondo are arguably the best point guard tandem in the league, but the chances of them having a clean injury report through 82 games in the regular season are slim-to-none.
Just last season, Ball and Rondo missed a combined 47 games for their respective clubs. While the Pelicans managed without Rondo, going 7-10 in games without him, the Lakers were less fortunate, going 11-19 in games without Ball.
If one of them misses extended time this season, the Lakers are in trouble. If both of them are sidelined for any stretch, the Lakers’ games will be borderline unwatchable, like they have been at times during the preseason.
Outside of Rondo and Ball, the only “true point guard” the Lakers have on their roster is Alex Caruso, who is on a two-way contract with the team. Caruso has proven to be a serviceable backup, but his biggest problem is consistency. Plus, the team only has a limited number of days with him as part of his two-way contract.
Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso: that’s the Lakers’ depth at point guard for a grueling 82-game schedule that’s expected to result in a playoff berth as well.
One could argue that having playmaking wings like LeBron James and Brandon Ingram gives Walton some room to operate, but that would require James or Ingram playing heavy minutes during stretches when Ball or Rondo aren’t healthy. It’s doable, but not sustainable.
Their only other option internally would to play someone out of position at point guard, but Walton tried that in preseason with guys like Josh Hart and Lance Stephenson with little success. Stephenson has been especially woeful, posting a 26 percent assist percentage through four games.
If the Lakers want to bolster their depth at point, and they should, they’re going to have to do it using their extra roster spot. Unfortunately, there is no one player that stands out from the rest on the open market.
Using NBA.com’s Player Impact Estimate, here are the best free agent point guards available.
- Ramon Sessions
- Mario Chalmers
- Jameer Nelson
- Ty Lawson
- Aaron Brooks
Of that group, Chalmers’ name stands out because he’s a former teammate of James, but he’s coming off of his first season back from a ruptured Achilles in 2016 and what he showed last year wasn’t exactly encouraging. The other names in the group are fine, but one could argue they’re not much of an upgrade over Caruso.
The Lakers could also try to facilitate a trade using some of their non-key pieces. What does Isaac Bonga and Ivica Zubac get you on the trade market? Probably not a lot, but maybe a serviceable backup.
It’s not going to be an easy fix, but the Lakers need to address their depth at the point guard position sooner that later.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.