As a rookie, Lonzo Ball was already one of the most impactful defensive players across the entire NBA. It’s insanely rare to see a rookie play that well on the defensive side of the ball, which should have the Los Angeles Lakers really excited about where Ball’s game might go in the years to come.
Arguably more important is that Lonzo seems to know what he’s capable of as well (via Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times):
“I think I’m one of the best defenders on the team,” Ball said. “So when you’re guarding some other team’s best players, especially if they are guards, just try to make their jobs as hard as I can.”
Here’s the thing about how Ball makes his impact on defense: It’s not necessarily how he talks about it in the quote above.
What Ball is talking about is more regarding one-on-one, individual defense. That’s not really his strong suit right now. Maybe he’s alluding to improvement in that regard, but as of right now, he’s a much stronger team defender than he is individually.
But just because it’s not in the one-on-one, shut-down fashion doesn’t mean Ball isn’t an incredibly impactful defender. For evidence, just focus solely on Lonzo defensively for a stretch of possessions while you’re watching the Lakers play every so often. Where he makes his impact is by disrupting the things the other team is trying to do.
He’s especially great at recognizing key passes that need to be completed in order for the opposition’s offense to run smoothly, stepping in or showing in those passing lanes and forcing the opponent have to immediately jump into their secondary options.
That’s is just one example, but that kind of gumming up the works of what a team is trying to do, when done often enough, makes the Lakers a better defensive team than they would be without Ball on the court. And really, that’s the whole point.
Ball is also one of the better rebounders at his position. You can play as great defense as you like; you can force the other team into tough shots consistently; but if you aren’t finishing plays with rebounds or turnovers, then all the aforementioned effort was basically wasted. Lonzo coming back and securing the rebound so the Lakers can get out and run will be crucial if the Lakers want to run as much as they have in the preseason.
If he stays healthy, Ball really has an opportunity to make a great case for an All-Defensive Team bid this season. Given the way the Lakers want to play this year, if this happens, the team’s ceiling goes to another level. So please stay healthy, Lonzo.