LeBron James knows how good his Lakers teammate Lonzo Ball can be. Earlier this year, James spent part of his postgame media session explaining all the ways that Ball makes himself valuable even when he’s not scoring.
Now, he’s focused on making sure Ball knows how good he can be when he is putting the ball in the basket.
“Zo, I think sometimes he doesn’t realize how great he is and the things that he possesses out on the floor. When Zo realizes how good he is on the floor, it makes him a dynamic player and it makes us even better,” James said, before quickly adding. “He’s been doing that as of late.”
Ball scored 9 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Lakers beat the Jazz, 90-83, but as James has referenced often before, one has to look at more than just Ball’s counting stats to see his impact on the game.
“Just his attacking, even when he doesn’t make it, earlier in the game he was getting to the rim. He missed a couple of them, that’s absolutely fine. He got a couple charges, that’s absolutely fine. When he’s aggressive it just changes the dynamic of this team,” James said.
Backing up James’ assertion is that Ball posted a plus-minus of +13, tied with James for team-high. And while single-game plus-minus isn’t a perfect indicator of the a players’ impact — it can be skewed by which teammates they play with, or random hot shooting stretch from either team — over the Lakers’ last three games, the team is outscoring opponents at a rate that would equal 14.4 points per 100 possessions with Ball on the floor.
That is the second-best net rating on the team over that span, second only to — you guessed it — James himself (16.3).
All of this is a small sample size, but as James astutely pointed out to reporters after the win, Ball’s whole career is a small sample size so far.
“He’s a year and how many games (into his career)? Does he even have 82 games under his belt yet? I don’t think so, so I think every game is another teaching point for him,” James said.
As of Friday night, Ball is 70 games into his career. Never doubt James’ memory.
But as for Ball, James is right to preach patience with him. Very few 21-year-olds are ready for the spotlight that comes from playing on a team under the scrutiny that James’ squads always are, and even less are able to be as impactful as Ball is while still having tons of room to grow by doing simple things like fixing up their shot, or improving their finishing ability.
Ball is barely in the second year of his career, and he’s already shown he can have a positive impact on a team without scoring. As soon as he follows James’ advice and starts realizing how great he is when he’s aggressive and looks to score a bit, he’ll be ever more impactful. Over the last three games, he seems to have taken steps in that direction.
All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.