Los Angeles — During the first half of what would eventually be a 107-99 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Lakers guard Lonzo Ball was flying around the floor like a kid who had eaten too much holiday candy, slapping the ball for deflections and steals and just being a relentless defensive pest.
During the second half, Lakers head coach Luke Walton didn’t think Ball kept that same energy, and he thinks he knows why.
“Zo’s had off shooting nights, but he does so many other things that we’ve been able to find another way to win,” Walton said to preface his criticism before continuing.
“I thought tonight for some reason he let the fact that he was missing shots affect his overall energy in the second half,” Walton said. “He’s too good of a player and he’s too important to us to let that happen.”
The numbers (somewhat) bear out Walton’s conclusion. The Lakers outscored the Grizzlies at a rate that would equal 11.4 points per 100 possessions with Ball in the first half, the second-best net rating of anyone on the team. In a case of small sample size theater, Ball posted the second-worst net rating on the team in the second half (-13).
Were missed shots responsible? In the first half Ball was 1-4, and he went 1-6 in the second one. And per Bill Oram of the Athletic, it was Ball’s 3-point shooting that made the night an unprecedented one for Ball (and not in a good way):
Lonzo Ball missed all seven of his 3-point attempts tonight. Per @bball_ref that is the most attempts of his career without a make. It was the seventh time in his career he went 0-fer when shooting at least five 3s. https://t.co/OduH5rWk2Q— Bill Oram (@billoram) December 24, 2018
Seeing such a lid on the rim would seem to be enough for anyone to get down on themselves and lose a little energy, but Ball said that wasn’t the case for him, and thought his coach’s assessment of how things went wrong for him missed the mark like one of Ball’s many 3-point attempts on the evening.
“I don’t think (I lost energy). I think I missed shots,” Ball said. “I’ll get the same shots again and I’ll shoot them again.”
Players directly disagreeing with their head coach’s appraisal of their game hasn’t been common in Lakerland since the Byron Scott era, but one game doesn’t make a trend. Sometimes two people can see the same thing and come to different conclusions about it. If we’re being real, it’s also not in Ball’s best interest to admit he got disengaged even if he did.
Online, the debate about Ball’s drop-off in play was a more contentious version of the “chicken or the egg” argument, with some blaming Walton for sitting him until the final few minutes of the fourth before throwing him in cold, while others said Ball’s own poor play justified Walton to sit him, and that he shouldn’t have gotten to come back in and clank a few more jumpers.
Which is true about this one game doesn’t actually matter all that much, and ultimately Walton isn’t out to get Ball as some fans seem to think. He has continually spoken of the way Ball brings value beyond his sometimes-janky jumper, and how he can make an impact even when it deserts him. He didn’t think Ball did those things on Sunday, but he knows his young point can do them in the future and has done them before.
“People are always going to have off shooting nights. It’s important to find other things to help your team win,” Walton said. “Normally he’s really good with that, but we can still win if he’s not making shots.”
Just maybe not when he’s missing this many, or if he’s not doing all the little things he’s so great at in spite of his misses.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.