With all the hoopla that has surrounded Lonzo Ball and his family over the past few years, it’s easy to forget he is only a rookie.
Not just a rookie, but a rookie who was dubbed the face of the Los Angeles Lakers by president of basketball operations and arguably the greatest player to ever wear the purple and gold, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, only a few minutes into his introductory press conference. No pressure or anything, kid.
But Ball has shown early in his young career that he doesn’t mind the pressure that comes with playing under the bright lights in Los Angeles. “Pressure busts pipes but, it also makes diamonds ...” Ball said in an Instagram post following the Lakers’ loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, where Ball shot 2-of-15 from the field, including 1-of-12 from behind the arc. Needless to say, it wasn’t his night.
However, Wednesday’s game was just the latest in what has been a string of bad shooting games for Ball. In his last eight games, Ball has attempted 61 three-pointers, tied for the eighth-most in the NBA with All-Star Kemba Walker during that span. Of his 61 attempts from, only 11 have found the bottom of the net. You don’t have to be a “numbers guy” to understand that is a very low success rate.
This slump comes fresh off the heels of some of his best shooting performances of the season. In the six games coming back from the All-Star break, Ball shot 50 percent the three-point line while attempting seven threes a game.
Sustainable? Probably not, but a good sign? Absolutely, especially because his success shooting didn’t feel flukey, and there’s a good chance it wasn’t.
His inconsistent shooting from the field is far from an anomaly, especially for a rookie. This sudden decline in production is known as the “rookie wall,” used to describe a time in a player’s first season where the grind of the NBA’s grueling 82-game schedule hits them like a ton of bricks—specifically, a brick wall.
Many doubt its existence, but others, like former Laker and Spectrum SportsNet analyst Caron Butler, know that it is very real.
“It is a spot where you feel like you’re running in quicksand for like 10 to 15 games,” Butler told Lakers Nation’s Matthew Moreno. “But it’s all mental, and you have to get out of it. The legendary Pat Riley was coaching me at the time (of being a rookie) and he told me, ‘Look, it’s all mental. I know it’s a rookie wall and everybody is telling you it’s OK to be tired. It’s not OK. Snap out of it.’”
Other heralded rookies like Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum have also acknowledged the reality of the rookie wall.
“There was definitely a period when things were just tough,” he said via Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News. “It was real tough to score. My rhythm was off. Guys were telling me there were going to be ups and downs in the season — especially my first year.
“Hopefully, I got that out of my system.”
Ball will have 11 games to try and break through the rookie wall the same way Tatum and his teammate Kyle Kuzma seemingly has after a rough shooting patch in December. Having Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, who are expected to make their returns by the end of this month, back on the court will surely take some pressure off Ball, but they can’t control what goes on in his head.
Ball has shown in the past he has the confidence to throw up shots and the chops to make them, now it’s just a mental battle as the season starts to wind down.
All stats were provided by stats.nba.com unless otherwise noted.