Earlier this week, one of the Los Angeles Lakers’ assistant coaches, Jud Buechler, left Luke Walton’s staff for a spot on Knicks head coach David Fizdale’s bench in New York. While the Lakers have yet to announce Buechler’s replacement, one candidate likely to get a look is player development coach Miles Simon, who has been with the organization for just over a year now.
On a team that brought in four rookies in this past draft alone, Simon’s had his work cut out for him in his first season full season with Los Angeles. Specifically, Simon was tasked with developing rookies Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball, the latter of which was the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The former Arizona Wildcast sat down with Lakers reporter Mike Trudell to talk about his first season with the organization and what it was like working with Ball, who Simon said impressed him with his high basketball IQ and “unbelievable” instincts.
His instincts are off the charts. His feel for the game. The things he sees ahead of everybody else are just not things that are taught. Not a lot of people in the world have them. The passing, obviously. He can see and make passes that others can’t. Defensively, really off the ball, he’s so long and his anticipation is unbelievable. The steals that he gets. The blocks. The timing he has defensively.
Those are all just natural gifts. It’s really fun to watch those things because that’s a guy you just put out on the floor and he can make plays where you can’t believe he’s 20 years old. The no-look passes, the full-court passes where he’s delivering it 80 feet right where Brook Lopez put his hand.
Ball led the Lakers in both assists per game (7.2) and total assists (376) despite missing 32 regular season contests. That was to be expected of Ball, who broke UCLA’s all-time single season assist record in his lone season with the Bruins. However, his defense, which looked All-NBA worthy at times, wasn’t nearly as predictable heading into the season.
The 20-year-old ranked No. 3 overall among point guards in defensive real plus-minus, according to ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus tool. Not rookie point guards, all point guards.
His combination of playmaking and defense raises his floor as an NBA player substantially, but in order to reach his ceiling Ball is going to have to improve as a facilitator in half court sets and that starts with him becoming a better ballhandler. According to Simon, that’s been the emphasis with Ball this offseason.
It’s step by step. This offseason, part of his plan is becoming a better ballhandler, and having a comfortability with the ball. He’s so used to getting a rebound, taking one or two dribbles sometimes and passing the ball. That’s great, and there are going to be times he does that, but there will also be times where we need his handle to be better. Guys are pressuring him in the halfcourt and on pick and rolls, or he’s going to have the ball late in the clock. Can he break his guy down and get in the paint not only for a shot for himself but for his teammates? He’s tall, so can he play a little closer to the ground? So his handle is one of the most important things.
Regardless of what happens in free agency, Ball is expected to be the starting point guard for the Lakers come opening night next season. The leap he makes, or doesn’t make, this summer will dictate how successful the Lakers can be next season.
However, with the work Simon has done so far with the team’s young core, there’s reason to be optimistic about what’s to come for Los Angeles.
You can follow Christian Rivas on Twitter at @RadRivas.