From the moment the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball, fans have compared him to several familiar faces from NBA history, with Jason Kidd being one of the most frequent.
Ball and Kidd both played in the Pac-12, thrived in fast break opportunities and played excellent defense. Kidd averaged 2.6 defensive win shares (DWS) — an estimate of how many wins a player contributed due to their defense — during his Hall of Fame career, while Ball averaged 2.5 DWS in his rookie year.
However, one player that doesn’t come up a lot, but that Ball may ultimately play a similar role to in many ways is Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green.
Hold on, I’ll explain.
While many Lakers fans were hoping that Julius Randle would fill that role, Randle has packed his bags and moved to New Orleans. Plus, Randle never thrived in the same ways Green has. Yes, he was a small ball center that could switch onto smaller guards effectively — man I am going to miss this guy — but he still wasn’t a threat at all from outside, never even attempting more than one three per game in his career.
It’s Ball who shares more similarities with the Warrior star.
Like Green, Ball plays good defense and can switch onto larger players. Coming into last year, defense was seen as one of Ball’s most glaring weaknesses as a prospect, but as the year went on, people got on board the “Lonzo can be an excellent defender” bandwagon.
Ball’s +2.40 real defensive point minus (RDPM) — a stat that measures a player’s impact on the defensive end — ranked third among point guards in the league. Not rookies, in the entire league. This matches Green’s ranking among power forwards, with Green having a +3.34 RDPM this season.
Ball’s surprising competency on that end was a big part of the Lakers’ revamped defense last year. During the Lakers’ lengthy playoff drought — five years is an eternity in Los Angeles — they consistently ranked in the bottom of the league defensive rating, until last year, when the Lakers shot up to the 13th spot in defensive rating last year. Even though you can’t, and shouldn’t, give Ball all the credit, he was a big part of this improvement.
Another facet of the game these two players share is their ability to suck up rebounds.
Ball had a rebound percentage — the percentage of available rebounds a player gets — of 10.5 percent compared to Green’s 13.2 percent. This showed that they had a nose for the ball, and both players are at their best when they pull down a rebound and run the break for their teams.
Last year, both the Lakers and Warriors averaged a rebound percentage of around 50 percent — the Lakers ranked ninth in the league with 50.9, and the Warriors were 11th with 50.6 — that helped end opponents’ offensive possessions and push the pace in transition.
Speaking of pace, both Green and Ball love it when their teams play as fast as possible. With Ball on the floor, the Lakers averaged a pace of 104.89 possessions per 48 minutes, compared to the Warriors pace of 103.60 when Green was playing.
And even though a faster pace does not necessarily lead to more wins, the Lakers and the Warriors have made a point of being some of the fastest teams in the NBA, a similarity likely owed in part to Luke Walton’s shared Warriors and Lakers coaching DNA.
But such breakneck speed also directly relates back to both Ball and Green, who flourish as the point men on the fast break. And with the Lakers needing to make things as easy on LeBron James as possible, pushing the pace and getting natural looks for teammates takes some of the responsibility off of LeBron to create.
Another aspect of Ball’s game that is similar to Green’s is their 3-point shooting. While, Ball was not a world beater when it comes to his 3-point shot, neither was Green when he came into the league. In his first year with the Warriors, Green shot 20.9 percent from beyond the arc, while Ball fared much better, shooting (a still bad) 30.5 percent in his rookie year.
Green proved that a three-point stroke is something that can develop over time. The Michigan state product improved his percentage on threes to 33 percent in his second year, and reached the apex of his career in 2015-16 when he converted on 38.8 percent of his bombs from downtown.
Still, the most critical attribute that both Green and Ball share is that they are both useful while still being low usage. While a lot of people have talked about Ball’s fit since the King’s arrival in Los Angeles, many have incorrectly pointed out that he doesn’t fit because he needs the ball in his hands.
The truth is quite the opposite. Ball’s biggest strength is how he pushes the pace in transition and makes sure to get the ball out of his hands as soon as one of his teammates has an advantage. Ball had a 17.2 percent usage rate — an estimate of the percentage of a team’s plays end in a shot, assist or turnover by a player — last year, which ranked tenth on the Lakers.
Green has paved the way for low usage and versatile players to become All-Stars. The former Defensive Player of the Year has never seen his usage rate exceed 18.6 percent and had the same usage rate, 17.2 percent, as Ball last year.
Green’s ability to be an All-Star while sharing tge majority of his minutes with high usage play creators like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant makes him even more valuable.
While Ball wasn’t surrounded by All-Stars last season, he still showed his willingness to get his teammates involved, which will help raise the ceiling of a team that will either add an All-Star free agent or see one of their young guys grow into that All-Star role.
Put simply, players like Ball and Green aren’t the engine or other machinery of their teams, they’re more like the fuel that keep them going, empowering the other parts to do what they were built for. It’s not the same situation, but every championship team needs players like that, and thus it could be argued that with LeBron James in tow, the Lakers need a Lonzo Ball just like the Warriors need a Draymond Green.
All stats from basketball-reference, NBA.com and ESPN.