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Most Interesting Lakers No. 3: Can Lonzo Ball stay healthy enough to benefit from LeBron James?

If Lonzo Ball can stay healthy, the Lakers might really hum with he and LeBron James on the same page.

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: The Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season (The 15 guaranteed contracts plus the two guys on two-way contracts). We continue today with No. 3, Lonzo Ball, and will be counting down to the Laker we think is most interesting with a new piece each weekday until we hit No. 1.

If one was to design the perfect point guard to play with LeBron James, they’d start with the ability to shoot, make quick decisions, defend multiple positions, succeed in transition, and have a head for the game that could keep up with the hyper-efficient computer that resides between James’ ears. Lonzo Ball checks quite a few of those boxes.

None of it will matter, unfortunately, if Ball can’t stay on the court.

Let’s disregard health for right now, though, and consider the qualities listed above, starting with shooting. If you can look past his funky motion, Ball really isn’t as bad as he’s made to seem as a shooter. It all starts at the freethrow line for him, though.

Last year, it became painfully clear that Ball had legitimate doubts at the line (and while shooting 45 percent, he had good reason), which had a ripple effect throughout his game. It’s one thing to not seek out contact on one’s way to the hoop. It’s another altogether to avoid it like the plague for fear of having to shoot a couple freebies.

Here’s hoping that was just a case of the yips or something along those lines, because freethrow issues for a guard can really derail a career.

Other than from the free throw line, Ball’s issue in shooting was all about consistency, and there’s really no way to figure that kind of thing out without more repetition, which brings us back to health.

Look, we can go over who leaked what and why whatever was leaked, but the timing of Lonzo’s most recent turn under the knife certainly raised eyebrows. The innocent reading of the situation is that maybe they wanted to avoid surgery in many of the same ways he avoided free throws. The cynical reading was that Ball’s camp simply wanted to make absolute sure he was not included in any trade talks now that LeBron is a Laker. Makes sense from their perspective, frankly.

Either way, Lonzo is coming off a season in which he missed 30 games without any on-court moments that stood out as obvious injuries. Look, here’s the play that started all his knee issues. See if you can find where he incurred an injury that would cost him a third of the season.

This isn’t to say I don’t think he was ever hurt. It just makes me really nervous that no drastic event led to his injury woes. Let’s just hope it’s a one-off thing and that Ball can stay healthy because, well, let’s take another look at that list.

  • We already went over the shooting.
  • Quick decisions and instincts: Check.
  • Switchability on defense: He’s certainly long enough to and those instincts were elite.
  • Transition: Those LeBron hit-aheads are going to be real, and spectacular.
  • Head for the game: Resounding check.

On paper, the fit between Lonzo and James makes a ton of sense, and that might not even have to take into account Ball’s shooting. But if his shot comes around and he stays healthy, Lonzo — for whom expectations are pretty much in the basement, relatively speaking — could really put together a special season.

If he can’t stay on the court, the Lakers have a very good backup plan in Rajon Rondo and Ball could find himself more or less forgotten or, even worse, included in the kind of trade someone from his camp kind may-or-may-not-have leaked info on surgery to dodge we’d all prefer he avoid.

Ball’s upside is fascinating, but with LeBron on the team, potential alone won’t cut it. He’ll have to produce, and he’ll have to stay on the court to do that. Whether or not he can will easily be one of the most fascinating storylines around the Lakers this season.

The countdown so far:

3. Lonzo Ball

4. Kyle Kuzma

5. Rajon Rondo

6. Josh Hart

7. Ivica Zubac

8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

9. Moe Wagner

10. Michael Beasley

11. Svi Mykhailiuk

12. JaVale McGee

13. Isaac Bonga

14. Lance Stephenson

15. Luol Deng

16. Alex Caruso

17. Travis Wear

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