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Luke Walton impressed by Lonzo Ball in his return from injury

Luke Walton says Lonzo Ball has more than kept up with his Lakers teammates since returning from offseason surgery.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Lonzo Ball has been fully cleared for all basketball activities with the Los Angeles Lakers, the task at hand is working him in and catching him up with teammates who’ve been able to work out all summer and fully participate during the time Ball’s missed.

Luke Walton says the Lakers are once again taking a conservative approach as Ball eases his way back in, but Walton likes what he’s seen from his second-year point guard since he was cleared.

“He looked great. I was shocked how good he looked the last two days as far as his feel for the game and being out there competing. He hasn’t played any basketball since last season, so it was pretty impressive with that much time off against guys who’ve been working all summer in camp already,” Walton told reporters after practice Friday afternoon. “I was very impressed and pleased to see that.”

Is Lonzo’s teammates’ not standing out an indication that they didn’t put the work in this summer? MY COLUMN:

In all seriousness, though, Ball is a very instinctive player who impacts the game in a variety of ways that don’t involve scoring. The foundation of his game is to disrupt on defense and make his teammates better on offense even if he only has the ball in his hands for a few moments. As his timing comes back and his teammates get used to each other, his game will take continued steps forward.

All players get better when surrounded by better talent, but the impact Lonzo can make on the game will be even more pronounced than most now that he has cerebral teammates like Rajon Rondo and LeBron James. That, on top of natural progression, gives his head coach plenty of reason to be excited.

“I think it’s always easier — well, somewhat easier — your second year,” Walton said. “You kind of feel what the NBA is about as a rookie, and then you kind of start to wrap your head around it. The game slows down a little bit

“You bring in a veteran like LeBron, and a point guard like Rondo — who’s as smart if not smarter than any other point guard in the league — and you team them up with young players and I think the young players gain more confidence, they say things differently. So for him and the other guys... it’s not going to be easy. I’m not going to use the word ‘easy,’ but this season will make more sense to them.”

So, when can we start to see Lonzo’s progress firsthand and what might that process look like?

“We’re going to be patient,” Walton explained. “There’s no need to rush it right now. We’ll put minutes restrictions on him as he starts coming back in the preseason and everything will be ‘how do you feel the next day? How do you feel that night?’

“As long as we keep checking those off and he’s fine, then the minutes restriction will go up and up until we decide to get rid of it altogether,” Walton continued. “He hasn’t played in a long time. We want to make sure we bring him back slowly.”

Walton is right, though the Lakers won’t have nearly as much time to be as conservative as they were last year. The race for the playoffs in the Western Conference is going to be insane right from tip-off of opening night.

With that in mind, Walton, the training staff and the entire organization will have to simultaneously balance what’s best for Ball long-term (which remains the higher priority, to be clear) and what’s best for the team as a whole. Fortunately, Rondo is a very capable backup in the event Ball misses as much time as he did last season, but make no mistake, Lonzo unlocks a much higher ceiling than Rondo does and the Lakers are immensely more dangerous when both are healthy.

As Walton said, though, Ball is capable of working his way back in quick manner, an ability that will come in handy over the course of the Lakers’ preseason slate.

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