Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball was playing some of the best basketball he’s ever played before sustaining a grade 3 ankle sprain in the third quarter of the team’s 138-134 loss to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.
Ball will miss the next 4-6 weeks as he recovers, which at least partially derails the roll he was on, averaging 12.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists while shooting a team-high 37.3 percent from behind the arc over the last 13 games since LeBron James injured his groin.
The Lakers were also 1.1 points per 100 possessions better when Ball played than when he didn’t over that stretch, according to NBA.com. And if numbers aren’t your thing, there is also the fact that teammates like Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma felt that Ball was “absolutely” playing the best basketball of his career before getting injured.
Because of all that, this one hurts more than it might have otherwise, because it feels like Ball’s breakout might be getting ripped away from him. Still, Lakers head coach Luke Walton is hoping that Ball can continue that roll when he comes back from his injury (via Bill Oram of The Athletic):
“For Lonzo it’s learning on the go,” Walton said. “He hasn’t had an offseason yet to work on his game. So he’s learning while we’re playing during the season and he’s really done a nice job of turning a corner. We’ll see where we’re at, how long he’s out for, and hopefully get him up and running again and playing at the level he was playing at before he got hurt.”
The Lakers will play seven of their nine games in February on the road, and the most conservative timeline for Ball’s injury — which is the way most of these injuries have gone with the Lakers over the past few seasons — would have him missing all of those. That would be a difficult blow for the Lakers, but potentially an even worse one for Ball.
An ankle injury means that Ball will have to stay off of his feet for a while, and will almost undoubtedly lose some of the conditioning that has allowed him to push the Lakers’ fast-break attack into hyperdrive over the last few weeks. Ball was also doing a much better job of driving to the basket aggressively during this recent stretch for the Lakers, and it’s hard not to assume that this injury will rob him of some of that burst when he returns.
It’s notable that Ball will likely come back and play at less than the peak of his powers, because by the time he returns the Lakers will likely be trying to scrap their way back into playoff position rather than simply attempting to tread water like they are now.
This team will be in a different situation at that point, and Ball might have to make some adjustments to fit back into however the Lakers are playing when he returns. How much will the team be willing to readjust to set Ball back up for success like he was having now, vs. how much of the onus will be on him to fit in or fit out? The Lakers had adjusted their playing style to put Ball in a position to be more aggressive and maximize his effectiveness with James out, but will those opportunities still be there?
And if Rondo is rolling at that point, will it mean Ball is once again relegated to the bench during closing stretches? Will it cost Ball minutes in general, time he needs to develop into the player the Lakers surely still hope he can become? Will it hurt the way other teams view Ball in potential trade talks this summer, or sour the way the Lakers see his fit on the team moving forward? All of those factors and more will be worth monitoring.
With all of that noted, even though it’s been said a few times, it bears repeating: This injury truly could not have come at a worse time for Ball and the Lakers. Now all that’s left for the team and its fans to do is hope that it doesn’t completely knock what seemed to be the start of Ball’s breakout massively off course.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.