Los Angeles — One of the major keys to the Los Angeles Lakers reaching their full potential as a unit will be the development of Lonzo Ball. Because of that, every game the second-year point guard plays seems to become a referendum on his career and whether the Lakers were right to select him.
But improvement is hard to monitor game-to-game, and Lakers head coach Luke Walton said that’s not the primary way the team is looking at Ball’s matchups anyway. The Lakers obviously see Ball as a developing player, but not in the traditional mold where prospects are only looked at for what they can be.
Walton said that even in matchups like Ball’s first against Russell Westbrook, the Lakers are expecting Ball to help right now.
“Any time you go against elite players in this league, in my opinion if you’re a competitor you get better because you see what that’s like and feel what that’s like. He’s gone against a lot of the top players, this is just one he hasn’t yet,” Walton said when I asked him what Ball could learn from the experience of guarding Westbrook before the game.
“It’ll be great experience for him, but we’re not looking at this as ‘it’s great experience for Zo.’ We’re looking at him to help lead our team and compete and go after [Westbrook], and make him work on both ends of the floor,” Walton said.
Ball certainly accomplished that, helping hold Westbrook to a season-low 15 percent shooting. Westbrook still finished with a triple-double of 14 points, 10 assists and 14 rebounds, but it took him 20 shots to do it and it’s hard not to argue his scoring was of the empty calorie variety.
However, ss is typical for Ball, he didn’t over-celebrate or boast about his defense after the game.
“I just do what I can to make the job as hard as I can for my matchup for the night,” Ball said simply.
The fact that Ball doesn’t have as long of a rope to develop — and that he’ll need to show that he can help right now to stay in the game — was on full display in the fourth quarter, as Walton sat Ball down the stretch because he didn’t think the positive signs of growth Ball showed (aggressiveness) outweighed the negatives (missed free throws).
“I thought he was aggressive, which is what we want,” Walton said. “He didn’t have a great game, but that happens in this league. I thought his mind was in the right place, and I’ll watch the film and learn more about it.”
Ball is a complicated player to evaluate, and sometimes going back and looking at film is the only way to do something that is much harder in the moment. Still, perhaps the biggest compliment one can give Ball is that the Lakers aren’t only looking at him to evaluate him long-term, or see what bright signs he can show against a great player.
They know Ball can contribute now, not next, and it seems they’re going to continue pushing him to do so.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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.