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Laker Film Room: How the Lakers have changed Lonzo Ball’s role without LeBron James

The Lakers have asked Lonzo Ball to run the team for long stretches with LeBron James out of the lineup.

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Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Life is different for each member of the Los Angeles Lakers’ young core now that LeBron James is in town, but that’s probably truer for Lonzo Ball than anyone else.

After Ball led the Lakers in the 2017-18 season with 80.8 touches per game, that number had dropped to just 54.5 before James’ left groin injury. The ensuing four games have placed Ball back into a more customary role, ballooning his touches to 93.5 during this stretch.

Ball’s weaknesses are incredibly frustrating — and we’ll get to them in a moment — but he’s done well to push the tempo and organize the Lakers in their half-court offense. He quickly cycles through the various options on different sets, and usually delivers the ball on time and to the correct option, which is reflected in the 7.8 assists to just 2.5 turnovers that he’s averaged in James’ absence.

But boy do those free throws sting.

I am not a shooting coach — and neither is anyone on the Lakers’ coaching staff, for that matter — but Lonzo’s difficulties from the free-throw line are so severe that they warrant a rare midseason overhaul. He’s gone 2-9 from the stripe over the last two games, which is notable both in his percentage and the number of attempts. His increased aggression is starting to be rewarded with trips to the line, but continued failures from there could curtail that as he tries to avoid embarrassment.

And so it goes for one of the most idiosyncratic young players in NBA, who rarely manages to be normal at anything basketball-related. The blemishes on Lonzo Ball’s game are impossible to ignore, but the productivity beyond them provide clues as to how he can be maximized once LeBron James returns to the lineup.

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