Since Lonzo Ball sprained his ankle, the Los Angeles Lakers have gone 4-9 and are losing by an average of 16.8 points per game. Yes, some of that has coincided with other losses across the roster, but suffice it to say the Lakers desperately miss their starting point guard.
Brad Turner of the L.A. Times rounded up the latest on Ball’s health (sorry, everyone, no update) and asked around to find out what the Lakers miss with him out. LeBron James says his absence is felt all over the court.
“We obviously miss another ballhandler, another playmaker,” James said. “A guy that’s very, very good defensively. With his ability to get a steal and pressure the offensive point guard and then push the pace for us, get into our early offense. So we miss that a lot.”
This isn't the first time James has lamented Ball's absence, so it would seem he isn't just blowing smoke.
This might be in part because the other point guard the Lakers currently have on their every day roster (Rajon Rondo) is essentially unplayable. On the offensive end, he still hunts assists to the detriment of the team both in terms of turnovers and by throwing a wrench into the Lakers' rhythm by passing up open shots. Defensively, his approach is that of a drunken sailor in a fight he’s about to get knocked out in — just swinging around aimlessly hoping to make contact with a wild punch before his shortcomings on that end are taken full advantage of. The result typically winds up being attempts at steals that leave him completely out of position.
Once again, the combination of Lonzo being injury-prone and no reliable backup to pick up while he’s out is wreaking havoc on the Lakers’ chances to compete consistently, an issue the addition of Rondo was supposed to solve this season.
All that said, the Lakers have to find a way to make this work or they risk falling completely out of the playoff race before Ball is able to return. While he’s been out, the Lakers have the 26th-worst defensive rating in the league, giving up 116.4 points per 100 possessions. That simply has to improve if the Lakers hope to be within striking distance of the postseason whenever he comes back.
Speaking of that return, the Lakers are once again utilizing their “he’ll come back when he comes back” style of releasing information on his health. At the time of his injury, it was announced he suffered a Grade 3 sprain. For many athletes, that type of injury requires surgery. Fortunately, it seems Ball was able to avoid that. But we’re nearing the end of that initial four-to-six-week timetable and the only real update we’ve gotten was that he is now also dealing with a bone bruise that will keep him out even longer than they originally hoped.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Lakers don’t see Ball back at all this season. Grade 3 sprains often carry with them timetables that require up to 12 weeks of recovery time. If the Lakers don’t turn things around soon or miraculously find a point guard who won’t be a disaster whenever he’s out there, there might not be a point to bringing Ball back at all.
This is all worst-case scenario type speculation, obviously. We could get another update that says Ball might actually return before those six weeks are up. We’re all certainly hoping that’s how this plays out. In the meantime, either Rondo will have to play better on both sides of the ball or Luke Walton will have to find another creative way to play without a point guard. No matter what the answer might be, everyone involved has to find and employ it, fast.