News that Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball would be shut down for the rest of the team’s season with a Grade 3 ankle sprain and related bone bruise was just one part of a deluge of injury news over the past week, and it was the capper on a demoralizing finish to the season.
Making things more disappointing was that the injury hit just after Ball felt he was just starting to hit his stride as a player and leader, and while the Lakers were (understandably) leaving some wiggle room that seemed imply there was a small chance Ball could return this year, Ball himself confirmed that he’s done for the year to Mike Trudell of Spectrum Sportsnet:
”Unfortunately, I’m shut down for the rest of the year, so I just got to get as healthy as possible as fast as possible.”
That lines up with Ball talking earlier this week about wanting to focus on recovery so he could use his first healthy NBA offseason for the type of granular skill-development work he so desperately needs.
We already know Ball wants to focus on improving as a shooter and finisher, as well as get even stronger over the summer, and he gave Trudell an update on where he is in his recovery at the moment:
“I’ve started doing some squats now. Still can’t run, still can’t jump but I can walk fine now, as long as it’s taped up pretty good.”
Those do not sound like the words of a man who will be deemed ready to play in a week — when Ball is set to be re-evaluated — but Ball made it clear to Trudell that he’s trying to focus on the positives:
”For me to be the player I want to be, I need to the whole summer and I finally get to get one.”
For Ball’s sake — and that of the Lakers — he’ll have to use this offseason wisely. It’s already obvious that Ball has the potential to be an NBA difference-maker on a nightly basis. He’s a disruptive, active and willing defender, a pace-pusher and ball-mover who can grease the wheels of an offense. However, Ball’s game still has glaring flaws, from his funky jumper that doesn’t scare defenses enough to let Ball space the floor, to his sometimes-streaky finishing around the cup.
The Lakers found some creative ways around some of those issues this season to make Ball a helpful player for their team, but they need Ball to be a more complete player so they don’t have to find workarounds to make him effective. With LeBron James accelerating the team’s timeline, if Ball is still around next year, the Lakers will need him to be a player whose needle of impact tilts even more towards helping them, as opposed to the team having to help him.
If Ball gets better at the things he says he wants to improve on, he’ll be well on his way.
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