Since Lonzo Ball went down with a sprained ankle, the Los Angeles Lakers have essentially forgotten how to play defense. Now, a ton else (the trade deadline, the head coach being undercut by management and leadership on the roster alike, injuries, etc.) is going into that result, but swapping out arguably the team’s best defensive presence for Rajon Rondo has gone exactly how everyone outside of Magic Johnson’s office would have predicted.
In an article by Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, one NBA executive was willing to admit he didn’t see this kind of impact coming before Ball made his way to the league:
“He’s an impact player on that side of the ball,” a Western Conference executive said. “I’m surprised he’s that good defensively. Coming out of UCLA, that was a question.”
We do this weird thing in defining skillsets where highly-skilled offensive players aren’t allowed to also be good defenders until they prove their case beyond a reasonably doubt, whereas raw athletes have to show that they actually aren’t good defenders before we grant that point.
Ball still to this day has detractors when it comes to his defensive abilities, despite having shown pretty consistently that, whenever he’s healthy, he’s as capable as any other point guard in the NBA in that aspect of the game.
Ball was seen as a dynamic offensive player with great passing instincts and insane range as a result of his weird jumper when he was coming into the league. Then, when that jumper didn’t translate to the NBA consistently, people seemed to focus on that, and not on the impact Ball was making on defense because few saw that coming.
So basically, with where Ball is now, the Lakers an inconsistent offensive player who is more capable as a defender, but if that offense ever comes around consistently enough, he’ll more than live up to his draft position — if he gets and stays healthy, obviously.
That last point is all that really matters right now. If Ball is able to go through an entire offseason and come into next year fully healthy, then the Lakers have something to build on. But if he once again requires offseason surgery, all the potential he’s shown might be for nothing, as it would probably be in the Lakers’ best interests to get a player who can remain available for the entirety of LeBron James’ tenure out here. Let’s all hope for the former scenario.