Lonzo Ball had what can charitably be called a... turbulent... second season with the Los Angeles Lakers. While he undoubtedly showed promise on the court — especially as the engine of an impressive Lakers defense towards the beginning of the season — an ankle injury and ensuing bone bruise limited Ball to just 47 games in his second campaign, and he’s only played 99 total over his first two seasons.
Those types of health issues, when combined with a wonky jumper and a game you have to watch closely to see the impact of, have made Ball a polarizing player with both Lakers fans and the media alike, and Ball is hoping he can use the first healthy offseason of his NBA career to make a leap in his third season.
“I’m gonna start off with free-throws until my ankle gets 100 percent,” Ball told reporters at his exit interview last week of what he wants to work on. “It’s my first summer I get to have, so I’m looking forward to it.”
“Hopefully just a few more weeks and I can get out there.”
Ball not being on the floor was unfortunate not just for the Lakers’ season, but for perception of Ball as a whole. His absence from the lineup left the focus of headlines squarely on his personal life, as his family came under scrutiny in the wake of Ball parting ways with former business partner Alan Foster after alleging that he could not properly account for more than $1 million of Big Baller Brand’s money. More recently, it leaked that the Lakers had to stop Ball from getting a potentially unauthorized surgery right around the trade deadline.
Neither of those were great looks for Ball or his camp, but when asked how all of this would affect his relationship with his father, LaVar Ball — who by all accounts was very close with Foster — Ball demurred, saying he’s “not too focused on that” and is just “focused on getting healthy.”
Once Ball is healthy, if he can continue the roll he was on prior to his unfortunate injuries, the Lakers may have something, because Ball looked like a guy who had made the leap and was having things click for him.
“I think those two weeks before I got hurt, I figured it out. I felt I was playing the basketball I was capable of playing,” Ball said.
The numbers back him up. Ball got injured against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 19, and in January he was averaging 11.1 points, 7 assists and 6.1 rebounds while also making 36.1 percent of his threes. That last number isn’t earth-shattering, but for a career 31.5 percent 3-point shooter, it’s a meaningful improvement.
Ball also made real strides as a finisher around the basket this season, converting 56.3 percent of his shots within five feet of the rim, a 10.3 percent uptick from his rookie season. If Ball can take this summer to improve his free throws like he wants to, it stands to reason that he’ll get even better at the bucket because opponents will be less willing to be physical with him due to fear he can actually make his free throws if the referees call a foul.
It remains to be seen how well he can take advantage of the time off, but it at least seems that Ball is focused on the right things, both with his game and in taking control of his career, and it sounds like the birth of his daughter Zoey this year had a lot to do with that.
“It just shapes you as a whole. I think me having a daughter had a lot to do with the things I’ve been doing lately. Just not only thinking of myself, but how I can help her,” Ball said.
With just a few more weeks of rehab before he can get back out on the court, Ball is getting closer and closer to the opportunity to grow as a player, and help both himself and his family. He’s hoping it will be his last early offseason for a while, and wants to make sure he’s able to take advantage of it next year.
“I just gotta stay strong and stay positive,” Ball said. “There are a lot of people supporting me... The injuries set us back a lot, so hopefully we don’t get hurt next year.”
The Lakers have to be hoping the same thing, and if Ball can stay healthy and take a couple steps in his player development process this summer, having him out on the court will be even more meaningful in the season to come than it was this year.
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.