Lonzo Ball missed nearly half of his sophomore season in the league due to a series of injuries, the second-straight year his health raised a concern. But when he was able to stay on the court, Ball flashed the potential that made him the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, specifically on the defensive end.
At 6’6”, Ball has the length to overwhelm most opposing point guards, even if he still has a slight frame. He’s great at covering passing lanes, rebounding and defending without fouling. While he figures out how to become a productive offensive player, the other half of his game is developed well beyond his years.
JaVale McGee, the hub of the Lakers’ defensive effort last season, was acutely aware of how good Ball was at the point of attack. In an interview with Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe on “Undisputed” last week, McGee praised his teammate’s defensive effort:
“We lost him damn near the whole season. Lonzo is one of the most underrated defensive point guards. He’s extremely underrated. When he was playing, the way he would 94-feet pressure somebody, come on, man. And the court vision... Playing alongside Lonzo and LeBron, and Rondo coming off the bench. Come on, man. It was beautiful when everything was clicking, and then people got injured.”
Ball finished the season tied for seventh among point guards in defensive RPM. He averaged 1.5 steals per game, which would have been good enough for 15th in the league had he played enough minutes to qualify. On the whole, the Lakers were 4.9 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Ball on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass.
All the youngsters in Los Angeles are evaluated in terms of their fit next to LeBron James, though, and in that respect, McGee thinks Ball also exceeded expectations. When asked if he thought the two players clicked on the court, he said:
”Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I think Lonzo definitely looked to LeBron and saw the leadership that LeBron was bringing, and it helped Lonzo’s game also, but unfortunately he got injured, so it kind of stifled everything.”
Ball didn’t play enough this season to earn any all-defense votes, but it’s clear that his impact is at least being recognized by his fellow players. Even though his future in Los Angeles isn’t certain, there’s no denying Ball’s impact defensively for the Lakers as long as he continues to play for them.