Is it Time to Label Lonzo Ball a Draft Bust?

In a little over two seasons in the NBA, Lonzo Ball has struggled to find himself. Some might even call him a lackluster player. But, to be fair, the reason some think that isn’t entirely his fault. If we were looking at him through the lens of a young, ever-evolving NBA talent, the idea of him being a bust wouldn’t even be in consideration. Unfortunately, he was thrust into a position that demanded he perform at a level that matched the claims and predictions spewed from the gums of the one and only LaVar Ball. The patriarchs over-hyping of his son, in combination with his son’s underwhelming performance on the court, pushed his critics to start asking the question, is it time to label Ball a draft bust?

The development of Lonzo Ball

During Ball’s rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team accumulated a record of 35-47, capturing that elusive 11th seed in the Western Conference. Though Lonzo showed promise his rookie season, there hasn’t been much improvement since then, prompting many of his critics to categorize him as a bust.

Is that a fair label? Is Lonzo Ball a draft bust? Or is he still waiting for the right opportunity, thus meaning it’s too early to apply the bust label, as Draymond Green might argue? Let’s find out.

A look at Lonzo Ball’s statistics

Lonzo Ball entered the NBA with a lot of fanfare as the No. 2 pick, but is it time to call him a draft bust?
Lonzo Ball. | Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Ball’s rookie season had many ups and downs. Though his shooting was always in question, he showed that he was an elite passer and could efficiently run an offense. Once LeBron James joined the Lakers, Ball’s number’s pretty much dropped in every category, except for a few.

He went from averaging 10.2 points per game to 9.9, his rebounds dropped from 6.9 per game to 5.3, and his already dismal free-throw percentage went from 45.1% to 41.7%. On the flip side, he improved his field goal and 3-points rates to 40.6% and 32.9%, respectively.

Ball, along with Ingram, Hart, and three first-round picks went from the Lakers to the New Orleans Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade. While many pundits believed the fresh start would do Ball some good, his performance has yet to display that, in any meaningful way. His stats through the first two months of the 2019-20 season are hardly awe-inspiring:

  • Points per game: 10.1
  • Field goal percentage: 37.4%
  • 3-point percentage: 33.9%
  • Free throw percentage: 59.1%
  • Rebounds: 4.4
  • Assists: 5.5

While there have been slight improvements in some areas of his game, Lonzo Ball’s output is still not where it needs to be, especially as the second overall draft pick. His inability to efficiently hit shots (3-pointers, jump shots, and free throws) makes him a liability on the court and positions him as one of the lowest-producing guards in the league. If he doesn’t adjust soon, he’ll inevitably be pushed out of the league, as a point guard who can’t shoot hinders championship aspirations.

He needs to be more aggressive

A major part of the game, especially for a point guard, is to get to the line. It can be an effective method to score for an efficient free-throw shooter while hurting the opposing team by getting important players in foul trouble. What’s concerning about Ball, is he rarely gets to the free-throw line. Currently, he’s averaging 1.1 free throw attempts per game, which means he’s not attacking the rim. Being a poor three-point shooter and lacking of aggression, with regard to driving, means he’s hurting his team, offensively in two major ways.  

  1. Because he can’t shoot, defenders can play off him, which makes it easier for them to get into help and clog potential driving lanes.
  2. If he decides to drive, defenders can anticipate passes because they’re aware that he’s not looking to score. That increases the chances of the opposition stealing the ball.

Lonzo Ball can’t stay healthy

If we examined why Ball’s numbers have become stagnate, and his overall aggression has declined, it wouldn’t take us long to pinpoint a major contributing factor to his average performance. We’d just need to look at some of his injuries he’s accrued since coming into the league. 

  • Nov. 27, 2019 – illness
  • Nov. 7, 2019 – adductor
  • Jan. 19, 2019 – ankle
  • March 29, 2018 – bruised left knee
  • Jan. 14, 2018 – sore left knee
  • Dec. 24, 2017 – left shoulder sprain

Many of those injuries forced Lonzo to sit out for weeks at a time. Any momentum he had before these injuries dissipated, forcing him to try and rebuild his confidence, which is no easy feat. After an injury on the court, it tends to take many players a while to regain their bravado, as they fear the possibility of reinjuring themselves. Perhaps this is one of many variables contributing to Lonzo’s subpar output.

Pelicans’ thin supporting cast

Lonzo Ball isn’t playing with a team full of scrubs, but in comparison to the rest of the league, the Pelicans aren’t deep or talented enough (at this point and time) to compensate for Ball’s shortcomings. Combined with the lack of elite talent, the majority of the team is very young, which translates to the lack of experience needed to compete with the more established teams in the league. 

The Pelicans sit near the bottom of the pack in the Western Conference, but one member of the Pelicans is on his way to stardom — Brandon Ingram. Hopefully, when Zion Williamson comes back, he and Ingram can both provide the support necessary to help elevate Ball’s game before it’s too late.