Like most hyped basketball prospects, Lonzo Ball has been in the public eye since high school. But despite the intensity of the spotlight that has been on him, much of the focus of those endless talk show debates and internet think pieces has been on the circus surrounding him more so than his game.
The media has specifically honed in on the conduct of his father, Lavar Ball, and debating whether he is some sort of entrepreneurial visionary that can speak his sons’ success into existence, or if he is a foolhardy blowhard extorting their talents for his own fame.
Lonzo Ball’s difficult start in the NBA
If it wasn’t about his dad, it was about the dysfunction of the team that drafted him, the Los Angeles Lakers. The franchise has been so underwhelming in recent years that even adding LeBron James couldn’t stop the rot, at least in his first season.
An organization clearly lacking from a lack of sufficient leadership can’t be the easiest place to develop as a player. That sense of uncertainty and unease over the future of the roster was at its most blatant during the public bungling of the attempted trade for Anthony Davis before last season’s trade deadline. It didn’t help that he had several injuries curtail his playing time, either.
Of course, the Anthony Davis trade eventually happened, and the Lonzo Ball was one of the many players that are now members of the New Orleans Pelicans. Now that the former number two pick in the draft is in a smaller environment — and the limelight taken up by a different young phenom — he can now work on improving his game.
And when you talk about Lonzo’s game, the first thing you think about is his jump shot. It’s ugly. It looks like he’s trying to fire a crooked slingshot, except those are his actual arms.
A goofy looking jumper doesn’t automatically mean it’s ineffective though. Players like Michael Redd, Kevin Martin, and the legend himself Larry Bird could all shoot the lights out with mechanics that no shooting coach would ever teach.
But Ball hasn’t shown nearly enough of a scoring touch to justify his form. He’s been a bad shooter his entire career. It doesn’t matter if it’s from the three-point line (31%), the lane (27% from three to ten feet), or most glaringly, at the free-throw line (41%).
Ball has significant natural talents. Most point guards would kill to have his court vision. He has the size and length to be a terrific defender. But if he’s not a threat to score from anywhere outside the restricted area, then there is a firm ceiling on his NBA career.
New team, new shot?
This preseason, however, Lonzo Ball has shown some changes to his jumper. It’s way less herky-jerky. He isn’t dragging the ball across his body as he elevates anymore. The results haven’t been there just yet.
He’s shooting about 31% from downtown this preseason. But the sample size is small (he’s only taken 23 shots) and a better process should lead to better results in the long run.
If Lonzo is a threat from the wing, it would open up so many avenues for his teammates. The totality of the Pelicans roster also puts him in a better position to succeed. This is the deepest squad New Orleans has had in years.
They’ve got Zion, the best assets and players the Lakers could offer, and capable veterans like J.J. Redick and Jrue Holiday. They’ve also got a coach in Alvin Gentry that has a reputation for high-flying offenses. The team has shown some real glimpses of the potential that this team has if everything clicks. It’s not far-fetched to say that this team could make the playoffs.
This is the biggest season of Lonzo Ball’s burgeoning career. Elite players tend to deliver around this stage of their careers. He is eligible to sign a new contract at the end of this season, his first since he was drafted.
If this new jumper is sustainable, and Ball helps the Pelicans perform over expectations, then the sky’s the limit for the point guard. His basketball future will, quite literally, be in his hands.