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Rookie Reaction: Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball has already proven to be one of the most polarizing rookies in recent memory; largely because of the large mouth of his father, LaVar. The public criticism of Lonzo’s play would be fair if he was an under-performing veteran. Given that this is his rookie year, and he’s still only 19 years old, I’d like to caution against overreacting to his slow start.

     Individual Game Reactions

His first game was fairly underwhelming, and we can credit Patrick Beverley for that. The 1st team All-Defense guard made sure we all knew his name as he shut down the hype surrounding Lonzo’s rookie debut. Even though Lonzo shot just 1-6 that game for 3 total points, he found other ways to contribute – totaling 9 rebounds and 4 assists. He also finished with just 2 turnovers despite facing an elite defender for almost all of his 29 minutes.

It didn’t take Lonzo long to bounce back though. The very next night the Lakers traveled to Phoenix to face the then-Earl Watson coached Suns. Lonzo finished this game with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists. After his poor debut, this performance reinvigorated the unrealistic expectations that so many have placed on him.

In reality, this game represents the type of potential Lonzo has long-term. But I don’t think it legitimately portrays what we should expect from him night-in and night-out as a rookie. The fact is, before firing Earl Watson, the Suns were playing as poorly as any team we’ve ever seen. Lonzo’s near-triple-double shows he can make the most of an advantageous situation and poor defense.

     Scoring & Stats

In the nine games since then, Lonzo has broken double-digits scoring just once, 13 points in a 20 point win over the Pistons. He did post back to back double-digit assist games (13 vs New Orleans, 10 vs Washington), and finished two rebounds shy of a double-double in both of those. Through 11 games, Lonzo is averaging 6.8 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game. These are really strong numbers for any point guard, much less a rookie.

It’s his scoring stats and shooting percentages, however, that stand out for most. Lonzo is shooting 29 percent from the field, 23 percent from 3, and 53 percent from the free throw line. It is absolutely fair to criticize these numbers, and Lonzo needs to be able to improve his efficiency in this area.

USA Today Sports

 

     Shooting

I haven’t heard much talk about his awkward shooting form being a cause for these low numbers, perhaps because we’ve all become more accustomed to it by now. I don’t think Lonzo can never be successful with his form, but I do believe it is still an issue.

Guys like Shawn Marion have proven that awkward shooting form can be successful in the NBA; but Lonzo’s shot really doesn’t look all that fluid right now. When Lonzo is comfortable his catch and shoot doesn’t look so bad. It’s when he gets pressured that it becomes a problem. And it’s the fact that he virtually never shoots off the dribble going to the right, because of the sheer awkwardness of it with his form.

A week ago against Portland was the first time I’ve seen a Lonzo jumpshot get blocked so far in the NBA (and confirmed by basketball-reference.com), but I think the slow load-up results in more shots being contested and thus the low shooting percentage.

If we dig further into some advanced stats, we find numbers even more troubling than the shooting percentages themselves. Nearly 60 percent of his field goal attempts have been two-pointers, and he’s shooting 34 percent on these shots. From 10 feet and in, he is 21-62 on the season so far. He is 18-47 on shots deemed “layups”, good for just 38 percent.

     Minutes

Contrary to LaVar’s request that Lonzo should be playing the entire 4th quarter for the Lakers, his shooting numbers don’t show it. In the 4th quarter, Lonzo is 6-27 from the field and 0-9 from deep.

Also, when his minutes go up his numbers don’t show much improvement. In 7 games playing over 30 minutes Lonzo has 23 total turnovers, compared to just 3 turnovers combined in the 4 games he’s played between 20-29 minutes. (credit to basketball-reference.com for advanced stats)

His numbers don’t compare well against Jordan Clarkson’s, whom Lonzo is likely in competition with for late game minutes. Clarkson is shooting 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep on the season. Within 10 feet of the rim Clarkson is 32-53 (60 percent), and in the 4th quarter, he is 16-39 (41 percent). Clarkson has yet to tally over 30 minutes in a game this season, so he is still very much locked into his 6th man role.

     Potential

As the scoring stats clearly show, there is reason to doubt Lonzo. His rebounding and assist stats, however, still deserve credit on their own. Pre-draft Lonzo’s game rightfully drew comparisons to Jason Kidd. Now, I do not know that Lonzo is going be a hall-of-famer like Kidd; but I do believe that, or something similar, is his ceiling. If he can reach that, he will be the franchise player the Lakers’ hoped he could be when they drafted him.

ESPN

This image was circulating social media last week, and shows my point. Lonzo has been underwhelming in certain aspects as a rookie; but it is important to remember just that – he is a rookie! Few players ever are able to come in and dominate day one in the NBA. I think it’s ultimately unfair to expect that from Lonzo.

We knew he’d likely struggle to score at the next level. This only becomes concerning if he is unable to show improvement. Let him live, let him grow, and appreciate the glimpses of greatness he is able to give us. Hopefully, Lonzo has a long career ahead of him.

About Preston Dubey

Lifelong basketball fanatic and Bucks’ supporter

I coach basketball; but I eat, sleep, and breathe the game.

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