Lonzo Ball was one of the best high school players in the nation just a little over a year ago. These past few months, he was one of the best college basketball players in the entire country. What the future holds for him in the National Basketball Association is uncertain, but one thing is for sure. Everyone will be watching.
At 6’6’’, Lonzo Ball is not your typical point guard. His elite basketball IQ, willingness to make the right play, and court vision will make him a solid to great NBA player in my opinion. The way that he makes his teammates better is one of his greatest strengths, but is more importantly one of the things that makes him happiest on a basketball court. That combination will have him be a floor clogger (meaning he needs a few floor spacers around him to open up spot-up shots) for defenses as well as a likable teammate on and off the court. He is willing to feed the ball to his teammates in the right situation. Whether in transition, where he’ll surely do a lot of damage, or in a half court offense, Ball is sure to bring a lot of help to an offense. His body also has the means to make him an average to above-average defender with his great instincts. Becoming stronger, which is one of his top focuses at this time, is going to be very vital to transitioning into an NBA player.
Whether you choose to judge Lonzo Ball, not for his work but rather a related storyline to his unprecedented journey is up to you, but know that he will not care either way. His nonchalant demeanor is one of the things I respect most about him, and one of the things that should help him get through the rigors of being an NBA player. What a lot of people think when they hear the word nonchalant is that it is synonymized with being lazy or uninterested, but I think that Ball’s genuine love for the game and commitment to improving shows how much he does care about being better under the surface.
In the NBA he’ll also have a contract, a salary, and an organization’s expectations to live up to which I believe will only add more fuel to the fire. Not to mention his family brand as well, Big Baller Brand. LaVar Ball has made a lot of noise and will continue to do so, but Lonzo has not cared and will continue not to care even as his father’s voice gets louder and reaches farther. LaVar and Lonzo share a special relationship with one another that quite frankly, none of us in the public really know or should know for that matter. It is clear that they have been very real with another behind closed doors throughout the time in each other’s lives, and I am firmly of the belief that nothing LaVar says really affects Lonzo. Lonzo Ball’s love and approach for the game are completely separate from media headlines and what the perspective is for a fan of the league. He wants to be the best player to ever play and he’s made that very clear.
While having the national spotlight on himself on a nightly basis, Ball’s strictly behind-the-scenes approach (of not appearing to care on the surface at times) should serve him well on teams where he is not likely to be the top star, at least to begin his career. Those teams would be the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, or Philadelphia 76ers, all of whom have players in their backcourt that will have higher expectations. It will not be a case like the one that his comparison was drafted into back in 2005, but I think that the two player’s careers will have similar trajectories.
NBA Comparison: Chris Paul
I see a lot of similarities between the former Wake Forest standout and the talent from UCLA. The Jason Kidd, John Stockton, and Steve Nash comparisons are nice and all when you’re thinking about how Lonzo Ball looks, (and maybe he makes some passes, runs the floor and is built like Jason Kidd) but I don’t see too much in his game that resembles them compared to Paul’s game and floor control. Despite being 6 inches taller than Paul, Ball can still be nifty and quick around the court to get to his spots. First things first, I think that Ball’s hesitation dribble will have to be elite at the next level, similar to Paul’s. Paul has made a habit of lulling defenders to sleep with elongated and arrhythmic steps, and Ball will have to use that wisely in the NBA to blow by defenders and attract help defenders before deciding to either try and score or pass. In addition to being a solid ball-handler, (Lonzo has a lot to improve on with his handle including moves, pace, and protecting the ball in close quarters) Lonzo also has to put in a lot of effort into becoming a better pick and roll player. He won’t be running the common play with TJ Leaf or Thomas Welsh anymore though, it will likely be with somebody like Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, or Al Horford, depending on where he gets selected in the NBA Draft on June 22nd, 2017. He will have to burst quickly off the shoulder of his teammate and be quick with his decision-making, something he prides himself on. In terms of running a pick and pop with stretch 4’s or 5’s, he will have to learn how to get interior NBA defenders to come at him as he looks to dish it to his screening counterpart.
Where I think the similarity is most prominent between the two points guards is in the way that they unselfishly want to make their teammates better and will go to the lengths of not taking many shots to do so. A lot of the scoring point guards that are younger than Chris Paul like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving, all don’t fit the same style as that of Paul and Ball’s. These two make the play that results in what they believe will be the best outcome for the team, most of the time of course as it can’t be done all the time, especially in clutch moments. There are times when Chris Paul has been selfish, and moments where Lonzo Ball will need to be selfish, but it’s not their typical way of playing the game.
The two work the opposing defense through intelligence. With an entire half of a foot of height, a better turnover rate better assist to turnover rate in college, and arguably more upside as a possible draft selection, Ball has the makes to surpass Chris Paul in some ways. Paul has been the most consistent point guard of the past decade, but I see Ball becoming as good of a point guard in terms of possession efficiency. I see him being able to give his team a lot of effective possessions, while not being detrimental through turnovers or fouls.
In addition to those aspects, I do believe Ball can become a very good shooter in the league, despite his unorthodox shooting form. I think that any good NBA shooting coach will be able to restructure it and get his release point just a bit higher and closer in towards his head, without seeing the efficiency of it go down in the long run. Paul has been an effective shooter in his career, despite never being known for being a shooter per se. His uncanny ability to get to his spots is something that I think Ball should be able to do both off the dribble or coming off of screens as he gets settled into his NBA career.
Defensively, Paul will probably have a better career when both player’s careers are done. Paul has dominated his competition at times with an immense amount of steals, tough hard-nosed defense against arguably the strongest position in the NBA today, and has become a better helper and trapper over the course of his career. Lonzo has upside in terms of his athleticism and build, but isn’t the on-ball defender that Paul is, at least yet as proven by the performance against Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen game in March.
Overall, Lonzo Ball has a lot of work to do to get to where Chris Paul was and is currently. Ball possibly has expectations that no other kid coming out of college has ever had. His father has put a target on his son’s back already, and some NBA players have already talked about their eagerness to play against the young point guard. A lot of them have respected what they have seen from Lonzo’s game so far, and it will be interesting to see if Ball can rise up to the expectations and perhaps exceed them in his career. It will be a battle for him every night of his career to hone his craft and work on more aspects of his game that can improve his time in the league. Whether or not he will be up to the challenge, time will tell.