There are few non-superstar players who get more game-to-game scrutiny than Lonzo Ball. Between his father mouthing off at every turn throughout his rookie year to playing for the most famous team in basketball, the spotlight shines brightly on Ball’s every move. Add in LeBron James and a new level of team success this year and now it’s not just about development — he’s expected to contribute to winning immediately. Then add in the fact that he ostensibly plays point guard but is now required to defer to James and the concoction creates a poor credit/blame ratio for Ball.
As tends to happen to a majority of James’ teammates over the years, they often get little credit when things go well and a whole lot of blame when things go poorly. Ball falls in that same camp, with the spotlight all the brighter on him in Los Angeles.
Ball’s particular set of strengths and weaknesses invite even more criticism. He just plain can’t shoot — no matter how well he did at UCLA from beyond the three-point line, we have more than twice as many attempts at the NBA level to tell us that he’s a below-average shooter. His catch-and-shoot numbers are awful and his pull-up numbers are even worse. Between the two, Ball is shooting a dismal 26.5 percent on jumpers this season. If that turns around, then the Lakers will prosper from it, but for now, it’s just not there for him.
He’s a preternatural passer in the half court and open floor, but his poor shooting puts a cap on how effective he can be in pick-and-roll as an every-possession ball handler. Teams are happy to skirt under picks and clog passing lanes with the knowledge that he’s not going to punish them with his herky-jerky shot. Playing off of James was supposed to boost his shooting and secondary playmaking, but the results haven’t been there, either — his assist rate is down significantly from last season, while turnovers are just as common. Whether it’s a slow start to the year or issues adjusting to the new pecking order in Los Angeles, it’s impossible to argue that Ball has been a positive for the Lakers offensively so far in 2018.