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Could Lonzo Ball’s Rehabilitated Jump Shot Signal A Breakout Season?

The inevitable tell-all book about LeBron’s first season with the Lakers is destined to become a canonical text for future generations of fans and media alike. The entire campaign doubled as a year-long audition, of sorts, to find out who was capable of playing and thriving alongside LeBron for the foreseeable future, which was a tremendous amount of pressure for a group of young and largely unproven players. It’s little surprise it ended in shambles.

The on-court struggles were bad enough. There was LeBron, visibly frustrated at various points, his body language unable to conceal his growing contempt with the whole situation, as the sum of the team’s parts were never quite able to add up to anything substantial. That was compounded by a plague of injuries, the disastrous trade negotiations with New Orleans, and the ensuing internal strife among Lakers brass that eventually led to Magic Johnson’s stunning departure.

Freighted with the knowledge that they were all dangled as trade bait, the Lakers’ young core wilted in the second half of the season and was mercifully eliminated from playoff contention before any further harm could be inflicted. But with some much-needed airspace between the offseason and the trade deadline debacle — and new leadership on both sides — the organizations were finally able to execute the Anthony Davis trade and usher in a new era for their respective franchises, not to mention a fresh start for a slew of young players left hanging in the balance.

Perhaps more than anybody, Lonzo Ball was badly in need of a change of scenery. The Los Angeles media had been unrelenting in its scrutiny of Ball’s every move through his first two NBA seasons, thanks to a pompous and domineering family patriarch, a comically and, it turns out, fraudulently mismanaged shoe and apparel company, and a universally-maligned jump shot whose aesthetic qualities only a mother could appreciate.

The latter, it appears from recent videos, has undergone a full-scale deconstruction and reassembly this summer.

Until now, there had been two schools of thought on the matter. Camp 1 argued that he didn’t need to change his technique, he just needed to be more consistent, while Camp 2 believed that it was fundamentally flawed and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Ball has long been reluctant to alter his form, despite only nominal progress in accuracy and efficiency through his first two seasons. He shot 40 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from downtown last year, each just a couple of ticks higher than his rookie season, and neither befitting the elite point guard status to which he aspires.

Apparently, that changed this summer as he looks forward to a clean slate with New Orleans. As you can see from the video, gone is the jarring cross-body swing that places his release point nearly on the opposite shoulder from his shooting hand, and in its place a more fluid, ergonomically-aligned motion that helps square his body to the basket — a foundational principle of proper shot mechanics.

But healthy skepticism is always in order this time of year. After all, a revamped jump shot is one of our Six Favorite Training Camp Tropes. Ben Simmons is in a similar boat back in Philly with his own strategic deployment of video evidence chronicling his improved jump shot. In other words, we’ll reserve judgment until the regular season when he’s asked to put that new jump shot form into action, when sometimes muscle memory takes over and regression to old ways can occur.

In both cases, however, it’s the key to the next phase of their development. Ball has shown intermittent flashes of brilliance in other sectors of his game. Along with his sneaky athleticism, his court vision is as good as any of his backcourt contemporaries, and he’s been one of the best rounding guards since he came into the league, thanks to his size and length that also benefit his defensive ceiling.

He’ll now share those backcourt duties with Jrue Holiday, a veteran combo-guard who is one of the best defenders at his position and who will help alleviate some of the pressure in just about every category. Ball should also benefit from having the spotlight redirected over to Zion Williamson, who’ll start his career as the most-anticipated rookie since LeBron.

In general, the whole narrative surrounding Ball — and the rest of his former-Lakers teammates — has shifted from unwanted underachievers and castaways to one of the most promising young cores in the NBA, who just might challenge for one of the few remaining playoff slots out West. Now is the time for him to capitalize on an opportunity to jumpstart a career that was beginning to stall out.

Health will obviously be a factor — Ball has missed 65 games over his first two seasons — but if he can manage to stay on the court and help spread the floor with a more reliable shot, in addition to his many other gifts, he could help legitimize this Pelicans roster filled with promise and upside, and transform his reputation in the process.

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