Lonzo Ball Is Playing For His Future This Season

Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans v Miami Heat
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans v Miami Heat / Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans didn't give Lonzo Ball a contract extension before Monday's deadline, which means he'll be a restricted free agent this offseason. Without a contract in hand for next year, the 23-year-old point guard will need to earn his next payday this season. Ball's career is now officially in his own hands.

The Pelicans landed Ball from the Los Angeles Lakers as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Anthony Davis to LA before last season. During his first campaign in New Orleans, Ball averaged 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 32.1 minutes per game. He also shot a career-high 37.5 percent from three-point range. His shooting woes persisted in other areas though, as he hit only 40.3 percent of his shots from the field and 56.6 percent of his free throws.

Ball has tantalizing skills that need to be rounded into form. He possesses a remarkably high basketball IQ and a nose for the ball. He's an excellent rebounder for a point guard, is a great ball-handler and he's already one of the NBA's best passers. Ball is also a much better defender than he was projected to be coming out of UCLA. But in an evolving league where efficiency is prized above all else, he needs to make shots at a better clip.

In two preseason games, Ball's shot has looked much improved. His release appears to be more straight than the cross-body action he used early in his career. He's even made a few midrange jumpers, which was unthinkable until recently. Ball has constantly tweaked and tinkered with his form and release since the Lakers drafted him with the second pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Hopefully he's finally dialed something in that will work.

Ball won't be asked to shoulder much of the scoring load for the Pelicans. With Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Eric Bledsoe and J.J. Redick on the roster, Ball's role will continue to be that of a table-setter. But when he's open he'll need to knock down shots to keep the floor spread for the team's primary scorers.

When he being scouted before the 2017 draft, Ball drew comparisons to Jason Kidd. They were both all-around guards with great vision who struggled to shoot consistently. But Kidd could simply do more offensively than Ball has early in his career. That needs to change. Kidd was a threat to score when he had the ball in his hands, while Ball has never averaged more than 12 points per game. He'll need to find ways to score more this season if he wants to get paid like a star.

On Monday, Ball watched as many his draft classmates were locked up to big-money contract extensions, while the Pelicans passed on giving him one. That had to sting for a guy who was so hyped entering the NBA. This season will be his chance to prove New Orleans made a mistake.