Lonzo Ball made his first appearance at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, and his Los Angeles Lakers took the New York Knicks to overtime. The Lakers lost 113-109, but it was a fantastic basketball game and Ball played well. While headlines suggest Ball isn’t living up to the hype, the 20-year-old has looked much better over the past few games, as have his Lakers.
Let me first say that Ball’s shot and shooting percentage will be an issue all season. The Lakers will have to sit their point guard down this offseason and fix his shooting form. That won’t change in-season. He doesn’t need to score for the Lakers; all he needs to focus on is rebounding, assists and facilitating for his teammates. Over the past few weeks he’s done that.
Against the Knicks Tuesday night, Ball played 40 minutes, scored 17 points, dished out six assists, grabbed eight rebounds and added two steals and a block. But the most impressive stat of the night? He only had one turnover. Oh and he had this dunk:
That’s the thing. Lonzo’s shooting has gotten all the attention so far, but he’s actually been fantastic at being a true point guard. He’s averaging 2.5 turnovers per game in 33.1 minutes, far below the averages of Russell Westbrook (4.7), James Harden (4.4) Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell (4.0), Devin Booker (3.2), and John Wall (3.0). No, he doesn’t contribute what those players do from a scoring perspective, but to be 20 years old and value the ball that much is important and something to build on.
Additionally, in October Ball averaged 3.0 turnovers per game, in November that dropped to 2.4 and so far in December he’s down to 2.2.
And now on to the shooting, which will take a long time to improve. The good news is, so far in December, Ball is having his best month from the field (39.5 percent). That’s better than his November (30.4) and October (33.3) percentages. He’s also having his best month from the free throw line (57.1 percent). Those numbers are still awful, but he’s getting himself into better position to score this month, getting into the lane with more frequency.
Ball’s assist (6.2 per game) and rebound (6.2 per game) numbers in December are lower than November (7.4 assists, 6.9 rebounds) but some of that can be attributed to the rapid improvement of Brandon Ingram, whose numbers in both categories have risen steadily all year. Ingram is handling the ball a bit more on offense and is even bringing it up from time to time.
Since November 19, the Lakers are 4-6, but among those losses were tight contests with the Clippers and Kings, overtime defeats to the Warriors and Knicks and a loss to the Nuggets where the Lakers tied with game with 3:57 to go and promptly collapsed.
Los Angeles is an extremely young team that just needs to learn how to finish. Coach Luke Walton needs to improve his late-game decision-making and someone on the roster needs to step up and take charge in “winning time.” That will come, but this learning curve was to be expected for both the Lakers and their young coach.
Ball isn’t the only improved player. Guys like Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson are better now than they were six months ago and that is enormous for the franchise as a whole.
It’s easy to nit-pick individual stats and game-to-game decisions by Ball and the Lakers. But the bottom line is that they are better than we’ve given them credit for and they are rapidly improving. The rebuild is bearing fruit and Ball is slowly becoming the point guard many expected he could be.