Living up to the hype is a tall task. UCLA’s Lonzo Ball walks into a room to a warmed up crowd. His father, LaVar Ball, has already spouted superlatives to anyone and everyone that will listen. It’s not often you come across a college basketball player with his own town crier.
Underneath the Big Baller Brand and the overpriced shoes is a 19-year-old point guard with limitless potential. At some point, the player is going to have to hand his father one of his prized, “Stay in Yo Lane” t-shirts and kindly ask him to give him some space.
Ball is the best pure point guard in the 2017 NBA Draft, but there is plenty of room for improvement. He needs to work on his body. His perimeter shot is unorthodox to say the least. But the lead guard out of Chino Hills, California is a magician with the ball and has bonafide star potential.
Great size for the position at 6-foot-6, 190-pounds, Ball looks right over the top of opposing guards. He can sling a pass with either hand and he even plays off the ball on occasion. He looks for the outlet pass on almost every possession and he never stops surveying the court.
While he often has the ball in his hands, he doesn’t over dribble. He’s not an all controlling guard like Rajon Rondo. At UCLA, he often took a pass from a teammate and moved it without a single bounce. Following the pass, he repositions himself on the court and looks for the pass back, often orchestrating the offense with the ball never touching the floor.
Ball isn’t just an elite passer. He shot the lights out at the NCAA level, knocking down 73.2 percent from 2-point range and 41.2 percent from behind the arc. It’s hard to imagine him coming close to those numbers at the NBA level with the speed and length of the opposition, but he’s more than just an assist man.
He is also an excellent rebounder for his position, grabbing 6.0 rebounds in 35.1 minutes per game. He tracks the ball in the air and is in constant motion. He doesn’t mind contact or mixing it up with the trees, although he needs to add weight and strength if he is going to continue this trend at the next level.
On the defensive end, Ball plays the passing lanes and collapses on perimeter shooters. He has quick hands, posting 1.8 steals per game in his lone season in college. He falls asleep on occasion and he will need to get stronger to compete with NBA guards, but the basics are there. He won’t be a one-on-one stopper, but he should be fine as a team defender.
In the locker room, Ball was clearly one of the leaders at UCLA, despite his standing as a freshman. His teammates spoke glowingly about him, as did head coach Steve Alford. He isn’t vocal, but his ability to run the show was evident.
Body language and physique need work. His default stance is a concave chest with hands on hips. He is wiry, but still has the frame to add plenty of weight while retaining his flexibility.
Ball isn’t overly athletic and his foot speed will be an issue against quick guards. He has defensive potential, but it is based on his instincts and high basketball IQ more than his physical tools.
Although it goes in at a remarkable clip, Ball’s shot is odd. He brings the ball low and fires from the left side of his face. It’s Kevin Martin-esque, but without the trickiness. Whether he’ll have the space and time to get his shot off at the NBA level is a huge question mark.
He also isn’t particularly creative as a scorer. Ball relies heavily on the transition game to get his stats. In the half court, he prefers the pass over the shot in pick-and-roll opportunities. His long range shot goes in and he scores well at the rim, but he lacks a mid-range game.
While most basketball execs are saying that they don’t see an issue with LaVar Ball, there has to be a concern that the family brand is a bad fit for certain NBA cities. If Lonzo isn’t getting the opportunity to shine, it’s hard to imagine his father not popping up on televisions around the country to give coaching advice.
Ball draws comparisons to plenty of players. He needs to do more to earn the Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd parallels, but a better shooting Ricky Rubio is a good starting point. He should have no problem running an NBA team and he has the ability to make the players around him better.
The Kings would jump all over Ball if he fell to the fifth overall selection, but that isn’t likely to happen. He won’t work out for the Boston Celtics, who hold the top overall pick. If the Lakers don’t select him at No. 2, his prefered location, Philly would have to give him a hard look at three.