Let Lonzo Ball Breathe

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 15: Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on November 15, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

What did you expect from Lonzo Ball, a 20-year-old in his maiden season? What, did you think he’d back up his dad’s silly claims, bring back the Showtime Lakers and develop a jump shot overnight? It’s hard to say whether Ball will trend towards becoming a bust as it is to say that he will one day emerge as the legitimate face of the franchise.

So how funny to see those very same fans, once salivating over Lonzo Ball, now doubting the Lakers ballyhooed rookie. And how funny to see those very same worshippers, once begging Magic Johnson to draft the big baller, now calling the point guard a bust. Say what you want about Ball and his unorthodox shooting form, but he does have the physical tools to rise above the pit of mediocrity and become a transcendent player for a star-driven franchise.

The Lakers are not a good team, but they have a creator on the floor, a distributor in the backcourt who facilitates and passes up some open looks to get his teammates involved. With Kobe Bryant now gone, and the front office now in the hands of a true basketball genius, Johnson is searching for a new face to build around. All of that hope, seemingly, rests on Ball’s shoulders. And yet, because nobody can trust the process in the midst of the team’s rebuild, Laker fans are freaking out over his poor start.

Ball played so terribly Wednesday night that he had two points on 1-of-9 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, two turnovers and a game-worst plus-minus rating of minus-18. He is missing shots, bricking shots nearly every time he spots up, especially from 23 feet, going 0-for-16 from three-point range against Philadelphia.

But after all, with Ball on the floor, the Lakers run harder, move the ball more often and play with more hustle as he set his teammates up for easy buckets as everybody is having a ball. When the Lakers selected Ball with the No. 2 pick, they had hoped for the mega-hyped son of a braggart sports dad to offer a greater chance of instant success.

The Lakers have shown confidence in him, even as Luke Walton opted to bench him for the entire fourth quarter in the team’s 115-109 loss to the 76ers. The coach’s decision to sit Ball was a tough but smart move that the rookie will come to appreciate. Moments like these are learning experiences for young players. It molds them. It humbles them. It forces them to work harder and improve as a player. Ball also wasn’t on the court for the final few minutes of the third quarter and all of the fourth in the Lakers’ 100-93 win over the Suns. Instead, Walton stuck with veteran Corey Brewer and Jordan Clarkson, two reserves off the bench.

Ball is still adjusting to the higher levels of competition, the tedious schedule and a new on-court role that comes with playing against taller, bigger, stronger and faster players. He is still acclimating himself to the way the Lakers do things, now refining his ugly jump shot and learning plays on the fly. He hasn’t lived up to his billing since he came on board and he’s not as good as advertised.

The basketball-loving masses were amazed by the loads of athleticism and his unmatched passing abilities. Ball hasn’t done anything yet — not since he became the first rookie in franchise history to have 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in the Lakers 132-130 victory — but he brings back buzz and excitement with a willingness to pass. Much of the attention he’s drawing stems from LaVar’s brash persona in which players will unfairly target the aforementioned rookie out of resentment because of his father.

With the point guard’s unselfishness, flashy open court passing, exceptional floor vision and basketball instincts on full display, Ball can dispel any fears that he might be a sky scraping bust if he stays productive and makes plays. It’s not as if the Lakers weren’t warned of the flaws in his game. Should fans now be concerned that Ball, averaging 9.0 points, 6.9 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, has been atrocious and historically bad at shooting? This, of course, begs the question whether he will match Magic’s high level of play in the upcoming years, since this was the Magic Man’s pick in June’s NBA Draft.

Still, he is able to provide a court presence in large part because he has the qualities that makes for a great floor general. His start to this season, essentially, is something anyone could have imagined, even a delusional L.A. fan base. So much is riding on Ball, although he’s not even on the list as a top player on the Lakers roster. And while his impact on the team may not stand out as rookie Kyle Kuzma’s, Ball is certainly putting his teammates in position to score and is showcasing his ability to push the ball in transition.

They knew what they were getting when they drafted him, and he wasn’t chosen because it was his father’s wildest dream, but mainly because he prefers to pass the ball instead of getting his own buckets. There is much doubt as of now that he won’t be in the company of the Laker greats, as he is viewed as an average but promising star to those who are patient. That is, of course, if he can develop into a jump shooter. That’s a weakness in his game that’s most alarming and it’s almost as if oppositions are daring him to shoot.

As much is expected out of him, which he will be under extreme pressure to perform, the ball is surely in Lonzo’s court. Fair or not, he’s publicly ridiculed because the Big Baller Daddy boasted too much about what his son was capable of doing at the pro level. Lonzo is a much-scrutinized commodity with his own brand — known as the Big Baller Brand. He’s one of the focal points of these young Lakers, one that notched the first triple-double of his young career. It’s one of the many feats that speaks to the recent success of a kid who is not affected by the lofty expectations placed upon him.

The depth of Johnson’s commitment is clear and the organization believes Ball’s fancy passing and creativity will eventually turn him into a superstar. For perspective, though, Ball must be constantly and actively committed to shaping his offensive development as a sort of alternative—the kind of refinement that could meet the standards of a team that demands an exciting run-and-gun style of basketball.

Patience may be a virtue. It’s much harder to have patience and grind out the process when fans expect a player like Ball to make an immediate impact and don’t see things realistically. He’s not what everybody anticipated, but give this baller the benefit of the doubt.

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Jonathan Mathis as known as The Sports Judge is the founder of SoCalChronicle. He is a professional Sports writer, contributor, Youtuber, podcaster @ ASAP Network, and co-host of Gonzo & The Judge Sports Talk. Follow the SportsJudge@ https://twitter.com/Sportsjudge85


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