The extraordinary hype ended here on the last day of the season, where Figueroa meets 11th Street, where L.A. Live is. There was nothing more to be said in the abstract. South of the valley, north of Inglewood, the savior named Lonzo Ball wasn’t the savior he was ruled to be, not Rookie of the Year, not can’t take your eyes off him, not better than the other rookie Kyle Kuzma.
Lonzo had his up and down moments. He was passive and then he was not. He was a playmaker and then he was invisible. He was a timely shotmaker and then he was atrocious. He was never in shape. It was what most rookie point guard seasons are like. No one can say what kind of career Lonzo Ball will have, not just yet. His shot is broken to the point of unwatchable. He needs more confidence on the court, less thinking. But this is just year one.
The Lakers brain trust aren’t making it easy, tossing Lonzo’s name around like a bean bag, trade speculation as they try to be major players. His mental toughness will be tested. The Lakers haven’t spared anyone.
But Lonzo earned his second team All-NBA selection because he averaged 7.2 assists as a rookie. He is a rebounding guard and gets in the middle of things on the offensive glass. He contests and blocks shots with his length. He has defensive instincts. Lonzo may be a defensive guard with an average shooting touch and that is still valuable in the NBA.
This has nothing to do with All-NBA but the maturity of Lonzo was an asset. No one has come into the league with so much attention because their father was the hype man. LaVar shoved Lonzo down everyone’s throats and truth be told, many wanted to gag. But Lonzo embraced the expectations then settled into his NBA truth. At the rim, he doesn’t make 50% of his shots so that tells you about his athleticism and ability to not-finish through traffic. He wasn’t able to offset that with perimeter skill. He had a dreadful looking shot that died before reaching the rim.
Before Lonzo’s season got off to a rocky start with a Pat Beverly beat down, Magic Johnson said some things. He wanted his young team to play well enough to be able to attract free agents in the summer of 2018. That is owner speak. Always stay immersed in the future and remain uncertain but optimistic about the here and now. And no one is untouchable.
Lonzo Ball wants to be a good player, every NBA player does. But he had a humbling first year and the question remains. Does he believe he is a good player?
At season’s end, Magic and Co. said 2018-19 will be the biggest season of Lonzo’s young career. Let me translate. He has to remain healthy and show he is a number two pick when it comes to his offense. The Lakers style, pushing the pace, (they were second in the league), needs an open Lonzo to drain shots to space the floor.
The Lonzo pressure just went up another degree.
All-NBA First Team
Donovan Mitchell won’t win Rookie of the Year but it will be close. He shocked the NBA with his blistering Iverson-like game and ability to lead a team that lost their best player. He drove the Jazz to the playoffs, beat his idol Russell Westbrook, but ran out of gas. He needs more consistency and all around game where he is a playmaker, rebounder and defender.
Ben Simmons is an awesome talent who will dominate the league when he gets a jumper. The 76ers playoff entry was built upon a shaky foundation. Their second best athlete can’t shoot and turns the ball over in key situations. An off-season working on his weakness and adding a turn around jumper in the paint is all he needs. Then the 76ers have a dominant two man punch that will replace the LeBron Cavs. Simmons sees spots on the floor before players get there, moves without the ball, has a nice pace and flow. He is like that John Wooden rule. Be fast but not in a hurry. There is a tendency for young players to push the ball up and then think they have accomplished something because they have established a pace but that is just the first part. The second part is moving the ball around to get the best shot.It is why Ben Simmons is Rookie of the Year.
Jayson Tatum should have been the first pick of the 2017 draft and would have been had Danny Ainge not bamboozled the 76ers into taking Markelle Fultz. Ainge did a fake job, pretending he wanted Fultz when he wanted Tatum. Tatum has a Paul Pierce game, great pace. His ability with the three ball surprised just about everyone. He was the 8th best three point shotmaker, not rookies but everyone. He played 80 games on a veteran team. Every time someone downgrades one and done they are conveniently and cleverly not paying attention to Jayson Taturm.
Kyle Kuzma was the steal of the first round of the draft. Only Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell played in more games. He upstaged Lonzo Ball with offensive skill, ability to finish with his right and left, excellent footwork and a strong competitive drive. He has the fire that Lonzo Ball keeps hidden. Among rookies, he was the second leading scorer. He is the only rookie to post 1200 points, 450 rebounds and 150 three pointers. Kobe did it, yeah. But Kobe was in his twelfth year.
Lauri Markkanen was what happens when you trade Jimmy Butler. He was the fastest to 100 threes and he can rebound but he still needs to put on weight. He was pushed around a lot and taken advantage of on the defensive end but his offense allows the Bulls multiple floor spacing options and puts a prime on finding a point guard that can make full use of Markkanen’s gifts. 15 points a game for the Finland native was a good beginning.