The draft is eight days away and if you believe what you read the Lakers are not feeling team Lonzo. Magic Johnson has been very complimentary about the skill set of the UCLA point Lonzo Ball but not overly gushing. His workout was good but nothing that blew the Lakers away ala when Kobe Bryant worked out for the club. The Lakers, true to form, have leakers implying Lonzo was out of shape. It all sounds a lot like the Lakers are preparing to draft someone else and so they are throwing out all of these excuses to justify whatever decision they make next Thursday.
The team picking after the Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers, are either afraid of LaVar Ball ruining things for their young organization, or are hiding behind a smokescreen and have every intention of taking Ball. They just want to poison the waters a little bit, do a head fake and let L.A. take De’Aaron Fox or Josh Jackson or who they really want, Markelle Fultz.
But if it is true that the Lakers are lukewarm on Ball’s upside as a star, and draft night comes and LaVar Ball has egg on his face because he didn’t speak Lonzo and the Lakers into existence, then it only proves one thing. It matters what the executives think, not how loudly a father yells because he has a microphone shoved in his face 24-7.
Lonzo isn’t a sure thing for the Lakers and 76ers and may not even be on the board for the Suns who have the 4th pick. If he slides down to 5th Sacramento, it will be a precipitous fall and good fortune for the Kings who need a point guard and actually Ball would be a decent fit. The Kings have some pieces that can put the ball in the hole like Willie Cauley-Stein and Buddy Hield.
Away from the limelight may be a plus for Ball and his trying to have his way father. The disappointment of not in L.A. though would be a huge fall for the best point guard in college basketball.
Drafts are dicey and the Lakers have been known to think outside the box. Kobe Bryant was a gamble. They traded an All-Star center to get the young Bryant. 18 year old Andrew Bynum, who no one was going to draft until the second round because he was considered a project, ended up anchoring two Lakers title teams because Phil Jackson chose him in the 2005 lottery. Two years ago, the Lakers needed a big man and passed on Jahlil Okafor and took D’Angelo Russell. Organizationally, the Lakers are not afraid to be bold.
But take LaVar out of the mix. Are they right about Lonzo Ball not being a star?
This is what Draft Exxpress says about Lonzo.
Ball has virtually the entire package, from his ability to force turnovers and grab defensive boards to ignite the break., the breakneck speed he operates at with the ball in his hands, his elite creativity and passing accuracy and even right down to his knowledge of when to push the ball himself and when to give it up to his teammates. The ball doesn’t stick and his creativity and vision are nothing short of elite. In the half court, Ball is more of a mixed bag with some pronounced strengths and weaknesses to his game. His bread and butter is still his amazing court vision and creativity. He has the size to see over the defense and find shooters in the corners, the vision and creativity to find big men rolling to the hoop, and the basketball IQ to make quality split-second decisions. His biggest limiting factor at this stage is that he doesn’t show much ability to consistently get into the paint off the dribble, even at the college level. His first step isn’t great, as his athleticism really begins to shine when he has the chance to build up steam in transition, and he doesn’t have the strength needed to overcome that.
In the Western Conference, with point guards like Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, James Harden and Chris Paul, an average footspeed guard is going to struggle on many a night. Furthermore, the Lakers don’t have finishers that Ball’s passing talent will elevate. They are a bunch of average at best scorers who have not developed any kind of offensive identity. Ball’s talent could be wasted on the L.A. projects. A big man, that would save him, is missing. Seeing him feed Timofey Mozgov and have Mozgov miss, already makes my eyes water.
Magic Johnson, the L.A. decision maker is a wild card. This is Magic’s first rodeo. Forget Rob Pelinka being the GM. Magic is the decision maker. The Lakers will draft who Magic wants them to draft. Magic was at the Kentucky-UCLA game where De’Aaron Fox obliterated Ball with his speed and defensive hunger. Or Magic could go the Josh Jackson route. It is highly unlikely that the Celtics let go of Fultz.
Everyone is underestimating Magic. Not as a basketball savant. But as a businessman. He has accumulated movie theaters, fitness centers and coffee houses. He understands value and worth.
If Ball does drop out of L.A. those of us sick of LaVar mania will put the blame where it is due: Karma. Basketball Gods.
photo via llannaba