Lonzo Ball finally played his first NBA game and similar to his Summer League exhibition he was straight up nasty with his passes (8 assists) and pace and dishing the ball. He’s the kind of talent the NBA hasn’t seen since Steve Nash crushed the league with 7 Seconds or Less. Ball, in his pre-season debut, did Lonzo Ball things as he organized his teammates who were, for the most part, taking the Lonzo lead and trying to move the ball and push and make plays for each other. Even so, Lonzo looked like the rookie he is- he missed seven out of nine shots- and his first year will be filled with bumps and bruises. As for the missed shots, Lonzo admitted he was tired and needs to be in better shape.
Nevertheless, Ball was built for the NBA. He is the definition of playmaker though it wasn’t clear exactly what kind of offense the Lakers were running except give Lonzo the ball and let him orchestrate everything. Luke Walton is still a work in progress; can he develop these kids? It is still the elephant in the room.
The offense looked straight out of the Drew League. Without Brook Lopez (back spasms) and Andrew Bogut (visa issues), the pick and roll game was pretty much grounded and in its place was the fast pace shoot it or move it. There was not much of making the extra pass and a lot of one pass, why not jack up a three?
The Lakers in 2017-18 may in fact come close to the Rockets record of most threes chucked in a season, though Walton hopes not. The Lakers don’t have any three point specialists. They have a young team of athletes who are hit or miss on the offensive and defensive end.
Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers in scoring and was simply spectacular with running hooks, mid range twos, and just making shots; he only missed three baskets the entire game. But unlike Ball, Kuzma looked like anything but a rookie. His confidence in his offensive arsenal was on display. The Lakers may be forced to bench Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and start Kuzma who is a pure and skilled scorer.
But back to Ball who is exceptionally gifted at negotiating and navigating and delivering. What you wonder is what happens in the middle of the season when he has figured out the team cannot get the most out of his passes because they lack finishers. So his brilliance passing the ball ends up with a lot of bricks and run outs for the other team. What is his mental make-up? Is he tough enough? He has never really played for a losing team. And as a community, Lakers fans and their expectations are rationality deprived. Frustration is never a victim-less crime and like D’Angelo before him, Lonzo will feel the fans ire.
This Lakers team is not going to win a lot of games, maybe 33, but the expectations to be something they are not are already through the roof because of Lonzo himself. (And Lavar who has predicted a 50 win season.) Lonzo and Kuzma will fill the seats; the fight will be over who is more popular with the fanbase. Lakers fans love Ball because he’s local but they like scorers too. Both Ball and Kuzma will create oohs and aahs but the team is incomplete. The Lakers just aren’t experienced enough and they don’t have proven veterans who they can trust on the offensive and defensive end to carry them like the Wolves have in Jimmy Butler. The Lakers will stay in a lot of games and their bench is the best thing they have going outside of Lonzo, Kuzma and Brandon Ingram.
The Lakers are better than they were last year. They pass the eye test. Without D’Angelo Russell, they instantly are more mature and less of someone over here needs a babysitter. But they are young and young teams don’t win; they are learning.
Nevertheless, Lonzo himself makes up for all the offensive and defensive lulls the Lakers will have when they play teams with dominant players. He can switch from defense to offense, run downhill, stop and deliver a cross court pass. Every now and then he can make a three. His stat line will never reflect what he brings. And Kuzma can change games with his scoring.
I never thought I’d say this but watching an old school point do old school point things is refreshing. He’s not out there to score but to make players better and he really understands the game is about having fun. When everyone is a part of something, that is basketball at its highest form. This Lakers team is going to have fun even though they will be in the lottery again. It doesn’t matter. They are better because of Lonzo. They are also better because of Kyle Kuzma.
Julius Randle is facing a big, big year. It is a contract year. He did a pretty good job with 15 points and 7 rebounds. He can make bad decisions though. He had back to back turnovers and I question his basketball IQ. He challenged KAT knowing he was going to get his shot blocked- what was that about? He did show a little right hand magic, so progress.
Luke Walton said his players aren’t in shape. He wasn’t happy with all the three point shooting which is a default for young players when they are tired.
Jordan Clarkson wants to win Sixth Man of the Year. He began his pre-season shooting 60%.
photo via llananba