Lonzo’s Adult Game

Once upon a time, Magic Johnson declared a certain season as the biggest season of Lonzo Ball’s career. Magic meant he and Rob Pelinka were evaluating if Lonzo was worth an extension down the line. Or in the immediate future, if Lonzo should be packaged for more veteran help. Unlike Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell, and even his teammate Kyle Kuzma, all rookies like Lonzo, it was hard to see the Lonzo game with all those brick jump shots he horrified us with. It’s not that he wasn’t like a rookie; he was. But for the #2 pick in the draft, he wasn’t an exceptional rookie and it was hard to see stardom in his game. He was a decent defender, a good passer, an atrocious shot maker, and played as if he had zero motor. Too often he was passive and then, as if to remind us he was the number two pick, he would turn around and have an aggressive in-your-face performance making it difficult to understand who Lonzo was as an NBA-er.

The presence of LeBron James was a gift to the Lonzo education. LeBron took all the pressure off of Lonzo to be the it guy and pushed him back into a lane he could handle: basketball player. Lonzo’s size alone made him a force to be reckoned with. The best thing that happened to Lonzo was getting out of L.A. to work on his game, his confidence, his motor, and how he can best achieve in the league.

A restricted free agent, New Orleans is telling the world they won’t match an offer sheet so Lonzo is on the move but this time he goes where he wants to go, not where his father wants him to go. It’s not the LaVar show anymore. Lonzo has grown up and this decision he makes will determine the next phase of his career.

Last year, his shots at the rim were completed at a 62% clip. He will probably never excel in the midrange but he doesn’t have to if his James Harden game is clicking and in 2020-21 he took 455 threes and made 172 of them (37.8%).

We put a lot of emphasis on 20-year-old rookies to be great and to be honest an elite few exceed expectations. We take the great ones and then attach that exceptionalism to everyone else. It isn’t fair.

Lonzo may never be elite. He just may be a pretty good point guard who can make open shots, deliver the ball, and control tempo which is what a point guard is supposed to do.

2020-21 Points 3-Pt % Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Real Plus-Minus Rank (PG)
Reggie Jackson, FA 10.7 43.3% 116 113 #23
Dennis Schröder, FA 15.4 33.5% 107 109 #26
Lonzo Ball, RFA 14.6 37.8% 110 113 #3

His contract year was his best pro year so far. Career-high field goal percentage though 41% is still a work in progress. Lonzo averaged 14.6 ppg, almost three points higher than the year before. His 15.2 PER was a career-high, and he made 40% of his long twos.

The negatives: He disappears in the 4th. His shooting percentage was 37% and 31% from three in the 4th quarter. Nor is he a clutch player who thrives under pressure. When his team won, Lonzo had a good shooting game. When they lost, he couldn’t crack 40%. That’s the ying and yang of Lonzo. His shooting is always going to be the center object. And in New Orleans, his defense regressed. Like a lot of NBA players, he struggles with consistency. January, February he shot 41% and above. December, March, April, and May 40% and below.

The Clippers have interest and Lonzo fits their culture of quiet and quieter. The Lakers might try to get Lonzo back but with an inconsistent two-guard in Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Lonzo renders their backcourt weak when going up against Phoenix, Portland, and Utah, not to mention Dallas. Whoever strikes out on Dennis Schröder might take Lonzo as the next best thing but remember who he is. Don’t make him what he isn’t. Surround him with a lot of shooters.