The Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most storied franchise in the history of the NBA. They have won 16 NBA championships, with their first coming in 1949 and their latest in 2010. The rafters of the Staples Center are decorated with the retired jerseys of legends Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and most recently, Kobe Bryant. At the moment, though, the Lakers are in no position to contend for a championship. After stockpiling top draft picks over the last few years, their roster is filled with young talent, and the team is in rebuild mode. Highly-touted early picks Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle continue to grow and improve alongside late-draft steals Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma. And in the middle of it all, whether or not he wants or deserves to be, is the second pick of the 2017 Draft, Lonzo Ball.
If you follow sports at all, you probably already know Lonzo pretty well, most likely because of his outspoken and arrogant father LaVar. LaVar has gone on record saying that Lonzo is better than Stephen Curry, that Lonzo will be the Rookie of the Year, and that LaVar himself could beat Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one. Many believe that LaVar’s talk is just a strategy to garner attention for his family and the Big Baller Brand, and if so, it seems to be working very well. But don’t get the wrong idea; Lonzo definitely deserved to be the second selection in this past year’s draft.
Last year, in his first and only season at UCLA, Lonzo was First Team All-Pac-12, First Team All-American, Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and the NCAA season assists leader. He averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, and 6.0 rebounds per game. He has always been a fantastic passer and floor general, and though he has pass-first mentality, his jump shot and scoring abilities did not fail him in college. In addition, his length and athleticism have allowed him to be an above-average rebounder. Lonzo’s play on the court last year was enough to justify Magic Johnson and the Lakers selecting him so highly in the draft.
Now fast-forward through the summer and fall, and here we are just days before 2018. 31 games into the NBA season, Lonzo is not meeting expectations, to put it lightly. Though his 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game are definitely adequate, his scoring numbers are not. He has averaged 10.0 points per game with an abysmal 34.9% field goal percentage, 29.7% 3-point percentage, and 48.0% free-throw percentage. People are saying that he isn’t aggressive enough, questioning his attitude, and calling Lonzo a bust. I, however, am here to quiet these critics.
Lonzo has been given an immense amount of pressure over these past few months. Whether it be LaVar or various talk show hosts, it seems like everybody’s talking about him. We all have to remember that this kid just turned 20 years old and is a rookie. He only spent one year in college, and whether or not that was the right decision, it’s ridiculous for us to have such high expectations for him in his first season. After all, he is only a year and a half removed from high school.
All things considered, I think that he is actually playing really well for a 20 year old rookie. He has notched a few triple-doubles, and has the eighth most assists per game in the league. His assist totals are impressive, considering the shooting ability of the other Lakers. Of his teammates that receive significant playing time, only Larry Nance Jr., Randle, and Kuzma are shooting above 50%, so his assist numbers are a true testament to great vision and passing.
I will admit that his scoring and shooting performances have been subpar at best. However, those calling for a jumpshot-teardown should slow down. At UCLA, Lonzo shot 55.1% from the field, 41.2% from 3-point range, and 67.3% from the free throw line. Obviously, we would never expect these numbers to translate smoothly to the NBA, but the drop off has been astounding. Anyhow, the problem is not Lonzo’s shot. Last year, he was able to hit open jump shots with consistency, and I believe that it is only a matter of comfort and experience until it begins to translate to the NBA. With more time and minutes, he will adjust to the faster and more physical league that has given him trouble so far.
If you want evidence of this, look no further than his teammate and fellow number 2 pick, Brandon Ingram. Last year, Ingram was a 19 year-old rookie. He averaged 9.4 points per game on 40.2% shooting. Most were disappointed with his first season, but this year Ingram has averaged 16.0 points on 44.7% shooting. Ingram is an example of a young player who struggled in his first season in the NBA, but with time and experience improved greatly. Still, Ingram is only 20 and I expect him to continue to improve.
Tons of people will probably continue to criticize Lonzo, but he’s just a 20-year old kid. He has shown promise and flashes of brilliance, but just hasn’t found the consistency. I, however, am confident that he will figure it out. Besides, the Lakers weren’t going to make any noise in the playoffs anyway, even if they were to make it by some unforeseen miracle. Everybody needs to calm down, be patient, and stop hating. Lonzo is a very talented and athletic player, and if we all just wait things out, I think we’re going to see a much more polished product by the start of next year.