Things have not improved dramatically for your man Lonzo Ball since last we checked in on him. He’s still doing work in the other facets of his game, averaging a shade over eight rebounds and seven assists per game over the past week, but he went 8-for-28 from the field as the Los Angeles Lakers dropped two of their three games.
The No. 2 overall pick is making just 36 percent of his 2-point tries, 24.5 percent of his 3-pointers and a Hack-a-Shaq-ian 42.9 percent of his free throws through 20 games, good for a True Shooting percentage of just 37 percent. That’s on pace to be the lowest we’ve seen from any rookie in more than 55 years.
Ball’s challenge figures to get even tougher on Wednesday night, when his Lakers welcome the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors to Staples Center. That means Warriors point guard Stephen Curry will get a chance to size up Lonzo, whose father, LaVar Ball, famously insisted first that his son would be better than Steph one day, and then that Lonzo was better than the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player at the time — meaning, while still in his freshman year at UCLA, and while Curry was embroiled in a “down year” that saw him average 25 points per game on 47/41/90 shooting splits.
Despite LaVar’s characteristically bombastic commentary, Curry said during the Warriors’ Tuesday practice that he’s not heading into Staples with any extra motivation to put on a show at the Balls’ expense. (“More comic relief for me. Need that from time to time.”) He is heading into Wednesday, though, with plenty of empathy for the spot in which Lonzo finds himself, and hard-won perspective about how tough it can be to find your way in the NBA through a tough start. From Anthony Slater of The Athletic:
Steph Curry on facing Lonzo Ball for the first time, people trying to change his shot and whether the LaVar comments last year are extra motivation ("No. More comic relief.") pic.twitter.com/CY9RkHRAAs
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 28, 2017
“He’s a rookie,” Curry said of Ball. “He’s going through the ups and downs like every rookie has, whether you’re highly touted or not. It’s all a learning experience, trying to find your way and be comfortable. Basically my perception is he’s working through that. I’ve always said he’s a great talent, I think loves to play basketball, so he’ll be able to fight through that and have a great career.” […]
“I hope you didn’t judge me off my first 20 games in the league, either,” Curry said.
For the record, Curry’s first 20 games were a bit more successful than Lonzo’s — 11 points, 4.9 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 31.9 minutes per game, shooting 45 percent from the field, 37.9 percent from beyond the arc and 81.8 percent from the foul line. But his Warriors opened the season struggling even more than Ball’s Lakers, beginning the year 6-14 compared to an 8-12 start for L.A., and Curry too dealt with a fair number of naysayers wondering whether he’d be able to fit in alongside incumbent star guard Monta Ellis, whether he’d be capable of providing the same sort of scoring hysterics at the NBA level than he did in dominating at Davidson, and so on.
It took him a little while to truly find his stride; he’d proven a capable NBA scorer and shooter by the end of his rookie year, but he didn’t start to become Stephen Bleepin’ Curry until after three years and some scary ankle injuries. Once he got there, though … well, he was there, and there wasn’t any turning back. The same (albeit at a lower wattage) might be possible for Ball, who — as Curry’s fellow former MVP and Warriors superstar Kevin Durant reminds us — is dealing with an awful lot at an awfully young age. From Chris Haynes of ESPN:
“Lonzo is just playing like a rookie, as far as learning the game, finding the ins and outs of the game,” Durant said. “It’s slowing down for him. Picking and choosing his spots. He’s still figuring it out.
“He’s 19? [NOTE: He turned 20 on Oct. 27.] That’s what any 19-year-old would go through in the pros. It’s just a matter of him being in L.A., where the eyes and scrutiny are on him. He’s playing like he should play as far as learning the game and adjusting on the fly.”
The 6-foot-6 Ball’s knack for pulling the ball off the rim, looking to initiate early offense with hit-ahead passes, and closing down passing lanes with his active hands have helped keep him afloat as his shot flounders. Ball’s commitment to making things happen in other phases of the game has given Lakers coach Luke Walton a reason to keep him in the starting lineup even though the Lakers have, to date, been about three points per 100 possessions better with Lonzo off the floor.
It’s the shot, though — the funky, left-of-the-head slingshot motion — that helped open everything else up for Lonzo at Chino Hills High School and for Steve Alford at UCLA. His willingness to fire it from just about anywhere inside half-court drew early-and-often comparisons to Curry; now, with his own form flailing, Lonzo will get to see what the real thing looks like up close for the first time. From Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:
“He is kind of the first one to do it in the NBA like that and [Ball and his brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo] just kind of ran with it from there,” Ball said.
Ball and his brothers might have been firing from extreme distance before Curry came along, but the two-time league MVP’s success certainly normalized it at all levels.
“At first we were kind of getting criticized for it,” Ball said. “But after he pretty much opened the gateway, everybody was cool with it.”
Given how much Ball has struggled from distance — well, from anywhere, really — this season, you’d imagine Walton and company wouldn’t be too pleased to see Lonzo start pulling from 30 against the defending champs on Wednesday. Then again, maybe a little acting-as-if wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to help kickstart the rookie’s confidence.
Even if they’re on the other team, Steph and KD are still on your side, Lonzo. When the ball swings your way, think: what would a Big Baller do? Then let it fly and let God sort ’em out. (Just don’t forget to get back on defense after you do it.)
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