He leads the Las Vegas Summer League in assists and steals. He leads all guards in rebounds and blocks. He’s on pace for the most dimes in the event’s history.1
Simply put, Lonzo Ball is doing it all for the Lakers.
Averaging 17.0 points, 9.8 assists, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 1.5 blocks, Ball has somehow managed to brighten the already-blinding spotlight on himself.
And Lonzo’s contagious style of play has the summer Lakers a threat to take home the trophy from Vegas.
Since his days at Chino Hills High, scouts, journalists and fans have raved bout Ball’s passing ability. Prior to Summer League, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka repeatedly referred to this part of his game as “transcendent.”
The hype about his passing has been real since the first possession of Summer League, when he delivered a pinpoint lob to Brandon Ingram for an alley-oop that had Lakers fans dreaming about the future.
While Ball was “held” to only five assists in his first game2, he has completely shifted the Lakers’ dynamic on both sides of the floor in his latter three.
The summer Lakers are playing a high-octane style with players sprinting up the floor because they know that Ball will find them if they hustle for an open look.
Nobody has taken advantage of this more than the self-described Randy Moss to Ball’s Tom Brady: rookie forward Kyle Kuzma.
Indeed, they have shown chemistry akin to that Patriots duo. Of Ball’s 34 assists and Kuzma’s 25 made field goals in L.A.’s past three games, 13 have been on plays where the former dimed up the latter.
Kuzma dashing down the court in transition and Ball sailing a pass over the defense’s heads and into his teammate’s hands has become a familiar sight in Vegas. He was particularly Brady-esque on an 80-foot heave that punished the defense for not having any safety help.
While Ball is at his best in transition, he has also shown to be more than capable in the half-court.
He has found a balance of making highlight dishes and simple reads. Though his 5.0 turnovers per game mean that he could be more judicious, he is getting a feel for new teammates and will always have a few giveaways based on the way he sends the ball through tight windows.
And while his shot hasn’t been falling (more on that later), Lonzo has shown a knack for drawing the defense’s attention — primarily on drives to the cup — then having the wherewithal to feed a roller or kick to an open 3-point shooter.
“He’s already one of the best passers I’ve seen at this level,” Summer League head coach Jud Buechler said. “That’s kind of big words, but he can really pass the ball.”
That kind of praise is backed up when Ball does something like skip a pass from beyond the 3-point arc into the restricted area.
Ball’s passing is, by far, his most impressive talent and likely the one that will translate quickest to the NBA regular season.
Even more than his individual success, this aspect of his game has spread to his teammates, who have bought into zipping the ball to the open man instead of trying contested shots.
Under Ball’s direction, they have also continued to push the pace, like when Kuzma fired an inbounds pass to the other side of the floor, where Lonzo found a streaking Thomas Bryant for a lob.
At 6-foot-6, Ball has taken advantage of his towering presence over fellow point guards, particularly on the boards.
This, of course, lends nicely to his habit of picking up triple-doubles, as he notched two in six days after Summer League had gone a decade without ever seeing one.
More so, it has been a spark to the aforementioned fast-paced style that the Lakers plan to play with.
“I told them at the start: We don’t even want to run sets — we have Lonzo,” Buechler said. “We want to rebound and get out and run.”
Lonzo has set an example himself by snagging rebounds and immediately looking ahead to find an open lane-runner.
While his 1.8 offensive boards per night are certainly a welcome bonus in the possession battle, his ability to grab a rebound and immediately scan the court is the prelude to his big fast-break numbers.
Point guard is the most loaded position in the NBA. As a 19-year-old rookie, Ball will be tasked with defending the likes of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.
Of the four starters he has faced at Summer League, only one — Cleveland third-stringer Kay Felder — played in the NBA last year.
We’ll have to wait to see how Ball handles guarding NBA talent, but he has held his own in the summer.
He has grasped team defense well and put a few highlight plays on his reel by coming in for weak-side blocks and jumping into passing lanes.
The latter has worked hand-in-hand with his rebounding to create transition opportunities for himself and teammates.
The most prominent blemish on Ball’s stellar Summer League has been his jump shot’s refusal to find the bottom of the net. He has hit just 7-of-36 from 3-point range and 35.7 percent overall.
Lonzo has expressed nothing but confidence in his unorthodox, across-the-body shooting form and believes that his attempts will start dropping soon. He certainly has no plans of stopping, as he is firing 17.5 shots and 9.0 triples per game.
Ball — who is averaging 17.0 points — said on Thursday that he feels he finally has his wind back after not playing competitively over the previous four months.
However, tired legs are definitely still a possibility considering that he is only sitting five minutes a game, and those can be particularly unforgiving when adjusting from the college 3-point line to the NBA’s.
In the meantime, Ball — at the behest of head coach Luke Walton — has turned up his aggression inside of the arc.
This was on full display during Wednesday’s 36-point showing against Philadelphia, as he consistently put pressure on the paint and earned himself 12 free throw attempts compared to zero in his first two games.
“My (outside) shot’s obviously not going in,” said Ball, who shot 3-of-10 on 3’s that game. “So it helps that I can just go to the basket and get some easy ones.”
Lonzo — who wore Kobe Bryant’s “Kobe AD” shoes in that contest — credited his success to his “Mamba mentality.” While he certainly has a tall mountain to climb before becoming as polished a scorer as Bryant, he has been effective with his layups, especially in transition.
His long strides have helped him get to the rack in a hurry, and he has been able to finish through contact against young Summer League bodies.
Providing consistent scoring should be Ball’s biggest challenge in year one, yet he has definitely shown flashes. For now, Lakers fans can hope that him switching hands mid-air for a reverse layup is a staple of the teenager’s future.
1Credit to /r/Lakers user utopic2
2Only three other players are averaging at least five assists at Summer League