The past four months — and in some ways, Lonzo Ball’s whole life — have led up to Thursday.
The Lakers’ second-overall pick is just one day away from his first regular-season game in purple and gold, and will immediately take the reins of the team’s offense.
“It’s going to be fun,” Ball said at Wednesday’s practice. “I’m going to do everything I can to help the name on my jersey get a win.”
So far Ball has thrived at every level he’s played at — going from an undefeated state championship in high school to an All-American year at UCLA to the NBA Summer League MVP award, all within a span of 19 months.
The 19-year-old and his head coach, Luke Walton, see the physicality of opposing players as Ball’s biggest hurdle in the NBA. But Walton has confidence that his top rookie will persevere through it.
“I think it’s gonna be fun for him,” Walton said of opening night. “He loves to play basketball. He loves to compete. Obviously it’s going to be a big learning curve. He’s never played in this type of game before, where the players are this good and this strong.
“He’s going against grown men — a team full of them. But I think he’ll be fine. I think he’ll rise to the challenge like he has his whole life.”
Lonzo will be met with in immediate challenge in Thursday’s season opener against the LA Clippers, who will start First Team All-Defense point guard Patrick Beverley.
“I’m sure Pat Beverley hounding him all over the floor is gonna be a great learning experience for him,” Walton said, “because he’s gonna have to learn how to release pressure or he’s gonna have to learn to play off the ball.”
But Ball isn’t the only starter making his Lakers debut.
After 10 years of becoming the Nets’ franchise leader in points and blocks, Brook Lopez is nearing his Los Angeles debut.
Lopez averaged 20.5 points last year, second-most among centers. He also led his position in 3-pointers (1.8) and was third among all players in post-up scoring (5.2). According to Larry Nance Jr., he will be a focal point of the offense.
“We’re gonna get the ball to Brook; he’s gonna kill guys,” Nance said. “As soon as he does that, that opens it up for everybody else. That opens it up for (Brandon Ingram) to drive, Lonzo to get his shot off — different guys to look to attack.”
Julius Randle was a full participant at practice after spending the past few days recovering from an intercostal strain.
He took reps with the second unit, while Nance played among the starters, though Walton declined to say which player would start at power forward for the opener.
With Randle’s return, the only Laker currently on the mend is rookie Josh Hart, who is considered questionable due to Achilles bursitis.