Like it or not, the most talked about player from this past year’s draft is Lonzo Ball, the trophy son of the “Big Baller” himself, Lavar Ball. I understand that Lavar is busy taking over Lithuania and watching his other two sons take on 17 year-old Lithuania superstars in the “Big Baller Challenge,” but I hope this makes its way to him.
In the 2017 NBA draft, Lonzo was drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, his hometown team. He agreed to a multi-year deal on the rookie scale, with a 2017 salary of a little more than $6.2 million. Let’s be honest, that’s great for him and perhaps well-deserved after his stellar year at UCLA. But to receive that sort of contract and be drafted second overall means that he was picked ahead of players like: Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox (who put on a show against Lonzo in the NCAA tournament), and Lauri Markkanen. In no way am I saying that Lonzo is inferior to those players, in fact, Lonzo has several attributes that many hope will make him the next face of the “Showtime” Lakers. Perhaps Lonzo’s greatest strength is his size and ability to see the floor. Standing at 6’ 6”, he is one of the taller point guards in the league, which allows him to play with speed and utilize his excellent floor vision to find his teammates. And perhaps his greatest weakness is his ability to shoot the ball. For those of you who have seen Lonzo play, you will understand what I mean when I say: when he shoots, it looks like it should never go in. He may not be a bad shooter, but his technique is off, and it’s yet to be determined if it will hold up over the length of his career.
Obviously these pros and cons were accounted for by the Lakers before they selected him in the draft, and to them, he was worthy of the second overall pick. Hindsight is 20/20, so let’s take a look at a few numbers to see how much Lonzo is really worth.
We’ll start by looking at Lonzo’s ability to make an immediate impact on the Lakers. At this point in the season Lonzo has played in 83% of the Laker’s games. In terms of durability, this is too small a sample size to say that he is or isn’t durable, but it does say that the Lakers need him on the court. This is even more evident by the fact that Lonzo plays 33.6 minutes per game, more than any other player in his draft class. This could mean that the Lakers made a great choice for them, or maybe they were just that bad the previous year. For now I’m going to say it’s a combination of the two.
As I discussed above, one of the concerns with Lonzo’s game is his ability to shoot the ball. He currently averages 10 points per game, which is good for 8th best in his draft class. Not too shabby. However, one of the players he trails is Lakers teammate Kyle Kuzma, who was drafted 27th overall and now averages 16.9 points per game. That is a fair amount of production from the Los Angeles draft class, so I’ll come back to what I said before, maybe the Lakers were just that bad the previous year. When you take in to consideration that Lonzo plays more minutes than the rest of his fellow draftees, his scoring numbers become less impressive. He averages 14.3 points per 48 minutes, which is 25th in the 60-player draft class. And to top it off, he doesn’t do it very efficiently, shooting 35% from the field and 30% from 3-point range. That’s good for 33rd and 21st in his class, respectively. For the Lakers these shooting woes aren’t cheap as they are currently paying Lonzo $18,489.88 per point scored, compared to the class’s leading scorer, Donovan Mitchell, who is currently averaging 18.4 points per game and costing the Utah Jazz $3,650.81 per point.
In fairness to the Lakers and Lonzo, he is not a scorer, and to label him a poor draft selection because of his scoring ability is unfair. At the same time, the goal is to outscore the opposing team, and his lack of efficiency is a little concerning. Shifting gears now, let’s look at his strength, his ability to use his size and see the floor. This manifests itself in his ability to rebound, pass, and take care of the ball. On the season Lonzo has pulled in 240 rebounds, which is 100 more than the second best rebounding guard in his class. He is also first in the class in assists per game, and first in the class in assist to turnover ratio. Now that’s the type of productivity you hope to see out of your second overall draft pick.
So take a moment, breathe, and digest all of that Lonzo-data. Will Lonzo be the greatest point guard in the history of the NBA? I would play the odds and say no. Is he a bust? Absolutely not. What was with all the hype? I’ll attribute that to Lavar being some sort of obnoxious, marketing genius.
Lonzo has a long way to go before he is one of the elite point guards in the NBA. He has a natural court vision that allows him to utilize his size and make passes that many players cannot. However, he needs to improve his efficiency on the offensive end as a scorer for the benefit of his team, and to turn him into an elite point guard.
So, Lonzo: a big baller? No, not yet at least.