Takeaways from Lonzo Ball’s preseason debut: He can only go up from here

Earlier this week, much was made of the fact that Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball was 6-0 in training camp scrimmages. That, combined with how the Lakers have spoken of him, as having a transcendent talent, a way about him that was reminiscent of the greatest players in the history of the most famous team in the league, only ratcheted up the sky-high hype around Ball and his preseason debut.

Well, go ahead and drop Ball to 6-1 in his NBA career, counting scrimmages, as the Lakers lost to the Timberwolves on Saturday night 108-99.

The nice thing about rookie preseason debuts is that they’re a can’t-lose proposition. If you excel, you’re already adapting, thriving on the biggest stage. If you stumble, not only is it your first year, not only is it preseason, but it’s the first game of your first preseason before your first year. All the good things are signs of things to come, all the bad are things that the player can move past. 

There’s a lot to move past for Ball. He finished with eight assists, but shot only 2 for 9, and his three turnovers were the kinds of glaring mistakes you would expect from a rookie.

The big difference between this game and his summer league performances was the absence of really eye-popping plays. Even when Ball struggled in Las Vegas, he would have plays that showcased special ability. In this setting, Ball looked decidedly more average. 

There were bright signs, however. Particularly, Ball’s rebounding seems even ahead of where he was thought to be. Ball’s not explosive off the jump, but he is crafty and long, and once he grabs the ball, he can create shot opportunities instantly:

And while his form remains unconventional on a number of fronts and the length of NBA players clearly bothered his shot, he still showed how effective his step-back can be:

Some of his mistakes were simple, like here where he simply got caught in a trap with no plan for how to get out of it: 

But he also struggled at times with his conditioning and his feel for the game, which was always talked about as one of his biggest strengths. Coach Luke Walton and Ball agreed after the game he needs to be more aggressive in looking for his shot. Of course, that’s confusing on the surface given Ball’s 2-for-9 shooting. It’s more a matter of opening up the game for his playmaking after he has established himself as a shooter. However, that comes with concerns of their own as the length of opponents clearly bothered him:

And then, the defense … well, it was what you would expect for a rookie with Ball’s athletic profile: 

Ball did have good angles in the pick and roll. It was the first game. There’s a lot to build on. But if anyone did expect Ball to transcend rookie status from the start, that first unrealistic expectation was felled. The good news is that Ball has nothing but eons of games ahead of him to reach that special place so many want to already appoint him to.

OTHER NOTES:

  • Lakers fans should pretty much just keep repeating “It was only the first preseason game,” because the team’s performance was pretty rough. Brandon Ingram was aggressive, but it teetered on gunning. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did not teeter. He dove into gunning (1 for 7 from the field). 
  • Kyle Kuzma (19 points), Ivica Zubac, Julius Randle (15 points), and Jordan Clarkson all had solid games. Randle in particular was active and flowed well, looking like the third-year player he is and ready to attack when given the opportunity. He saved possessions for L.A. 
  • The Wolves were terrific, even with what is very clearly going to be a bad bench. Their bigs dominated inside while Karl-Anthony Towns shot 3 for 3 from deep. Maybe more important: their defensive effort was way higher.
  • Tyler Ennis had six points and eight assists in less than 12 minutes. 
  • As always, you have to end as we began, by emphasizing that this is the first preseason game. Long way to go for both teams.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *