It’s very early, but Lonzo Ball is shining in LeBron James’ absence

Image Credit: Sky Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Lonzo Ball is showing flashes of brilliance. Throughout a rookie year which saw the former UCLA Bruin average 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists with the Los Angeles Lakers, those following or a part of the NBA were asking for more. This is largely due to Ball’s inefficiency (36% FG, 30.5% 3P, 45.1% FT). Despite being a positive influence on those around him while on the court, he struggled to create his own shots – much less knock them down. Toss in a 35-47 record and you’ve got a rollercoaster of a season for all involved.

Enter LeBron James. The general consensus “best player in the world” is averaging over 27 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game on a young Lakers team. While other members of his team are still figuring out where they fit in, King James appears to have been the missing piece to the puzzle. Los Angeles won 20 of its first 34 games with James at the helm before he suffered a groin strain that currently has him listed as “day-to-day.” Although the Lakers are 1-2 since James’ injury, the team’s story in James’ absence has been Lonzo Ball.

Three games is an extremely small sample size, but take a look at Ball’s performance in the last three contests compared to how he’s played this season:

Lonzo Ball MPG PPG RPG AST FG% 3P%
Last Three Games 37 17.3 5.3 8 0.488 0.4
2018-19 Season 29.6 9.6 5.1 5 0.408 0.318

Of course, playing nearly eight more minutes per game will lead to more counting stats such as points, rebounds, and assists. We’ll get to a more accurate comparison here in a minute. For now, take a look at the shooting percentages. Not only is Ball shooting a whole 8% better from the field in his last three games, but he is shooting more than 8% better from deep. Field goal and three-point percentages of 49 and 40, respectively would make Ball one of the more efficient players in the entire league if they became a norm.

I promised we’d get back to a better comparison. Instead of Ball’s season averages, let’s focus on the last three games & his per-36 minute’s figures:

Last Three  37 17.3 5.3 8
2018-19 Per 36 36 11.6 6.3 6.1

This paints a pretty clear picture. When Lonzo Ball gets more minutes overall, he plays better. Over the last three games, he’s taken that statement to an entirely new level. Keeping the aforementioned shooting numbers in mind, this recent stretch proves to be even more impressive.

Again, three games is a minuscule sample size out of an 82-game season (3.7%). Nevertheless, Lonzo Ball has done something he did just four times all of last season: score double-digit points in at least three straight games. Raising his numbers across the board while locking down opposing point guards, perhaps the Lakers’ best player going down was all it took for Luke Walton to display the ultimate confidence in his 21-year-old floor general by handing him the keys to the car.

LeBron James won’t always be injured. Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram have both played impressive basketball of late. Ball’s had stretches like this in the past, only for them to fade into sub-10 PPG weeks. Who knows how much longer this improved play will last. We’ll get a firsthand look at Lonzo Ball on Wednesday when the Lakers host the Oklahoma City Thunder. Until then, enjoy one of the faces of Big Baller Brand running the point guard position to a T.

Is this stretch sustainable? Will Lonzo regress once LeBron comes back? If so, how much? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @TheHoopCentral!

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