Many have criticized Lonzo Ball saying that he couldn’t shoot and that he couldn’t defend. Some even said that he wouldn’t last long in the NBA, but look at him now. In fact, he could be exactly what the Lakers need to help them get out of this early slump. But it’s way too early to jump to conclusions about his capabilities, but Ball has had his best game so far, and maybe of his young career. He put up 12 points, eight assists, six rebounds, and five steals in Los Angeles’ 121-114 victory over the Nuggets on Thursday. That’s pretty impressive, considering what they said about him, isn’t it?
Ball shot 2-of-5 from three-point range, continuing his campaign as a 40 percent shooter from distance this season. It was the Lakers’ second win of the season after starting out 0-3. Ball has played so well that it’s a real possibility that he retains the starting point guard role, even after Rajon Rondo returns from serving his three-game suspension. Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters that Ball’s pressure and steel on Jamal Murray changed the game for his team, completely. And it wasn’t just Walton who felt this way – LeBron James agreed with him and said that he is underrated. He went onto say that he has some of the quickest hands in the league.
The bigger question is whether or not they should start Rondo or Ball? The numbers aren’t in Ball’s favor: the Lakers are 21.4 points worse per 100 offensive possessions when Ball is on the floor. But they also picked up their only two victories with him as the starter, and he was plus-10 against the Nuggets on Thursday. Rondo has finished serving his three-game suspension and will return to the lineup for Los Angeles’ matchup against San Antonio on Saturday. Ball has made the case to be a starter, and he’s shown his game has improved since last season.
Rondo is a perfectly capable starter as well. In his two starts, Rondo averaged 13 points, 10.5 assist, and 5.5 rebounds. But his style of play is different than Ball’s. Rondo tends to dribble the ball, probing the defense until he finds a cutter or kicks out which can be good, but when playing alongside LeBron James that means he will likely have the ball. This actually plays better into Ball’s strengths because he is more likely to make a quick pass to keep the ball moving, rather than over dribble. Ball is also better suited to capitalize on drive and kicks from James, which result in open three-point attempt.s
While not definitive, the numbers suggest that Ball is the better starter. Walton has not announced who will start during the next game, but I would be surprised if he went back to Rondo given that the Lakers have won two in a row and finally seem to be clicking. It is still early in the season, so this is the time when the Lakers can afford to throw around some different options to see what works best. After all, they’re playing the long game here so they need to get it right.