NBA: LeBron James – Lonzo Ball Doesn't Realize His Greatness

Not since the year 2003, when LeBron James was picked first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, had so much hype surrounded a player like how it surrounded Lonzo Ball in 2017. Granted, the hype around Lonzo Ball wasn’t as organic and ability-driven as it was for LeBron James as major chunk of Lonzo Ball’s hype was created by his father LaVar Ball‘s outlandish claims and marketing genius. Even before Lonzo Ball was drafted, LaVar Ball had claimed that his son is a better point guard than two-time MVP Stephen Curry. He also claimed that once the Los Angeles Lakers draft Lonzo, they will immediately become a playoff team after being one of the worst teams in the NBA a year ago.
LaVar Ball also launched his own shoe brand called Big Baller Brand because the biggest names in the shoe industry weren’t ready to pay him the money he wanted. All of these activities also landed LaVar Ball a guest’s spot on famous sports shows such as ESPN’s First Take (where he claimed that he can beat Michael Jordan in a one on one game), and Fox Sports’ The Herd with Colin Cowherd where he infamously asked co-host Kristine Leahy to ‘stay in her lane’. The scathing remark was LaVar Ball’s response when Leahy asked him how many pairs of his $500 shoes had been sold so far. He went on to continuously speak without even looking at her. This went on to become an issue for some time and LaVar Ball tried to capitalize on that as well, launching $60 tshirts with ‘Stay in Yo Lane’ printed in the front. The LaVar Ball circus kept on rolling where he played former NFL player Marcellus Wiley one on one on the set of ESPN’s Sportsnation. He even claimed that he will be able to beat NBA legend Charles Barkley in the present day.
The outlandish claims and activities kept feeding the hype machine and the Los Angeles Lakers ended up drafting Lonzo Ball as the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (over players like Donovan Mitchell and Dennis Smith Jr.). Lonzo Ball, sadly failed to live up to the hype and his rookie year ended up being one of the most heavily scrutinised rookie years in NBA history. He only averaged 10.2 points per game and 7.2 assists per game and shot a dreadful 45 percent from the free throw line. He also missed 30 games in the season because of injury. He made the All Rookie Second team but that is hardly the level of accomplishment you’d expect from a player who had been hyped up to be better than Stephen Curry. The unshakeable faith which Lakers President Magic Johnson had showed in Lonzo Ball, had started wavering and in the summer of 2018, the Lakers went on to sign the greatest basketball player in the world, LeBron James.
Many feared that this might cause a regression in Lonzo Ball’s productivity since LeBron James is at his best when he has the ball in his hands and Lonzo Ball can’t really do much without the ball because of his poor shooting. On top of James, the Lakers signed veteran point guard and playmaker extraordinaire Rajon Rondo as well. Many people saw this as the sign that Lonzo Ball’s days as a Laker were numbered .
However, James’ arrival has been a blessing in disguise for Lonzo Ball’s career. Not only does he take the team from the bottom of the conference to the playoffs, he also takes the spotlight away from Ball. That’s something that Ball really needed. And guess what, the King seems to be very impressed with Ball’s performance on the court. After a 90-83 win over the Utah Jazz, King James had this to say about Lonzo Ball: “Sometimes he doesn’t realize how great he is. The things that he possesses out on the floor, when Zo realizes how good he is on the floor, it makes him a very dynamic player and it makes us even better. And he’s been doing that as of late, [with] his aggressiveness. He doesn’t [even] have 82 games under his belt yet. So I think every game is another teaching point for him, and experience will continue to happen more and more, and he’s going to know what he does extremely well to help us, but more importantly help him be successful on the floor. I can see it, but sometimes for you personally, you have to continue to figure it out. He hasn’t even put a full regular season into his books yet.”
Even though the stat sheet for Lonzo Ball wasn’t very impressive, he only had 9 points and 2 assists for the game, his leadership and decision making skill in the fourth quarter made a big difference. James went on to add: “Even when he’s not making [shots], just his attack as you’ve seen earlier in the game, just him getting to the rim [is important]. He missed a couple of ’em; that’s absolutely fine. He had a couple charges; that’s absolutely fine. When he’s aggressive, it just changes our dynamic of the team, and he’s been doing it of late and we need him to continue to do that because he’s very good.”
Lonzo Ball himself was quite pleased with his performance: “I just play better like that. I have a great coaching staff, great teammates pushing me every day. So I just keep hearing them in my ear, trying to do the right things on the court.” When asked about what went through his mind during his game-sealing left hand layup: “Well, they decided to blitz LeBron off the ball screen. So that leaves me pretty much in the open floor, and I can do what I want with it. It’s tough. You got me coming down the lane or you got JaVale for the lob. So you got to pretty much pick one. I’m just faster than a lot of people out there. So I can get to the spots. It’s just about finishing.”
The victory however, was anything but clean, the Lakers committed 24 turnovers and had only 10 assists for the game as a team. LeBron James was clearly not pleased with that: “It was horrible. Horrible. Horrible, man. You look at the stats, man [it was bad], but offensively, we just found a way late in the game. But we just defended. The best thing about it, when we was turning the ball over, but we still held them in the half court. We did a number on them in the half court defensively. But we’re not going to win many games like that, when you turn the ball over 24 times and just have 10 assists.”
Even coach Luke Walton wasn’t just ready to sit back and enjoy the win. He expressed his displeasure at the turnovers as well: “It’s something that we will get to as a team, and when we get there, we will be a much better team. So even if we’re winning games, we’re not going to slack off on the coaching of making the right pass and the extra pass, and I truly believe we’ll become that type of team.”

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