Lonzo Ball Strives to Be a Point Guard Fit for a King

OAKLAND, Calif. — Lonzo Ball started to revere LeBron James when James was a first-year ahead with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which might have made Ball about 6 years previous on the time. But Ball, as he put it himself in an interview final week, “idolized” James a lot, even then, that he had a youth-size duplicate of considered one of his jerseys.

All these years later, Ball belongs to the forged of characters — in any other case often called the Los Angeles Lakers — who work alongside James and labor for victories in his mammoth shadow. It nonetheless feels a little surreal to Ball, who sits not removed from James within the house locker room at Staples Center and absorbs all he can.

“I’ve looked up to him my whole life,” Ball stated.

Ball, in fact, is not any stranger to the highlight, which has adopted him round — usually at his father’s invitation — since he was a McDonald’s All-American at Chino Hills High School, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. It shined on him final season, too, for higher however principally for worse, as he struggled with accidents and rising pains as a first-year level guard within the N.B.A.

But the addition of James this season has introduced its personal model of stress, and it was mounting on Ball, 21, forward of the Lakers’ annual Christmas Day recreation, this one towards the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night time.

He was coming off considered one of his lumpiest video games of the season, a 107-99 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday by which he collected all of four factors, Three rebounds and a couple of assists whereas capturing simply 2 of 10 from the sector. He missed all seven of his Three-point makes an attempt.

Lakers Coach Luke Walton thought that Ball had let his capturing woes, that are nothing notably new, have an effect on the remainder of his recreation.

“He’s too good of a player, and he’s too important to us, to let that happen,” Walton stated.

Ball, although, has been simply as able to offsetting his clunkers with strong efforts that would seem to validate the Lakers’ funding in him because the No. 2 choose within the 2017 draft.

He is as tantalizing as he’s maddening.

He had, for instance, a couple of memorable video games this month, beginning with the third triple-double of his profession — 16 factors, 10 rebounds and 10 assists — in a blowout win towards the Charlotte Hornets. James, who additionally completed that recreation with a triple-double (his 75th), later used his Instagram account to publish a photo of himself embracing Ball.

“We’re one and the same when it comes to our playmaking ability,” James told reporters after the game.

Three days later, Ball scored 23 points while shooting 9 of 16 from the field and 5 of 9 from 3-point range in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Taken together (and ignoring the microscopic sample size for now), those performances seemed to support the notion that he could be a worthy point guard to pair with James. Ball is an exceptional passer, the product of court vision reminiscent of a certain Lakers great who is now the team’s president of basketball operations.

But Ball continues to struggle with consistency and his jump shot. Entering Tuesday’s game, he was averaging 9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists a game while shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 30.9 percent from 3-point range.

And so, the questions trail him: Can he put it all together? And if so, can he do it quickly enough to match the accelerated timeline James’s addition has created for the Lakers?

“Everybody’s watching him,” Ball said of James, “and expecting him to pretty much bring us a championship and all these great things. But he needs a supporting cast.”

For his part, Ball has maintained an extraordinary level of confidence.

“Obviously, I want to be an All-Star,” he said. “I want to be M.V.P. one day. But for me, it’s all about championships. When I play the game, I play to win.”

And Ball, who spent one year at U.C.L.A. before turning pro, said he understands the stakes, too: “I’m from here, so I know how it is playing in L.A. If you’re winning, they love you. If not, they’ll find someone else to do the job.”

After undergoing knee surgery over the summer, Ball has had to work himself into playing shape through the early weeks of the season, and he might not be there yet. It is difficult to know just how much room he has for growth.

“It was tough because I thought it was going to be a big summer for me,” Ball said. “I had potential my first year, but I felt like I could’ve done a lot better, and I was going to use the summer to tune everything up. But I couldn’t do anything.”

Well, he could do three things: eat, watch film and lift weights. He added about 20 pounds of muscle to his upper body — he has been listed at 6 feet 6 inches and 190 pounds — which was a silver lining to an otherwise bleak off-season.

“I think he really enjoyed the process of getting bigger and stronger,” the assistant coach Miles Simon said. “You could tell, because he was always walking around without a shirt on.”

The added bulk has made Ball better on defense this season, Simon said, which is an underrated part of his game. But not having a full, healthy summer was a setback.

“In the N.B.A., there’s a lot of stuff you can do in the off-season where you really get better,” Miles said, “and he hasn’t had that yet.”

Still, the Lakers, who were 19-14 going into the Warriors game, are not necessarily in the long-term growth business, not when James is about to turn 34, in the thick of his prime, and wants to vie for championships soon-ish. Look no further than his comments last week about how much he would love to play with the likes of Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans’ All-Star center.

As for Ball, James has been supportive of him, full of praise for the young guard in his interactions with the news media and on social media — and that means something, for now.

“LeBron’s one of the best players ever to play the game, so I don’t think he’d lie just because I’m his teammate,” Ball said. “I think he really sees something in me.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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