Lonzo Ball is a really good basketball player. I’m starting to have some doubts about just how good he’ll be at the NBA level, but he’s really good, and I’m confident he’ll continue to be at least that moving forward. Furthermore, he seems like a pretty humble, quiet kid, at least from afar. So it’s too bad that we have to write about how irrelevant he was, how exposed he was, in the biggest game of his life to this point, but that’s what his old man has forced us to do.
LaVar Ball has tattooed an old-fashioned bull’s-eye square on his son’s back courtesy of some of the most outrageous statements you’ve ever heard in your life. Outrageous, even by the loudest of loudmouth-dad standards.
Back in November, LaVar said on national TV that, which didn’t exactly work out. Then he said that -- which, I think, was when the masses first started to question his sanity. Then he went full straitjacket mode when he declared that Lonzo was (is) .
Not the best player in college (he’s not that, either, by the way) -- the best player in the world. Better than LeBron. Durant. Westbrook. Curry. Better than all of them. Right now. At 19 years old. Lonzo Ball = best player in the world. Pops said it.
And now look.
In UCLA’s Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky, Lonzo was, at best, the third- or fourth-best player on a college floor, and even that is probably a stretch. Frankly, De’Aaron Fox made him look like a sophomore scrub called up from the JV team to be a varsity practice dummy.
Fox’s final line: 39 points, 4 assists, 1 turnover.
Ball’s final line: 10 points, 8 assists, 4 turnovers.
And even that doesn’t tell the full story of how much better Fox was when it mattered most. He got anywhere he wanted to get on the floor, against Ball, against anyone who tried to check him. He dictated pace. Hit jumpers. Got to the rim. Shot 13 of 20 from the field and 13 of 15 from the line. And his defense, as always, was game-changing, which is a claim even LaVar could never make about Lonzo.
At halftime Steve Alford noted that UCLA just wasn’t running its offense with its normal rhythm. That wasn’t an accident. Fox and company denied everything. Applied life-or-death ball pressure 25 feet out. Cut off penetration. UCLA still managed to shoot better than 52 percent from the field, almost 40 percent from 3, but only scored 75 points. Why? UK never let them get up to speed. Made them play largely an isolation game. And to that end, in what was, perhaps, a glimpse into a major hole in Lonzo’s NBA future, LaVar’s son, in this relatively slowed-down game, wasn’t able to do anything -- like, nothing at all -- against that kind of pressure, half-court defense.
Sure, he had some nice possessions, particularly in the early going. For a decent stretch he was in an effective rhythm even if he wasn’t scoring, flashing the passing and spacing instincts that have earned him Jason Kidd comparisons (from people other than LaVar). But for the most part, he was a non-factor. Couldn’t create his own shot. Didn’t really create much for anyone else. Wandered around on defense. As the game went on, it became more and more evident how limited even Lonzo’s touted offensive game can become under the right -- or wrong -- circumstances.
None of this is to say Lonzo won’t be a good, or even a great pro. One game doesn’t mean a thing in the grand scheme. But this is the kind of scrutiny that LaVar -- PR stunt or otherwise -- has put on his son’s shoulders. After the game, Lonzo announced that he has, meaning he’s going pro, which means that roughly seven months from now he’ll be going up against the actual best players in the world. Friday night may have clued us in to how this might all go, both in how little we heard from Lonzo during the game, and how little we heard from LaVar after it.