UCLA's Lonzo Ball putting himself in conversation for No. 1 NBA Draft pick
There's really no way to deny this with his early play
This is pretty much the best way you can describe the early play of UCLA super freshman Lonzo Ball.
Lonzo Ball is Derrick Rose physically and Jason Kidd instinctively. Appointment television for any basketball junkie. Kid is a stud.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 28, 2016
Appointment television is right.
There aren't many college players you can honestly say that about. There are a lot of really good players, a lot of which will, presumably, turn into really good -- if not great -- NBA players. But there aren't many college players that, right now, at 18 or 19 or 20 years old, force you to stop what you're doing and watch their every move. Lonzo Ball is indeed a rare breed. You absolutely have to watch this kid play.
We all knew Ball was great coming in. Probably a top-10 NBA Draft pick for sure. Maybe top-5. But this good? This early? The Bruins are 7-0 and averaging just under 100 points a game. They're shooting better than 45 percent from three and almost 55 percent from the field. Their spacing, their pace, their firepower -- right now they're the best offensive team in the country, hands down, and with all due respect to Bryce Alford and a pretty well-rounded Bruins roster, it can largely be traced back to Ball, whose impact goes far beyond his stats.
And that's really saying something, by the way, because the stats are terrific -- 16 points and nine assists a night, over 57 percent from the field and just under 50 percent from three, almost a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But it's the eye test that should really have NBA scouts drooling. The way he orchestrates an offense. His effect on the entire floor with his vision and his natural feel for angles. Not to mention his feel for the moment.
There are so many things to take away from this step-back 3-pointer in UCLA's 74-67 victory Sunday night vs. Texas A&M.
A couple things on this:
1. TIME AND SCORE: As you can see, when Ball hit this shot UCLA was down one with less than three minutes to play. This was a tightly contested game throughout. You knew a few plays were going to end up making the difference. Overall, it was probably one of Ball's most ordinary showings of the season, relatively speaking, though it was still clear all night long who the best player on the floor was, particularly in money time.
To watch Ball casually, easily, hit another gear in crunch time was, and is, special. It wasn't forced. It wasn't rushed. He simply knew it was his time to take over, as the great ones do, and when he hit this shot, you knew UCLA was going to win. Ball does this in a way that casual viewers will take for granted. Not just at the end of close games, when it's obvious, but in the middle of runs, at turning points He just has a feel for time and score, what's going on around him, when the crowd is waiting to explode, when it's time to look for his shot and when it's time to get others involved.
When Jon Rothstein said Ball has Jason Kidd instincts in the above tweet, this is what he's talking about. The stuff you can't teach. Ball has it all in spades, and it has to have NBA scouts drooling.
2. THE SHOT ITSELF: Right now, in the NBA, being able to shoot off the bounce from distance is an absolute difference maker. Think Stephen Curry. Damian Lillard. Nobody is saying Ball is going to be anywhere near the shooter those guys are -- certainly not Curry -- but being able to create space off the dribble that easily, and then, to have the handle, coordination and rhythm to flow right into your shooting pocket with easy 24-foot range -- that's elite NBA point guard stuff. You have to like his chances to turn into a lethal shooter off the pick-and-roll, which is Point Guard 101 in the league right now.
Mind you, much of this is set up by the threat of what he can do to you with his first step, athleticism and handle. Things like this:
When you have that kind of athleticism, with his proven ability to create off the dribble, ball defenders are going to be on ice skates from the start. They're going to give you space they shouldn't. Ball can get that step-back three any time he wants it. And he can obviously hit it. The form is a little funky in terms of release, but he's square from a shoulders and feet standpoint, and he's ultra rhythmic.
I would think this is another thing that is really opening scouts' eyes.
Shooting, length (Ball is a long 6-foot-6) and playmaking like this are at such a premium in today's NBA. Another great freshman point guard, Washington's Markelle Fultz, has been talked about far more than Ball as the likely No. 1 overall pick, and Fultz has certainly done nothing but justify that kind of hype so far. He's been brilliant in his own right, averaging 23 points a night on better than 55-percent shooting, including 43.5 from three. In terms of NBA comps, I found this interesting:
Markelle Fultz = Dwayne Wade— MMM (@CoachMoWise) November 18, 2016
Lonzo Ball = Jason Kidd
Dennis Smith = Steve Francis
Frank Jackson = Deron Williams
D'Aaron Fox = John Wall
You could argue that Fultz has been the most impressive player in the country this year, albeit it against a pretty weak schedule so far for the Huskies. Check out the company he and Ball are in so far:
So none of this is to say that Fultz isn't still the leading candidate to go No. 1 overall, or even that he hasn't actually been better than Ball to this point. If Duke's Harry Giles gets healthy and plays up to the level many think he can, and will, he could also go No. 1 overall. Same could be said for Kansas' Josh Jackson. Kentucky's Bam Adebayo has even been talked about. There are a number of guys in the conversation to be the No. 1 overall NBA pick, and all I'm saying is that Ball should be one of them.
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