Though the prevailing sentiments are that LaMelo Ball is on his way to stardom, while the star ship has sailed on older bother Lonzo Ball, you might be surprised to learn that the two are actually having pretty similar seasons.
Throw out the differing tones with which they're covered -- LaMelo the shiny new toy with a million miles of upside, Lonzo the one we've already stopped playing with after realizing it's not as fun as we thought -- and just focus on the current production.
LaMelo is a better passer (and not just because the numbers say so), Lonzo is a better defender, they're both inconsistent shooters, both are trending up in a big way over their last five games, and both were fantastic on Friday night. We'll start with LaMelo, with an emphasis on start, as Hornets coach James Borrego indeed kept him in the first five after Terry Rozier returned from injury.
On Friday, albeit in a loss to the smoking-hot Jazz, LaMelo scored a career-high 34 points on 14-of-27 shooting, including 4-of-9 from deep, to go with eight assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block. The goods:
Notice all the different ways LaMelo is impacting the game -- in transition, in pick and roll, getting to the rim, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, interior passing, drive-and-kicks to shooters, contesting shots on the defensive end, rebounding and pushing, etc. It's easy to see LaMelo's confidence and comfort, both of which were brimming to begin with, growing every game.
The two main questions people had about LaMelo when the Hornets took him No. 3 overall in the 2020 draft were A) Could he shoot the 3 consistently? and B) would defenses respect him enough as a scorer, particularly as a finisher, to unlock his passing gifts? The 33-percent 3-point clip suggests a lacking consistency, but it's coming.
Over his last five games, LaMelo is shooting almost six 3-pointers per game and hitting them at 39.3 percent. Overall, he's taking over 15 shots a game over his last five (making 51.9 percent of them), equating to 22.5 points a night.
As for defenses having to respect him as a finisher rather than being able to hang off and play him for the pass, entering Friday, LaMelo was taking 42 percent of his shots at the rim, which put him in the 92nd percentile among all point guards, and he was converting those shots at a solid 58-percent clip (63rd percentile), per Cleaning the Glass.
So, yes, he's already proving to be a legit dual threat when he gets in the lane. Watch here as Rudy Gobert has to honor Ball's ability to finish by going up for a shot block, which allows for the easy drop-off to Cody Zeller.
If Gobert knows LaMelo wants to pass, he likely stays grounded and the pass isn't there. But he doesn't know what LaMelo is going to do. Unpredictability is the name of today's point-guard game, and LaMelo has it. In the clip below, LaMelo draws a crowd again, this time pulling Derrick Favors away from Bismack Biyombo, who is then waiting for the nifty wrap-around pass.
This ability to get to the rim and finish in traffic is, at this point, the biggest difference between LaMelo and Lonzo, the latter of whom is a far more hesitant scorer from anywhere inside the 3-point line. Entering Friday, Lonzo was taking just 19 percent of his shots at the rim, per CTG. Lonzo has, for all intents and purposes, become more of a 3-and-D player, and that's fine. Cementing his identity is the most important item on Lonzo's to-do list at the moment. After struggling to start the season, he is finding a major groove as well.
Over his last five games, Lonzo is taking eight 3-pointers a game and making them at a 47.5-percent clip en route to 17.2 points per game. On Friday, Lonzo was brilliant, scoring 18 of his 20 points -- on 7-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-9 from deep -- in the second half, including 13 in the fourth quarter, as the Pelicans defeated the Pacers 114-113.
Despite all those clutch buckets, it was Lonzo's defense that sealed the game for New Orleans. Watch here as Indiana's Myles Turner looks to have an angle to the rim for a potential game-winning shot, only for Lonzo to quickly rotate over and go straight up to stone Turner with textbook verticality.
A closer look:
Again, that is absolutely textbook. Straight up, hands high, game over. What a play, from the rotation to the contest. And good for Lonzo, who has heard his name in trade rumors the past few weeks and is playing for his first non-rookie contract this summer. It was a great night for the Ball brothers.