Lonzo Ball gets his Lakers match: Why lottery outcome is a perfect fit for both
Lonzo's skillset in that system is ideal and sets up L.A. for a return to mainstream relevance
The 2017 NBA Draft lottery is already one of the most memorable ones ever, if for no other reason than because of the team picking second, not first.
Sure, Boston winning the lottery is definitely a windfall of major proportions for a franchise that's set to play for an NBA Finals appearance. But the Lakers historically compete with Boston for the title of the most important franchise in the sport, and by nature of landing the No. 2 pick while in a disappointing cycle, Tuesday night's fortuitous ping pong ball results could alter the state of the league for the next decade.
The Lakers landing the second pick means more than Boston landing the first because Boston has less to lose and Los Angeles has more to gain. The Lakers appear to be lined up to land former UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, thus fulfilling the prophecy foretold not by the gods, but by a god in only his own mind, LaVar Ball. Dad has been saying for weeks that his son would be a Laker. Now it seems like the most likely scenario. Incredible.
If conventional thought holds, Boston will select Washington's Markelle Fultz with the first pick on June 22. Then, a few moments later, commissioner Adam Silver will walk out to the lectern and utter these words: "With the second pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select ... Lonzo Ball, from UCLA."
It could wind up being the most important draft pick for the Lakers in two decades. Let us look beyond a headline, because the future of the Lakers' playoff chances and contention in the Western Conference hinges on this pick. Forget LaVar Ball's boasting, forget about Lonzo's $495 shoes. Let's look at who Lonzo Ball is, and why he makes sense for Los Angeles, why this is best for the league.
Though his father has amplified his star power and Q rating, Ball is not a product of more hype than substance. His adroit talent is that promising, and his demeanor is even better. NBA fans know of Lonzo in part because of his game but probably more so because of LaVar. The irony to Lonzo is he has a lot of flash and pizzazz to his play, but his personality runs in stark contrast to that. He is not bombastic, he is not outspoken, he is not attention-seeking.
It's because of these attributes that he makes for a dream draft choice for a squirming franchise in need of a dynamic addition to reverse their seldom-seen basement-dwelling existence. The Lakers-and-Lonzo pairing will get a lot of headlines and dominate sports talk over the next day or two because LaVar and all of that. I understand that part of it. But winning and chemistry matters most, and it's hard to envision how Lonzo, the player, doesn't meld with the franchise. Ball became the biggest basketball celebrity this past winter in that city. He's set to continue that streak if Boston doesn't pull a fast one and opt to take him first.
Plus, you get Magic Johnson as a mentor. Lonzo couldn't ask for anyone better.
Ball is a facilitator, first and foremost, and coincidentally is the savviest see-the-floor general to come into the league since ... current Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell (who was flashy and really fun while at Ohio State). But Ball played with more jurisdiction, and more conviction, at the college level than Russell. So it's reasonable to conclude that Ball's technique will translate at the next level. He will control the ball but won't dominate it. He is a catalyst, an enabler, an expediter. A "true" point guard. Brandon Ingram will almost certainly, and suddenly, become better. Most others will, too. Usually, teams draft prospects based off personal potential. With Lonzo Ball, the Lakers will be drafting off the idea that he and he alone makes not just the team, but all of his teammates, instantly better.
There haven't been five players in the past 10 years who have been drafted under this expectation.
At UCLA, Ball was in complete control of the second most efficient offense in college basketball, made even more impressive by the fact that UCLA was so good while playing at the sixth-fastest pace on offense in the sport. Keeping in trace with that efficiency, Ball was the embodiment of modern shot metric ideology: he was an outrageously good 2-point shooter (73.2-percent) -- because, if he wasn't taking a 3, the majority of his attempts came within 5 feet of the hoop. And from distance? Solid. Ball made 80 of his 194 treys, a 41 percent clip.
Plus, he was the primary factor in UCLA pulling off one of the biggest year-to-year turnarounds. The Bruins were a mess at the end of 2016, finishing 15-17. Coach Steve Alford gave back some of the money owed to him on his contract amid consistent calls for him to be fired.
But with Lonzo in the fold, the Bruins more than doubled their win total (31) and reached the Sweet 16 before falling to Kentucky.
Ball is no sure thing, but these lottery results felt close to fate. Similar to the Knicks landing Patrick Ewing and the Cavs getting LeBron James, the Lakers get the perfect draft spot at the perfect time to resuscitate a franchise. They should, and almost certainly will, draft the local kid from Chino Hills, who will be tasked with turning around a team almost immediately. It's way too much to ask of Lonzo right away, but for him, his family, that organization and the NBA, this could not have turned out better.
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