Lonzo Ball is the NBA's preeminent distressed asset. Drafted as one of the most unusual prospects in recent memory, Ball's success or failure as a pro was always going to rely on stability. He's had three coaches in four seasons, and if you count Rob Pelinka as distinct from Magic Johnson, three general managers as well. He's on his second team, but in practice, something like his fifth roster. The baby Lakers turned into the LeBron James Lakers on which he initially came off of the bench behind Rajon Rondo. He then played half of a season with a Zion Williamson-less Pelicans team before finishing that season alongside Zion, and afterward, New Orleans turned over half of the roster in the Jrue Holiday and Steven Adams deals.
That's not exactly the model of stability, and unsurprisingly, his numbers reflect that. He shot nearly 39 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season but is now down to around 26 percent this season. Meanwhile, he's up to 76 percent in the restricted area, but on less than two attempts per game after struggling to finish early in his career. For young players, numbers are often only as consistent as role. Ball's has changed constantly, and as a result, he's never found the steady production expected out of a No. 2 overall pick.
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That doesn't mean he never will, though. It just means that his next team has to be in a position to give him the stability he craves. On the right team, Ball's unique blend of size and basketball-IQ could still produce a high-level starter. So with Ball reportedly on the market, let's dig into which teams actually make sense as destinations for one of the NBA's most distinctive talents.
The Warriors have already redeemed a No. 1 overall pick in Andrew Wiggins. Why not take a shot at a No. 2 selection? Ball is Steve Kerr's dream project, the ideal passer and cutter to kick his motion offense into shape. The Warriors have been ranked in the top 10 in the NBA in passes per game in all six of Kerr's seasons in Golden State, and ranked in the top five in each of the past four. But this season? They're 14th as they attempt to integrate a number of new pieces. While Stephen Curry and Draymond Green remain as intelligent as ever, their teammates have so far struggled to grasp the nuances of Kerr's scheme to such an extent that merely replacing rookie James Wiseman with the veteran Kevon Looney has proven utterly essential to surviving first quarters. The Wiseman version of the starting five has been outscored by 66 points this season. The Looney version has outscored opponents by 29. That's how valuable a quick injection of basketball IQ has proven for the Warriors. Imagine what Ball might add.
He'd bring Golden State's running game back to life, at the very least. Kerr's first Warriors team finished first in transition offensive efficiency and third in transition frequency, according to Cleaning the Glass. That is largely where his fast-paced Warriors remained before this rebuild. But this year's team is No. 23 in transition frequency and No. 28 in transition efficiency. Not only would Ball's passing create easier buckets on the break, but his defense and rebounding would create more transition opportunities in the first place. The thought of defenses tracking him and Stephen Curry while backpedaling is utterly terrifying.
Most teams would have to worry about how Ball's shooting might affect their spacing. But Ball would actually be an improvement upon Kelly Oubre's 22.1 percent from behind the arc this year. A swap involving the two high-upside reclamation projects makes sense for both sides. The Pelicans would clear minutes for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis while also shoring up their wing depth. The Warriors get the infusion of creativity they need, and Ball gets an organization patient enough to maximize his gifts.
The Lonzo-LeBron pairing was brief, but more effective than most remember. They played 821 minutes together and outscored opponents by 57 points in that time, not exactly a championship pace, but more than enough on a lottery team. That stretch was proof of concept. Ball is a point guard in name, but provided there is enough shooting on the floor to support him, functions best alongside another high-usage ball-handler.
Well, Phoenix has two of them in Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Just ask Shai Gilgeous-Alexander what an effective mentor Paul can be. At 36 years old, he isn't going to be around forever, and eventually, Phoenix is going to need someone to replace him as Booker's partner in the backcourt. Ball is a perfect theoretical complement to Booker, a defender that can keep teammates engaged during Booker's scoring binges.
Phoenix had the perfect opportunity to add such a player on draft night when Tyrese Haliburton slipped to their slot at No. 10. They passed him up in favor of Maryland big man Jalen Smith, which inadvertently gave the Suns an easy pathway to this sort of deal. DeAndre Ayton is the center of the future, and Jae Crowder and Cam Johnson are mainstays at power forward. That likely only leaves room for one of Smith or Dario Saric to play major minutes for the long haul, and New Orleans sorely needs a stretch big man to play alongside Williamson. A Saric-Ball swap solves problems for both sides. Phoenix gets its point guard of the future and clears Smith's spot. New Orleans adds a cheap stretch big man to use as an alternative to Steven Adams.
We're breaking our rule of stability here for a simple reason: what do the Hornets have to lose? What does Charlotte have going for it at the moment that is more appealing than a Ball family reunion. The Hornets have made the playoffs three times in the past 15 years. Even after drafting LaMelo Ball and signing Gordon Hayward, they're currently four games below .500. Lonzo won't fix everything. He won't immediately make the Hornets contenders. But he's a worthwhile home run swing for a team that has hit nothing but singles since its inception as the Bobcats.
An all-Ball backcourt would be the league's most unselfish, a necessity given their current limitations as scorers. That ball-movement would give the Hornets a sorely needed identity, and quietly, one of the switchier defenses in basketball once its other prospects mature. The two Ball brothers, Hayward, P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges are all long and between 6-6 and 6-8.
Is that a championship fivesome? No. But it's a low-risk swing on chemistry, ball-movement and, frankly, fun. Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham aren't good enough to deter Charlotte from such a roster.
Redundancy is fine at the top of the league. The Nets aren't exactly weeping over the similarities between Kyrie Irving and James Harden. But the Nets are running while the Bulls are still learning how to walk. The dueling banjos routine between Zach LaVine and Coby White isn't doing either of them any good, and with the No. 26 ranked defense in the NBA, the Bulls aren't winning anything with that duo unless Patrick Williams grows an extra set of arms.
Ball complements their scoring as he would Booker's, and he'd find himself playing for a coach and general manager with years of runway ahead of them. It's too early to say whether the Billy Donovan-Arturas Karnisovas brain trust is right for Chicago, but based on GarPax's 17-year reign of terror, we can safely call it a stable one. Ball wouldn't be joining a contender, but he'd be joining a team that could take its time with his development.
The broader question a possible Ball trade creates is what to do with the other two guards, assuming neither is included in the deal. LaVine is the superior player, but the older one with less team control. He can walk in 2022 free agency, and if Chicago's trajectory doesn't change, he very well might. Dealing him denies that possibility, but limits the team's upside with another likely star in the building. Might Chicago be willing to try playing all three? Would moving off of LaVine give the Bulls another shot at a high lottery pick to find that star? These are bigger team-building questions that the Bulls have to answer anyway. Ball doesn't get in their way. He enhances whatever is left over.
Sooner or later, Kyle Lowry is going to stop being Kyle Lowry. Eventually, Fred VanVleet is going to need a new backcourt partner, one that brings the same intangibles and all-around brilliance. Ball can't shoot like Lowry (yet). He's not as good at drawing charges. But the basketball brain is there, and Toronto's revered developmental staff would have as good a chance as anyone at maximizing it.
OG Anunoby made 31.1 percent of his 3-pointers in his final collegiate season. He's up to 43.3 percent this season. Pascal Siakam's improvement was even more impressive prior to his collapse this season. The Raptors can teach shooting. They can teach all-around scoring. Lowry never averaged more than 14.3 points per game before landing in Toronto. He's been at 17.8 or higher since. Their wisdom, along with Lowry's guidance, could foster similar growth in Ball. He may never average 20 points per game, but he doesn't need to be a liability as a scorer.
And if he isn't, his IQ would fit in wonderfully on a Raptors team that actively seeks out smart veterans like Marc Gasol and Danny Green. The Raptors have a type: exceedingly intelligent veterans that can play on both ends of the floor. That is what Ball could be on the right team, and with Lowry's career drawing to a close, his upside would appeal to a Toronto team due for some amount of retooling.