Given how bad Lonzo Ball has looked to start his NBA career and considering the avalanche of pressure he's under to turn it all around, you have to feel good for the guy that he notched his second triple-double of the season in a nice Lakers win against the Nuggets on Sunday night. All told, Ball posted 11 points, 11 assists and 16 rebounds and was a team-high plus-29 in 39 minutes. It's a nice line.
But the numbers look a lot more impressive than the tape.
I don't mean to be a buzz kill here, but triple-doubles are becoming a little watered down. Given the league-wide high pace, the way small-ball has affected rebounding and the sheer volume of (often assisted) 3-point attempts, there are going to be a lot of stats available. That means a lot of long rebounds and gimme buckets in transition, which sets up the assist to continue its role as a wildly overrated statistic given the imprecise nature of their keeping.
Sunday, the Lakers and Nuggets combined to take 184 shots, including 63 3-pointers. There were a lot of uncontested or long rebounds available, and Ball grabbed a lot of them simply by being on the court more than any other player. Still, I won't even try to knock a 16-rebound night. That's impressive for anyone, let along a point guard, under any conditions.
Lonzo's points and assists, though, are another matter. After watching replays of every one of them, it's clear there isn't a guard in the NBA, All-Star or backup, who couldn't have converted most of these opportunities in his sleep. They in no way indicate any sort of forward progress in terms of Ball's ability to create off the dribble or hit, well, any kind of jumper under any kind of duress.
Hell, two of the assists were inbound passes. Seriously, this was one assist:
So was this:
Look at that. Brook Lopez catches, faces up, jab steps, pulls back and hits a 3. He does every bit of the work, and Lonzo ends up with an assist for a pass that a decent high school player could've made. Is there something to be said for making the simple play time and again? Yes. But you can't go overboard. You have to ask yourself, particularly when trying to evaluate whether a guy is going to be a superstar (which is the only lens through which people look at Lonzo): How replaceable is the production this guy provides? The actual plays this guy makes? Just about everything about this triple-double was replaceable.
Moving on, here we get a two-for-one -- an uncontested rebound and another very generous assist, which is really more like a fumbled hand-off that Julius Randle salvages.
Ball deserves some credit for that play if only for pushing the pace and forcing the issue, but the end result is, again, basic basketball at the NBA level.
This last one is my favorite, though, as Ball connects on the always difficult swing pass that they teach at eighth grade basketball camp. Give him credit, I guess -- he did hit Randle in the shooting pocket from seven feet away with nary a defender in sight.
Fox Sports' Chris Broussard put it well recently on Twitter: "On most nights, Lonzo is little more than a ball mover." There are stats to back this up, notably that Ball passes the ball a lot -- 63.1 times per game, in fact, per NBA.com, which is more than Steph Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, James Harden, and way more than John Wall's 51. 6 passes a game. Difference is, almost 21 percent of Wall's passes turn into assists, as do 20.3 percent of Harden's, and 18.9 percent of Westbrook's, and 17 percent of LeBron's, and 16.9 percent of Curry's -- whereas only only 12.8 percent of Lonzo's passes become assists.
Yes, it would help if he had better shooters to convert his passes. But the point is, he passes a lot simply for the sake of passing. On Sunday, guys just happened to hit some shots so his numbers piled up. Indeed, almost none of Ball's 11 assists were in any way an indication that he is somehow turning the corner as a playmaker. To the contrary, they were circumstantial, a direct result of somebody else making a play that Ball had little, if anything, to do with creating.
Every point guard in the NBA picks up assists like this on occasion, but Ball failed to show he can do the more difficult work,needs to.
Speaking of creating, Ball didn't do much of that for himself, either, as his 11 points were similarly circumstantial -- right-place, right-time kind of deals. Like this:
(By the way, that was another one of Ball's rebounds, an airball that falls in his lap.)
Now, to be fair, Ball did make a couple nice plays off the dribble, one an end-to-end finish with his left hand in traffic, and the other this end-of-half isolation where he shows at least a smidgen of explosion to the rim:
Oh, and Ball also -- mercifully -- knocked down this wide-open 3:
This, of course, is absolutely nothing to celebrate, a starting NBA guard hitting a wide-open 3-pointer. But when you're shooting less than 22.8 percent from deep -- his 1-for-4 from beyond the arc actually helped his season average -- as Ball is, you're sort of forced to celebrate every time the net moves, sort of like a guy who's hitting .150 pumping his fist when a broken-bat bleeder falls in.
The way things are going for Ball at the moment, he'll take what he can get, but the truth is we're seeing more and more of these triple-double that are less about all-around dominance and more about simply being on the court for heavy minutes with a high usage rate. The bottom line, again, is this: The Lakers and Nuggets combined to take 184 shots on Sunday, an incredible 63 of which were 3-pointers. The Nuggets turned it over 21 times. There were stats to grab all over the place, and Lonzo gobbled a bunch of them up.
If we're being honest, this triple-double doesn't mean much more than that.