Pelicans

Does Lonzo Have a Future With The Pelicans?

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Bleak Future?

After suffering a left ankle injury in a January 2019 game, Lonzo Ball’s future looked bleak. He had missed 65 games over his first two seasons– 30 as a rookie and 35 as a sophomore. He dealt with a shoulder sprain, left knee, and left ankle injuries throughout this time. Electing to have surgery on the latter two, he spent those two summers rehabbing the injuries. Therefore, he lost valuable time to gain chemistry with his teammates and improve his game.

The point guard also struggled with his shooting percentages as he kept his unorthodox form. In his two short Laker seasons, Ball averaged ten points per game on .38/.34/.48 shooting splits. Yes, he shot 48% from the free-throw line. That percentage was worse than Dwight Howard’s 2019-2020 charity stripe percentage of 49% and 4% less than Shaq’s career average of 52%. 

In addition to injuries and horrendous shooting, expectations set by his father, LaVar Ball, dragged Lonzo down. LaVar preached that Lonzo winning the Rookie of the Year award was “…a done deal. I got the trophy already.” Ball didn’t receive a single vote. Minutes after being drafted, LaVar said that his son would take the Lakers to the playoffs in his first year. They proceeded to go 35-47 and finish 11th in the Western Conference standings.

Holiday Dynamism

However, there was some hope for the young guard’s career when LA traded him to New Orleans in the Anthony Davis deal. Ball would join the already-established guard Jrue Holiday, who, like Ball, stood out on defensively, averaging 1.5 steals per game. Holiday also earned the 2018 All-Defensive First Team and the 2019 All-Defensive Second Team honors.

Fans expected the pair to become one of the best defensive backcourts with their combined size and defensive abilities. The duo met expectations this year by combining for 3.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. The addition of Ball sparked the team’s defensive rating. The Pelicans went from 23rd in the league to 18th with a 111.6 rating. The Pels also rank 8th in defensive rebounds per game, with the pair combining for 8.7 defensive rebounds a contest. Individually, Holiday ranks 9th in both total steals and steals per game. Ball ranks 22nd and 19th, respectively. 

Zion Dominates

The addition of Zion Williamson in the 2019 Draft sparked dreams of future lobs from Lonzo Ball. And that’s precisely what happened.

This pairing was a hope realized with Lonzo’s big target (considering his 45-inch vertical). Meanwhile, Zion had a pinpoint passer. The dynamic duo of Williamson and Ball ranks 3rd in the league in assists from a single player with three per game. (The other duos in front of them are Young and Collins with 3.6, and LeBron and Davis with 3.2.)

The two started practicing full-court lobs in training camp. Holiday compared the passes to a quarterback and his receiver. The best example of their lob capabilities came against Minnesota on March 8th. Ball completed two lob passes to Zion, one of 64.7 feet and the other of 51.5 feet. Ball was two steps out from the opposing three-point line!

Since Williamson’s return in January, Ball’s play had improved tremendously. He shot 43.2% from 3-pt, and his overall shooting percentage was 45.7%. His assist numbers went from 6.3 per game to 8.4 per game. In his first 20 games with Zion, Ball dished him 52 assists. Brandon Ingram is Ball’s number one assist receiver with 68 total.

Ball is a 2021 restricted free agent but could receive an extension of his contract in this offseason. I expect a two-year extension for around $12 million a year. However, that depends on if he declines an extension and waits until the 2021 summer. The Pelicans would be wise to keep him for the future as it is apparent that he and Zion have tremendous potential as a duo, as well as the defensive pair of Ball and Holiday.

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About Brian Hunter Vollman

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