Lonzo Ball: Basketball’s Greatest Project

Lonzo Ball: Basketball’s Greatest Project

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What comes to mind when thinking about Lonzo Ball? Some might say Lavar Ball, his out-spoken father. Others would say the Big Baller Brand, a sport apparel business founded by his father. Yet, when I hear Lonzo’s name, I think of the future. Recording the most assists in a season at UCLA ever, being the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, and being the youngest player to record a triple-double in NBA history, Ball is worth the hype. Much of the focus on Lonzo has been negative. Many want him to fail, not because of his actions, but more his father’s and his brothers’ actions (LaMelo and LiAngelo), who have both landed themselves in trouble with the media. Lonzo, though, has been classy, and has been a professional throughout his young NBA career. Many are quick to judge Ball’s talent based off of his stat-line. But, those who watch him play understand Ball’s talent.

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Playmaking: Lonzo Ball has found success in the NBA off of the pick and roll. Watch here, where Ball uses the screen of his teammate Larry Nance Jr. to create a lane for himself, then has the patience to draw the double team and find Nance off of the roll. On the surface, this is a simple play that Ball has used effectively. However, the “simple play” shows Ball’s vision. Ball reads the situation and understand how it will play out before it happens. In this particular play, watch how Lonzo recognizes the established screen, and then a cutting teammate. Ball gives nothing away, and lays up a pass to Brandon Ingram. He also shows this vision in transition. The following play, Ball looks down the court and identifies an unestablished defender after collecting the rebound. Using this advantage, Ball hits his teammate, who has made himself available, and the teammate scores. This elite vision makes Ball a dangerous play-maker.

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Clutch: As the game intensifies, Ball becomes more confident and comfortable. Here, in overtime, Ball recognizes the shot clock being turned off, and slows down a fast-break into an established half-court offense. He finds Ingram, and instantly breaks for the corner to run a play, instead of running an isolation play. By getting open, Ball causes his opponents to panic, draws in multiple 76ers, and drives the basket to create more space for Ingram. After having three committed defenders on him, Ball passes back out to Ingram, who scores the game-winning shot. All of this, made possible by Ball’s vision and ability to slow down where other young players might panic.

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Shooting: Ball has shown below-average shooting thus far. Ball is attempting 11.1 field goals per game, and only makes 3.9. Moreover, Ball is shooting 29.7% from three-point range. However, where people need to be looking at is Ball’s fearlessness. Despite his struggles, Ball has no fears of shooting: while he may be a pass-first type of point guard, he is not afraid to shoot. The key here will be for Ball to find his shot. There are options with this:

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Option #1 (The floater): Lonzo’s most consistent shot is coming off of a pick and roll, where he reaches the free-throw line and launches a floater. Watch here, as the Lakers coaching staff continues to run him through the practice of timing and getting his floater off at speed. At 6’6, this shot is perfect for Ball: he has a height advantage over most guards, and it is not difficult for him to jump over a center protecting the rim.

Los Angeles Lakers v Washington Wizards

Option #2 (Mid-Range): It has been documented how Ball has struggled from three, however, in college he posted respectable numbers from three. The arc of the NBA three point line is 23 feet and 9 inches, while college’s arc is 20 feet and 9 inches. In a perfect world Lonzo takes a step or two in and then shoots his shot. This will help further develop his shot and Ball will be able to up his efficiency and confidence. Ball’s shot form is ugly, but it can be effective. Look here, as he consistently knocked down shots from 20-22 feet in college. The mid-range shot is a lost art form in today’s NBA game, but it has been utilized by some of the NBA’s best scorers, like DeMar DeRozan, and should be something Ball considers.

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Option #3 (Driving Layup): Ball’s 6’6 frame can make him a matchup nightmare as a point guard, and he can have success around the rim. With the ability to rise above defenders, Ball can find points in the paint. In this highlight, Ball uses the dribble hand-off, and ball screen set by Nance Jr. to get himself around the corner and then hold his line through contact with Klay Thompson for the bucket. Ball’s size and athleticism give him the ability to rise up and take contact while converting layups. Ideally he utilizes this shot, along with one of options #1 and #2.

 

Ball’s shooting obviously is not his main strength, as he is a pass-first point guard. However, having a key shot or two can make him an elite pass-first point guard. This would resemble the game of Jason Kidd.

Jason Kidd Stat-line for Rookie Season:

33.8 Minutes per Game

11.7 Points per Game

5.4 Rebounds per Game

7.7 Assists per Game

38.5% Field Goal Percentage

27.2% 3-PT Field Goal Percentage

3.2 Turnovers per Game

1.9 Steals per Game

0.3 Blocks per Game

Compared to

Lonzo Ball Stat-line for Rookie Season (Through 27 Games)

33.3 Minutes per Game

10.0 Points per Game

6.9 Rebounds per Game

7.1 Assists per Game

34.9% Field Goal Percentage

29.7% 3-PT Field Goal Percentage

2.9 Turnovers per Game

1.4 Steals per Game

1.0 Blocks per Game

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The pair sport similar stat-lines, having both been starting point guards in their rookie seasons. Kidd’s scoring production and efficiency were better, but their play-making abilities are alike, and Ball surpassed Kidd in rebounding. Paul Pierce, a future Hall of Famer, gave his take on Ball’s early struggles. Pierce explains that Ball, like Kidd, has struggled early on, but with time and experience, Pierce believes Ball will be a better player. Furthermore, Pierce believes the circumstances surrounding Ball – the Big Baller Brand, the Los Angeles Lakers, and being a Top-2 pick – has magnified Ball mistakes. He is under a microscope, and many wish to see him fail.

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In the midst of this there are some who have showed compassion for Ball. Following a Lakers loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James pulled Ball aside and gave him some advice. James has said before that he believes Ball will “probably be great” if he continues to work hard. Ball seems to improve week by week, and with a fixed and capable shot, could become one of the NBA’s best point guards. Seeing Ball being compared to Kidd shows his great potential, perhaps they will continue to be compared when Ball’s career over.

 

Big thanks to my editor Geoff Marlowe as always, and a thank you to you the reader! I hope you enjoyed this piece and will be back for the next one in a week or less. For now enjoy your holidays and happy new year!

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A League Of Its Own: Irving for Thomas

A League Of Its Own: Irving for Thomas

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Kyrie Irving will play his first game of the 2017-18 NBA season in Quicken Loans Arena on October 17th. Irving won’t enter as a Cavalier, though. People called Celtics fans crazy when trade rumours hinted that Irving could be traded for Isaiah Thomas. Yet, on Tuesday evening, an impossible deal became a reality. Danny Ainge’s overhaul is complete: Kyrie Irving is the final piece of the puzzle. But, will Kyrie be enough to push the Celtics over Cleveland?

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Isaiah Thomas’ injury in the 2017 NBA Playoffs brought Boston’s championship hopes to a halt, as the team managed only one victory against the Eastern champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics and Cavaliers will likely meet in the same place this year. But, the series will now focus on LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. This is the dream scenario. The greatest basketball player in the world versus his former sidekick, who was accredited with winning him a title in 2016. LeBron who got back in the gym immediately after losing the NBA Finals vs Kyrie who mocked LeBron with Steph Curry after the video was posted. The series will pit the greatest player in the world against an old teammate. The rivalry will be good; however, Irving will need to elevate his play to make it great.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving is an extremely talented player, who has shown an ability to step up in important moments. However, Irving has never been “the guy”. Having lived in LeBron’s shadow for the majority of his NBA successes, Irving has played a supporting role alongside one of the all-time greats. Now, Irving has been given the starring role on the Celtics, and must run with it. These improvements must come in his play-making ability. Irving did not control the ball while in Cleveland, despite being point guard. Ball-handling duties lay with Lebron James, and Kyrie benefited from his elite play-making. It will be a different story in Boston, as Irving will be running the show. For the Celtics to excel, Irving must thrive as the star of the team.

Now what has LeBron been left with in Cleveland?

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The full package for Irving saw Cleveland receive Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets 2018 1st round pick. Thomas is a downgrade from Irving in the long-term; though, Thomas had a spectacular season last year, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals. Cleveland knows exactly what it will get from Crowder, a gritty defender who will come off the bench and play tough minutes. Zizic and the Nets pick give the Cavaliers flexibility. If the season goes poorly, they can hold onto these assets and start stacking prospects and picks. Although, the more likely avenue is for the Cavaliers to shop Zizic and the Nets pick, and get another piece. That begs the question: who will this piece be?

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Pelicans

The exiled, loud mouthed, and talented Demarcus Cousins. Why not? One of the best big men in the NBA, and a considerable upgrade over Tristan Thompson. Cousins is likely on his way out of New Orleans by the end of the season anyways, as he has an expiring contract. This way, the Pelicans can stockpile an extremely valuable pick with the Nets pick, and potentially even land a prospect in Zizic. Another weapon that LeBron can spread the floor with would bring the Cavaliers that much closer to the Golden State Warriors, and maybe help them create an inside presence that the Warriors could not handle. Obviously, this is the best case scenario for the Cavs, and would not happen overnight. This is a trade that would likely happen mid-season if the Pelicans’ experiment with Cousins and Davis continues to fail. It would be a gamble. With this likely being LeBron’s last season in Cleveland, the Cavaliers may sell the proverbial farm for one final run at the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

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The first of its kind, the Irving-Thomas trade has the chance to be historic for both sides. A win-win trade, where both teams could be better in the short-term. Boston will be better off long-term, if Irving takes the next step. Although, the onus now falls on the aforementioned Irving. He got his wish, he is the finally “the guy”. The Duke product needs to seize this opportunity and never look back. Kyrie has a chance to step out of LeBron’s shadow, the spotlight is on him.

Head on over to my Twitter (@sassysaslove) or my Facebook to continue the discussion!

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Thanks to everyone who read this article, it feels great to be back writing after the summer off, and I will be trying to pump out even more content this year! As always, thank you to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing process, and I will hope to see you again next week for more of JSST!

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (May. 4-10)

Something Smells: The NBA Playoffs Are Not Special

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It would be an understatement to say that I like sports: if I’m not watching a game on TV, I’m likely checking scores in other games or following breaking stories on the Internet. This spring, though, I have found myself watching little of the NBA playoffs. While I stay up to date on Twitter watching highlights and clips, I cannot bear to sit through an entire game. The game has become dominated by two super-teams, and the first three rounds serve only as formalities in reaching their inevitable faceoff. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are both 8-0 through the first two rounds and their average margin of victory is 13.06 points. It is rare that their opponent is competitive. While Cleveland and Golden State’s runs are impressive, they represent the worst of sports.

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A third-straight Cavaliers/Warriors Finals is the product of the larger issue in the NBA playoffs: a lack of parity. The problem lies with the lack of competitiveness in the playoffs now. Only one lower seed has been able to beat a higher seed in the NBA playoffs thus far, when the Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games. The series was unquestionably the best of the NBA playoffs in the first round. The largest margin of victory in any game was eight points, and every game was tight. Though, the victor of that series had little to celebrate: Utah would go on to play the Warriors in the second round, and be bumped to the curb in four games and forgotten.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns

Where is the parity? The NBA has a flawed model allowing teams to spend into the luxury tax. The luxury tax is in place to attempt to increase parity by taxing teams who spend over the salary cap. This cap is a “soft cap”, allowing teams to go over it by paying a penalty. The absence of a “hard cap”, however, has resulted in unprecedented disparity. Teams are able to assemble rosters of superstars that can only be beaten by one team – coincidentally, another super-team. The Golden State Warriors have benefited from Stephen Curry’s inexpensive contract, but have spent well past the salary cap in acquiring the likes of Kevin Durant. The Cavaliers, with Lebron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, have also employed this strategy.

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The era of Cleveland/Golden State finals match-ups has shown the need for a hard salary cap to ensure parity in the league. A hard cap would keep super-teams from assembling and make the early rounds of the playoffs competitive. Consider the National Hockey League for proof of a successful hard cap. While the NHL had endured decades of super-teams, the 2005-06 season brought a hard cap, and with it, newfound parity.

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The hard constant dogfight to stay at the top. NHL teams are constantly forced to re-organize, bring in short-term players, and be loose with their players in order to create their best product. Consider the Chicago Blackhawks. Their general manager, Stan Bowman, has been remodeling the team since their Stanley Cup in 2010. The Hawks have had to trade the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Andrew Ladd, and Nick Leddy to stay within the salary cap. These trades have seen elite players improving their new teams, furthering parity throughout the league. But, these moves have also kept the Blackhawks competitive for nearly a decade.

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Conversely, consider the Golden State Warriors. They have traded away worse players for upgrades. This summer the Warriors managed to acquire Zaza Pachulia for Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, and then traded Festus Ezeli. It does not seem to make sense to trade away all these role players, but of course they used this freed up money to acquire Kevin Durant. Instead of having to downgrade, the Warriors in their third year at the top of the NBA got a serious upgrade easily. The Hawks finally won a title after 49 years and instantly had to trim the fat. If the NBA wants to have competitive playoffs with consistent parity, there needs to be a shift in how money is spent on players, by spreading the talent of the league.

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The NBA is a wealthier enterprise than the NHL, and with their latest TV deal of $24 billion it is very difficult to argue that owners are not making money. With this mind, there is lots of money in place that could make the league much more competitive. With a proper salary cap in place, it is reasonable to believe that the NBA playoffs could truly be unpredictable. When was the last time the NBA had a Cinderella win the NBA Championship? 1995 is the answer. The Houston Rockets came in as a sixth-seed, having only won 47 games in the regular season. Led by Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets were able to upset three 60-win teams, and then take down the Orlando Magic and Shaquille O’Neal in the NBA Finals. This was an incredible run, and can be best defined as unpredictable, something like this would never happen in the NBA today.

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The consistent results, and predictable outcomes are getting old. Charles Barkley from the NBA on TNT, provided a quality soundbite this past Monday, when he said he would rather watch the NHL playoffs than the NBA playoffs. Barkley went onto talk of how the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets match-up hardly mattered, as whoever would win that would simply be served to the Golden State Warriors on a platter. The Spurs and Rockets could play seven games against one another, and could have the best series of the playoffs. Yet, like the Utah Jazz in the second round, it will all be squandered by a super-team from Golden State.

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It is difficult to argue that super-teams are good for basketball, even from a financial standpoint. Super teams could bring a massive drop in the NBA’s viewership. This past season national viewership dipped by a modest 6%. However, the NBA took a big hit in local ratings. As of the first week of February, NBA regional sport networks reported they were down 15% in viewership. The ratings were not just dropping in small markets either, with Cleveland seeing a 28% drop-off in viewership compared to 2015-16 and seeing a 35% drop-off in viewership. Chicago and Cleveland are considered two of the NBA’s hottest markets, yet even they are seeing a large drop.

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It is time for change in the NBA. The Canadian markets are on fire right now, as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ local viewership rose by 27%, and Edmonton Oiler broadcasts were up an astounding 40%. CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada block at 7pm EST saw a 9% increase in viewership, while the 10pm EST block saw a 6% increase. The NBA lacks this growth, because they are bound to have the same narrative of Cavaliers and Warriors for three years in a row. While their ratings will not likely take a hit in the Finals, they will experience pain on the way there. No one will want to see the 28 other teams. All they will want to see is the two super teams play each other. Make every game matter again NBA.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! I believe that with my schedule this summer I will subtract the tidbits for the summer, as I simply do not have the time to complete them and be satisfied with them. I will continue to attempt to punch out an article each week, however, and hope you stay along for the ride! Thank you for your support as always!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.