Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball has shown some flashes of brilliance in his first 15 NBA games. However, Ball’s one overlapping flaw has been shooting the basketball.
The Los Angeles Lakers selected Lonzo Ball out of UCLA with the second overall selection of the 2017 NBA Draft. The then 19-year-old Ball was touted as the next Jason Kidd; a floor general that can do it all and score at a modest clip. Thus, the team traded former second overall pick D’Angelo Russell to free up contract space. The Lakers were that committed to Ball and his outlandish father.
For what it is worth, Ball was pretty good at the collegiate level. The freshman point guard averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 55.1% from the floor. Ball was elected a first-team All-American, first-team All-PAC-12 and the PAC-12 Freshman of the Year while leading the NCAA in assists.
Ball was then touted as one of the best talents in a deep rookie class and was the favorite to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award. That strong play continued to the NBA Summer League, where Ball averaged 16.3 points 9.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds. However, his 38.2% shooting in the NBA Summer League raised concerns around his shot mechanics.
For anyone that has not seen Lonzo Ball shoot, it’s something unlike any other shot form. Lonzo starts with the ball at his right hip, bringing it up around his left ear were he then releases an angled shot. According to ESPN’s Sports Science, Ball releases the basketball about 50 degrees away from the “ideal” shot position.
As Sports Science later explains, Ball positions his right hand behind the basketball in the center to readjust for his unusual release. Thus, Ball can get the right amount of spin on the basketball. When rushed, Ball cannot position his hand in the ideal position; increasing his chances of missing left or right.
And that is the problem in the NBA. Although Ball’s release may be quicker than the NBA average, NBA level defenders are having a field day with Ball. The closeouts are much quicker in the NBA. These quick closeouts have led to his struggles this season.
That is why Ball is averaging just nine points per game on an NBA worst 30.3% field goal percentage. Ball has taken 175 shots this season — and according to NBA.com — 110 of which have been contested (62.9%). Ricky Rubio, who used to have scoring problems like Ball, has had just 33.1% of his shots contested.
However, getting open is not going to be an easy task for Ball to accomplish. The Los Angeles Lakers average the most contested shots per game (70.4) in the NBA. That is over six more per game than the next highest in the league.
Thus, Ball must learn how to score when contested. With his current shot mechanics, however, that may not be possible. NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley explained Ball’s shooting woes on NBA on TNT perfectly.
"“He’s got this defect in his game because he can only shoot the ball from the left side of his body. So he can only shoot going left, because he can’t go right because he’s bringing the ball from over here. So he’s only half of a player right now and guys are taking half his body away.”"
Opposing defenders are recognizing this hole in Ball’s game and are exploiting it. Although Ball is a great passer, Ball’s lack of scoring prowess is hurting his passing game. The more Ball struggles, the more opposing defenses can ignore his shot from deep.
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Although he has shown that he can score with two great games against the Suns and the Bucks, that is not enough to legitimize his scoring. For now, open or mildly contested layups are Ball’s only hope. The rookie is shooting 42.4% on layups and 25.2% on jump shots. For now, that is what Ball has to focus on to help the Lakers win.
However, he also must focus on tweaking his shot mechanics. Bringing the ball from one quadrant to the other is over complicating the process. As we have seen in the NBA, sometimes the most simple shot forms work the best.
Ball needs to centralize his shot form. Although it may lead to some hiccups initially, his form is not something that is going to eventually work in the NBA. He already has the height advantage on most guards, so there is no real room for improvement.
Although Magic Johnson has stated that the Lakers will not tweak Ball’s shot mechanics during the season, the best practice is in real time. Ball may be a distributing point guard and his entire purpose may be to entice scoring stars, he still needs to have some sort of scoring threat. Ball’s ceiling is that of Jason Kidd’s and I am sure Laker fans do not want to see him be another Rajon Rondo.