Should Lonzo Ball Be the Top Pick in the NBA Draft?
"That’s all we working out for is the Lakers. Just the Lakers. There’s nobody else that we need to workout for."
That's what Lonzo Ball's chatty father, LaVar, told the Lakers Nation blog soon after Los Angeles landed the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. A Lonzo/Lakers marriage makes big-time sense, a perfect storm of talent, need, and backstory.
The general belief is that with their number-one pick, the Boston Celtics will snatch up Washington prodigy Markelle Fultz, leaving Lonzo for the Lakers to grab at number two. But this is the NBA Draft, and anything can happen. (Anthony Bennett, anyone?) The question then becomes, what's the best landing spot for Ball?
Many might say anywhere, but the numbers tell us that some spots are better than others.
In his first and only season at UCLA, Ball led his Bruins to a 31-win season while averaging 14.6 points and 7.6 assists per game, which, according to Sports Reference, has happened just 50 times since the 1992-93 season.
This past season, Ball took just 6.4 two-point attempts per 100 possessions, but he capitalized at a rate of 73.2%. Still, his 4.7 two-point field goals ranked behind other top guard prospects like Fultz (9.7) and De'Aaron Fox (9.9) He's an elite perimeter shooter, despite his a funky jump shot; funkiness notwithstanding, Sports Science tells us Ball gets his shot off about 13% quicker (.47 seconds) than the average NBA release (.54 seconds). Not Stephen Curry fast, but not bad.
The Wooden Award finalist shot 41.2% from three and connected on 2.2 triples per game. By season's end, his effective field goal and true shooting percentages reached marks of 66.8% and 67.3%, respectively, both good for first in the Pac 12 Conference. So to say Ball was the best shooter in the Pac 12 wouldn't be a stretch.
The even better news is that the dude can flat-out pass. Ball led the entire nation with 274 assists and assisted on 31.4% of his team's made field goals while on the floor. All total, Ball scored or assisted on 38.3% of UCLA's total makes this season, proving he's capable of carrying a heavy workload.
Any team would be lucky to have him. But who would be the luckiest?
Boston might feel they're set at the point with Isaiah Thomas. If that's the case, they'll be more apt to go with Fultz, who's more of a combo-guard. That said, Ball's play style could fit head coach Brad Stevens' system, regardless of Thomas' presence. And if it doesn't fit, Stevens will make it fit.
Oddly enough, Ball's usage percentage at UCLA was just 18.1%, meaning he used 13.3% less of his team's possessions than did Fultz. Playing alongside Thomas, a 5'9" point guard boasting a 34% usage this NBA season, Ball could thrive as an off-ball scorer and distributor.
He's also used to the Celtics style of up-tempo, perimeter-heavy style of play. Last year, Ball's Bruins ranked 24th in the country in pace, to the tune of 74.2 possessions per 40 minutes. Over 48 minutes, that would come to a pace of 89.0, just 7.8 possessions lower than the Celtics' pace of 96.8. And, while Boston has attempted 39.3% of their field goal attempts from deep, UCLA put up 37.6% of their shots from distance.
Ball or Fultz? Fultz or Ball? Boston kinda can't go wrong.
Los Angeles Lakers
Right now, D'Angelo Russell, a second overall pick in his own right, mans the point for the Lakers. However, according to Sports Illustrated, teams are already reaching out to the Lakers about acquiring the two-year veteran, with the belief that the Lakers will hand Ball the keys to the car.
But a trade might not be necessary, as Ball should be able to play two-guard or switch between positions alongside Russell. Thing is, a Ball/Russell backcourt would leave the Lakers without a starting guard who could consistently drive into the paint. This past year, Russell and Ball combined for just 10.5 two-point makes per 100 possessions.
On the other hand, Ball is a Cali kid and could look to follow the mold of his new boss, Magic Johnson. (LaVar would say Michael Jordan, but that's LaVar.) As a matter of fact, at UCLA, Ball's box plus-minus of 12.2 trumps Magic's career-high of 9.5, so the comparison isn't as blasphemous as one might initially believe.
A player of Ball's talents would be an ideal fit for a team that has yet to establish a franchise point guard since the departure of Jrue Holiday four years ago. The issue is that the Sixers might already have a star floor general -- he just hasn't seen the floor.
Despite growing another two inches since being drafted by Philly in 2016, Ben Simmons is a point guard in the eyes of head coach Brett Brown. When he makes his professional debut, the Aussie will become the team's primary ball-handler and playmaker. Ball's sharpshooting alongside Simmons' below-average jumper would be beneficial for everybody.
Adding Ball to the league's least efficient offense (103.2 rating) might come at the expense of their defense, but when we account for the freakish length of their team, and the shot-blocking prowess of Joel Embiid, it could be a sacrifice worth making.
For the umpteenth year in a row, the Phoenix Suns are in full rebuild mode. In the last three years, they've made seven first-round selections, including star two-guard Devin Booker and starting forward T.J. Warren. They'll look to add to an exciting core again this year, but would a player like Ball fit in a loaded backcourt?
Short answer: Yes. At 6'6", Booker has the size to play some three, so a Tyler Ulis/Ball/Booker trio could make for some interesting small ball. This past season, the Suns' pace of 100.3 ranked second in the NBA as they scored 107.7 points per game (9th in the league). Their offensively-minded style is just what the doctor ordered for Ball.
Thing is, the Suns need help on the defensive side of the court, where they allowed 112.2 points per 100 possessions, the third-worst in the league. Even if Ball is available to them, there's an incremental chance the Suns could look to versatile players like Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson for defensive help. Not only do they then avoid a logjam at the guard, but Tatum (97.8 defensive rating) and Jackson (96.0) were much better stoppers in their brief NCAA basketball careers.
Since landing DeMarcus Cousins in 2010, the Sacramento Kings have been looking for a star point guard or wing player to pair with the big man. The Kings being the Kings, that didn't happen -- Cousins is in New Orleans, and they're in search of a franchise face. Again.
Outside of star power, the Kings need help across the board. They ranked in the bottom 10 teams in both offensive rating (107.3) and defensive rating (111.3) with a record of 32-50 on the year. In addition, they were 27th in turnover percentage (13.7%) and 26th in effective field goal percentage against (52.8%).
Unfortunately, neither of those weaknesses scream Lonzo Ball. Last season, Ball averaged 18.6 turnovers per 100 possessions, which makes him the only top guard prospect above 17.3 per 100 possessions. For comparison, Fultz turned the ball over on just 13.4 of every 100 possessions.
We already know that defense isn't Ball's strong suit, nor is holding on to the rock, so he might not be the most logical choice for the Kings. But the Kings aren't known for being logicians, so...
The Best Fit
Anecdotally, the Lakers make the most sense. Ball remains a big name on the scene in L.A., he draws comparisons to Magic, and he could work well with Russell and Jordan Clarkson.
For fit, however, it comes down to Boston and Philadelphia. Both teams were middle-of-the-road in terms of defensive efficiency this regular season, but only one has a dire need for an explosive guard, and that would be the 76ers.
While the Celtics rank 14th in three-point percentage (35.9%), 9th in effective field goal percentage (52.5%) and 9th in turnover percentage (12.2%), the Sixers finished the year 25th (34.0%), 21st (50.1%) and 30th (14.9%) in the same areas, so they sure could use a shot of Lonzo. Granted, Philly probably won't get it, but if Anthony Bennett happened, this could happen, too.