Apparently not winning the NBA title and the league MVP award in the first month of the season has convinced many people with microphones Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Lonzo Ball is somehow a bust. Furthermore, the rookie’s inability to enter the Hall-of-Fame after the first month of the season solidifies just how disappointing the second overall pick has been.
Hopefully, sarcasm and hyperbole are not lost on you making it is easy to capture just how ridiculous those statements are. Yet, such remarks pale in comparison to the ridiculousness being bounced Ball’s way. The season’s worth of scrutiny the rookie guard has been forced to digest in just a 30 day span has been baffling.
The roller coaster analysis has come from all angles and most recently Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Jason Kidd. In a phone interview with ESPN reporter Ohm Youngmisuk the Bucks coach called the young guard “talented”. But only after Kidd stated the Laker rookie had to “understand what it means to play hard and what it means to win, and how to win at the highest level”.
Hmmm, is that not the objective for ALL rookies? Every first year player, especially ones selected in the top five, are faced with that very challenge. The former UCLA Bruin is no different in spite of what many have written and stated publicly. A rush for veteran poise and All-Star consistency has created an aura of hate that feasts any time the young gun struggles. No player is without flaw, but those flaws should not define their career 14 games into the season.
Which brings us to the comparisons that prompted the Milwaukee Bucks head coach to speak about Ball.
It should be obvious the comparisons to the 10-time All-Star revolve around both players, to be kind, struggles to score. Individuals compare players in an effort to gauge what their level of success may be. The comparisons to Kidd are a stretch because Lonzo’s ceiling is much higher. It is ironic that Zo’s to date averages of 11.7 points per, 7.2 assists, 6.7 boards, and 1.4 steals in wins is almost a mirror image of Kidd’s enter rookie output of 11.7-ppg/7.7-apg/5.4-rpg/1.9-spg. The guard's monstrous year gained the Maverick Rookie of the Year honors, which he shared with fellow Detroit Piston rookie Grant Hill.
Pushing pace and individual production aside, if after TWO seasons in college Ball led the Lakers to an 8 – 6 record (as Kidd did) in his first 14 games and finished the season with 36 wins (35 with Kidd starting) L.A. would not be rejoicing over the selection. How would Los Angeles fans feel about the current Laker if he plays on four NBA teams and was traded three times? It is highly unlikely such a career would be celebrated in Laker Land.
After just one season of college basketball the newest Los Angeles resident is on schedule to duplicate the very same win total as the Kidd led Dallas Mavericks. The difference is the former Cal Berkley two year starter did not have the same level of expectations bestowed upon him as the UCLA product. So any comparison used to justify hurled criticism should cease.
What also needs to be taken into consideration is point guard and quarterback are two of the most difficult positions to play in professional sports. The Lonzo Ball experiment is not spared of this fact. To this point the Southern California native has played sporadic basketball, after shining in his one season while attending UCLA. The guard has relied on natural talent rather than experience to stifle the difficulty at times. Lastly, the competition has also created additional obstacles to overcome. Seven of Los Angeles’ eight losses have come against playoff teams and those teams have made sure to expose Ball’s lack of experience.
Those struggles have led to this premise that the point guard is in some way not delivering on his promise. The expectations have created a belief that Zo has underperformed completely, as opposed to just struggling mightily at times. Consider this, former Laker floor general D'Angelo Russell (who was also selected second overall) played with Kobe Bryant, and still managed to go an entire season without crossing the nine assist plateau. Meanwhile, the new Lakers’ floor general has crossed the nine assist plateau five times already. Consistent public scrutiny did not seem to come for Russell the way it seems to come for Ball. Lonzo has played awful in instances and there needs to be a commitment this offseason to improving his 31 percent field goal percentage. But bust declarations and demands for gaudy numbers are premature.
Monthly and nightly improvements is not a stretch from the norm for every rookie or first year player in the league. For those standouts adjectives likes “bust” and “overrated” are usually not heard, especially this early in their careers. Prior to Mr. Ball’s arrival rookies were most often celebrated for merely dunking a lot. When crowning the top rookie just a season ago, a yearly average of 10 points a game or 2.3 win shares were saluted, because after all they were rookies.
Now that the newest Laker is added to the show, veteran accomplishments are brushed aside. Raise your hand if you knew that of the last five Rookie of the Year winners only Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks managed to notch a triple-double? Albeit in 32 games as opposed to the whopping two contests it took for Ball to accomplish said feat. To put that in context what Zo accomplished in his first 14 games has only been duplicated by the Rookie of the Year winners once in a combined 344 games. But they don’t have any words for that.
No one is suggesting there is not room for growth, but to be abundantly clear just because you believe a penguin can fly does not mean they will. Just as expecting Lonzo Ball to be Magic Johnson does not mean he will. When the guard retires than evaluate all expectations, until that point he should be judged on the here and now.