We all knew this was going to happen. All too often we see an overhyped rookie enter the league and struggle through the first part of the NBA slate. But rarely do we see the word “bust” thrown around with such schadenfreude following a 20-year-old’s early failures.
In reality, the reaction to Lonzo Ball’s start was inevitable. LaVar Ball created a scenario in which it would be virtually impossible for Lonzo’s rookie season to be a success. The boasting about his son being the next great star in the NBA put a bullseye on Lonzo’s back. As soon as people saw even a glimpse of a struggle from Lonzo, bust talk was out in full force.
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But is that fair? To begin questioning whether Lonzo will be a bust after just fifteen games of his career? The short answer: no, of course not. But let’s provide some context.
At first glance, Ball’s numbers through his first fifteen games do not match up well with guys like Kyrie Irving and John Wall. But is this a fair comparison? Irving and Wall are very different talents with different games. The better comparison is Jason Kidd. The 1994-95 Rookie of the Year (along with Grant Hill) also had his shooting woes at the outset of his career.
|First 15 games||Points||Assists||Rebounds||Steals||FG %||3PT %|
While the stats do show that Kidd was a better percentage shooter than Ball through the first 15 games of his career, the overall numbers are not all that different. Moreover, Ball is taking 1.7 more shots per game and nearly twice as many 3-pointers per game than Kidd did. (It’s fair to note that, despite their similarities, Kidd played with much more aggression, speed and explosiveness than we’ve seen from Ball.)
But the main reason we should try to compare them is that they both bring so much more to the floor than their scoring. Through 15 games as a rookie, Ball is averaging more assists and the same amount of rebounds per game as Kidd did through his first fifteen games. Is this not what the hype around Ball was all about?
Going into the draft, all the talk was focused on Ball’s ability to find his teammates and how his passing becomes infectious. This has been the case for the Lakers through the early part of the season. Some players have a feel for the game that is very hard to show through statistics. Ball has an understanding for the flow of the game that is eerily similar to that of Kidd. He’s not one to force the issue, but he may have to do so in spots to make the defense respect him.
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Yes, Ball certainly has had his share of struggles to begin his NBA career. His 30.3 shooting percentage from the field ranks last among qualified rookies. And his 23.0 percent mark from the 3-point line also ranks last among qualified rookies. If his shooting woes continue, he will not have a successful career in the NBA. It’s that simple. The Lakers have a significantly better net rating with him on the bench (plus-3.7) vs. on the floor (minus-5.5). That can’t happen.
But he has played just fifteen games, and we are already having conversations about the potential of Ball being a bust. Given the same number of minimum field goal attempts as Ball (175), past rookies like Gary Harris (30.4 percent), Kyle Korver (35.2 percent) and Kemba Walker (36.6 percent) failed as shooters right off the bat. Most first-year players have a serious adjustment period before they find their grooves.
Take it from a 10-time All-Star. While Kidd recently said it is too early to make comparisons to his illustrious career, he was also quick to dismiss harsh judgments of Ball.
“Let him get some games under his belt,” Kidd said (via ESPN.com). “I truly think he is talented. Today we want everything microwaved, we want it overnight or we want it Googled. We want to see the answer now… There is a lot on his plate to grasp. Give him time he will be fine.”