The Los Angeles Lakers are going into one of the most important seasons in franchise history. The Lakers have been bad – one of the worst teams in the league bad – for the last five years. They’ve been tanking, acquiring young, talented basketball players, in hopes of turning it around. Without a first round pick this upcoming season, they will be playing strictly for development of their current players.
And talent they do have. Even after the D’Angelo Russell trade, Los Angeles has several players on the roster who could grow with more playing time. Brandon Ingram, last year’s number two overall pick, could certainly stand for improvement after a poor rookie season. Free agent addition Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is still just 23 years old. And rookies Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma have specific skillsets that could result in them thriving early in their careers.
However, this season is mostly about one player for Los Angeles: number two overall pick Lonzo Ball.
In the fall of the franchise, the superstar has been the one piece missing. The Lakers had a boatload of them; Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard. The thought was Los Angeles was going to be good, even as Bryant slowed down. Then Howard broke down, Gasol left, Nash’s back gave out as he left the Phoenix training staff and finally, Bryant tore his Achilles.
Where does Ball come into this? Well, he’s Los Angeles’ first true chance at acquiring that superstar and getting back to form.
The quiet, well, underlying part of Los Angeles’ rebuild is that despite getting three straight second overall picks, the Lakers didn’t acquire someone who profiled as a star. Russell, who shined in a way similar to Ball at Ohio State, struggled with efficiency in his first two seasons and is a nonchalant defender. It’s early for Ingram, but he doesn’t appear to be the knockdown shooter that was once projected coming out of Duke – and he’s still rail thin.
At UCLA, Ball averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, and 6.0 rebounds, and shot 41 percent from three. The Bruins didn’t win the national championship and fellow rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox ate his lunch in the NCAA tournament. What he did, however, was more than that. Ball turned UCLA into one of the best offenses in college basketball, and his infectious play turned UCLA into a team willing to make extra passes. It was clear that Ball’s play was perfect for a team that needed someone to run the show.
For the Lakers, Ball could be that same guy. Coming from Golden State, head coach Luke Walton saw how good passing, good spacing and the extra pass could turn a good team into a great team. Ball could provide all of those things at the point guard position. His play at UCLA, brought to the pro game, could help lead the turnaround of the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe not this season, but as Los Angeles adds more talent to the roster, Ball’s ability to create for others, space the floor and get the ball to teammates up the floor will be valuable.
Despite Los Angeles’ status as a lottery team, there are pieces there to be elevated, too. Brook Lopez could thrive with a creator at the point guard position, especially since he became a floor spacer this past season. Julius Randle, entering a contract season, will be in position to flash a bit of everything with Ball feeding him. The Lakers also have a decent group of guards who can thrive from Ball’s creation, highlighted by Caldwell-Pope.
And the passing! The Lakers have several decent passers who can move the ball and make plays. Ingram has more upside as a point-forward, thanks to his ability to operate in the pick and roll. His overall size makes him a threat to shoot over small defenders or attack and draw a double against larger players. Julius Randle averaged 3.6 assists this past season, proving he can also create for others.
Ultimately, this is why Ball is Los Angeles’ biggest X-factor. Ball could bring his infectious spirit and play to Los Angeles and in turn, give the Lakers a potential superstar. The Lakers, as of today, are an open piece of land. If Ball can show that his game can thrive at this level, then the Lakers could truly start building – and when the Lakers build, they build big. Los Angeles’ future ultimately lasts within the hands of a rookie. And the third time could be the charm.