Lonzo Ball is quietly turning into the player he was supposed to be when the Lakers drafted him No. 2 overall in 2017, back when one of the only holes in his game was thought to be his funky jumper that produced inconsistent results. Well, that jumper isn’t so funky anymore, and the results are following suit.
On Monday night, Ball tied his career-high by converting on seven 3-pointers against Minnesota. On Wednesday night, he hit that mark again, going 7-for-11 from deep — on his way to 26 points — in the Pelicans’ 127-123 overtime loss at Dallas. Since the start of February, Ball is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. Since the All-Star break, that number has climbed to over 46 percent. For the season, he’s at 38 percent from deep.
The Pelicans’ playoff hopes for this season are fading; they’ve lost four of their last five and now trail No. 8 Memphis by five games in the loss column with three teams between them. But long term, Ball’s development is right on schedule with the most optimistic of New Orleans’ blueprints.
Brandon Ingram has become an All-Star. Zion Williamson won’t be far behind. Ball is at his best with wings who can run with him in transition and take the pressure off of him to be a go-to scorer in the half-court, when he can then settle into a Swiss-Army knife of sorts, doing a little bit of everything; since February 1st, Ball is averaging over 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to go with just under two steals a game.
When Ball’s shooting becomes not just competent, but an actual weapon on top of all that other complementary production, this New Orleans puzzle fits as cleanly together as any lineup in the league. Had Ball been this kind of floor-spacing shooter with the Lakers, he would’ve been a much better fit alongside LeBron James. But part of the reason he’s shooting so much better is the confidence he’s playing with, and that has to do with having a greater say over his offensive destiny with the Pelicans.
Yes, his changed form has made a world of difference, but from a mental standpoint, shooting spot-up 3-pointers when you’re in full rhythm because the rest of your game is clicking is a lot different than standing around waiting for a kick-out pass to come your way for an open look every 10 or so possessions. Ball isn’t waiting for the offense to come to him now; he’s hunting it. Having the confidence to take, and make, this shot below, with almost no space to work with, is a result of all the success he’s having and the freedom with which he’s playing.
Look here as he aggressively pursues a dribble-handoff knowing there is going to be space behind Zion:
You see Seth Curry going under that action, which was a defensive tactic you could get away with when Lonzo couldn’t shoot. Now you go under, and he’s making you pay. If he keeps this shooting up, teams will start going over screens consistently, and when they do Lonzo needs to get better at finishing in the short mid-range as he works his way downhill with a trailing defender on his back.
But one thing at a time. For the first time in his career, Ball has now scored at least 25 points in consecutive games. He went 14 for 21 from beyond the arc in those games.
Already a relentless pace-pusher with elite open-court speed, natural floor-general instincts and a versatile defensive toolbox, the development of Ball’s shot is quietly one of the most important storylines of this NBA season, and if it continues, it will have a major impact on the growth of this Pelicans team heading into next season.