The confident, sweet-shooting and aggressive Lonzo Ball that Los Angeles thought they were drafting second overall took charge in the Lakers’ 116-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night.
In 35 minutes, Ball registered 18 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and two blocks. However, it was the circumstances and the manner in which he earned those numbers that has Lakers fans salivating over his growth this season. Although the Spurs played without Kwahi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Pop system still bears jagged claws, and the Lakers were absent Brandon Ingram.
In Ingram’s void, Ball was instrumental in the Lakers humbling the Spurs in nearly every facet of the game. On a night when Kyle Kuzma struggled and Ingram rested his strained hip flexor, Ball assumed a more onerous scoring role. Most impressively, all 18 of Ball’s points came from behind the arc. During his freshman year at UCLA, Ball was an analytics age maestro who established a residency behind the arc. Early on in his rookie season, Ball was the tin man, collecting bricks and airballs while connecting on fewer than 30 percent of his attempts from behind the arc.
Ball’s 6-of-10 shooting on treys against San Antonio was a portrait of the scoring profile that was expected of him. This hasn’t been a flash in the pan either. Ball isn’t a consistent go-to scorer by any means, but his game is trending upward at a rate that should ease the concerns of the Lakers organization and their legion of desperate fans.
Lonzo Ball, first 20 games:
30.9% FG, 24.5% 3PT, 36.3% eFG
Lonzo Ball, last 20 games:
43.4% FG, 41.2% 3PT, 55.4% eFG
Jayson Tatum, first 32 games:
50.2% FG, 51% 3PT, 58.8% eFG
Jayson Tatum, last 32 games:
45% FG, 36% 3PT, 49.7% eFG
— Justin Phan (@jphanned) March 4, 2018
“I’m happy for him because I felt like he was being judged so hard to start the season,” Walton said about Ball regaining his shot. “No other rookie in the league was getting dissected like he was. He was playing great, he was doing all the things we love about him. He was passing, he was playing defense, he was rebounding, he just was missing his shots. I’m glad for him (now that he’s making shots).”
Ball’s scintillating performance was punctuated by him drilling his final three shots during the final 2:45 minutes of regulation.
Ball’s fourth shot of the evening from distance was enabled by a Julius Randle screen at the top of the key. Randle’s screen created space for Ball to dribble left and square up to launch a 3-pointer that pulled the Lakers to within a point of San Antonio, 105-104.
With 1:16 remaining, Randle spotted Ball waving both hands from behind the arc on the left wing and kicked it out. Despite Danny Green’s contest, Ball tickled the twine under duress to put L.A. up 109-107. His sixth and final dagger was déjà vu as Randle set another hard pick, allowing Ball time to square up, fire and drain it.
“Ball was amazing,” Gregg Popovich said afterwards, per ESPN. “He just got them back in the game and at that same period we didn’t make shots.”
Ball isn’t the only one beginning to figure it out. His late heroics lifted the Lakers to their fifth straight win to improve to 16-7 in their last 23 games.
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