The start of next week’s NBA Draft will probably be a predictable one. It’s widely believed that former Washington Husky Markelle Fultz will be the first overall pick to the Boston Celtics. After that pick, anything can happen.
Most mock drafts in recent months have UCLA’s Lonzo Ball being picked immediately after with the second pick. And it’s obvious to see why that is. Ball was one of the most exciting players in college basketball last season, and possesses all of the qualities of a modern NBA point guard.
Ball is an analytics buff’s dream. He is an efficient scorer, shooting 55.1 percent from the field, and 41.2 percent from three. He led the Pac-12 in true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, and two-point field goal percentage. Not only does Ball shoot well from the effective spots, they’re essentially the only ones he does shoot. According to Hoop-Math, Ball shot only 26 times from spots that weren’t either at the rim or beyond the arc. Since the NBA has shifted focus to these shots over the past few years, a player with Ball’s strengths will be welcome on whichever team ends up calling his name.
Ball has tremendous length for a point guard at 6-foot-6, and has the craftiness and athleticism to go along with it. The length that Ball possesses will also help to accommodate for his unusual shooting form, which despite some concern, still hasn’t been a hindrance to him so far.
What is perhaps Ball’s biggest strength is his ability to pass the ball. He led the NCAA in total assists and assists-per-game. Ball’s court vision makes him a threat to create a basket the instant he touches the basketball, with an outlet pass that can be comparable to that of another former UCLA star Kevin Love. Ball’s fantastic all-around game made him first in the Pac-12 in total points produced in 2017.
We will likely see endless comparisons between Ball and Markelle Fultz for the first few years of their careers. To see what makes Fultz such a strong prospect, check out Pacific Takes’ own Niels Pineda’s piece on him. Even though Fultz’s team wasn’t nearly as competitive as Ball’s, the two were constantly compared throughout the season because of them both playing in the same conference and being top prospects in this year’s draft.
Ball and Fultz only faced each other one time during the 2017 season, and it was unsurprisingly a huge victory for the Bruins. Despite the blowout, Ball and Fultz put up very similar stats, each putting up at least 20 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. Ball just had the luxury of being on a better team. If the draft goes as expected, they will only face each other twice a year in the NBA, and this time Fultz will have the more talented roster. But overall, these two point guards gives the NBA hope of reigniting the league’s most famous rivalry of the Lakers and the Celtics.
While most mock drafts still have Lonzo Ball going number two, there are still some concerns that could cause the Lakers to pass on him. Some people still aren’t convinced that he is superstar material. It seems like most of these doubts are fueled by the public’s dislike of his father, LaVar. The outspoken former Washington State Cougar has made public guarantees of his son’s greatness, while also criticizing other players around him. LaVar’s constant media coverage has helped to make Lonzo a household name, but will also leave him open for constant scrutiny from the moment he’s drafted. Being picked by the Lakers will only fuel this criticism, as the legendary franchise will expect flashes of greatness immediately, even if the Lakers haven’t been competitive for a few years.
There’s still a chance that Ball isn’t picked by the Lakers, but not choosing a player mostly due to the baggage that his father brings would be unwise. LaVar’s comments make Lonzo seem like a selfish player, but his game proves otherwise. Ball has shown his ability to score efficiently and pass at an elite level. Some worry that he will be a bust, but Ball seems to play a style that mirrors where the typical NBA point guard is going, so it seems that his floor would still be someone who plays his position effectively and makes few mistakes. That’s a low risk to take for a player who has superstar potential, and Los Angeles still seems to be the place where Ball has the biggest opportunity to succeed.