A Whole New ‘Ball’ Game!

How Lonzo Ball’s transcendent star power and a talented coach and roster could make the Lakers a surprise playoff team

Every generation a transcendent rookie point guard comes along whose love of the game, selfless style of play, and otherworld talent transforms a losing team into a winner. Like Magic Johnson did for the Lakers or Jason Kidd did for the Mavs. Like many crazy fans expect Lonzo Ball to do for the Lakers.

As a life-long Bruins and long-time Lakers fan, I readily admit to drinking the Kool-Aid and embracing the crazy dream Lonzo Ball will do for the Lakers this season exactly what he did for the Bruins last year and the Lakers this summer and instantly transform the team from losers into winners. I believe Lonzo will transform the 26–56 Lakers into a 45-win playoff team just as he transformed the 15–17 Bruins into a 31–5 Sweet 16 tournament team.

Predicting a point guard who hasn’t played a single NBA game is going to have a once-in-a-generation rookie season and turn the Lakers into a playoff contender can’t be justified by any objective measure. It requires a giant leap of faith that Lonzo Ball truly is a transcendent point guard destined to be the NBA’s next Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd and this year’s Lakers team is poised to take their game to the next level and contend for the playoffs.

What does it mean to say Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd were ‘transcendent’ point guards? What separated them from other great point guards like Steve Nash or John Stockton? In my opinion, it was their unmatched skillsets and unique ability to transform a team’s culture the minute they took the court, to instantly make every other player on the court better. Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd personally redefined and modernized the role of a point guard.

Which is exactly what Lonzo Ball is going to do on the Lakers this season. He is going to single-handedly bring back and restore the luster to the pass-first point guard that had been relegated to the junk heap by Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, and the rest shoot-first point guard crowd. Lonzo is the prototype NBA point guard of the future, a 3-point shooting specialist and poster child for analytics who selflessly moves the ball and relentless pushes the pace.

Why do I believe Lonzo Ball is going to be a transcendent point guard like Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd? A big part is having watched him at UCLA and in summer league and loving how he plays and makes everybody better, how the ball and pace never stall or stop. I saw Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd in college and Lonzo Ball looks like the modern version of them. He’s going to come out and do exactly what he did at UCLA and summer league — win.

That’s why there is so much hype surrounding Lonzo Ball. He is already a rock star and ROY favorite. Just listen to the two individuals best qualified to evaluate whether Lonzo has the potential to be an all-time great point guard. Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd have both publically come out favorably comparing Lonzo’s game to their own games, praising his court vision and basketball IQ, and raving about his potential to be the next great point guard.

Lonzo Ball was born and bred to play point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. His father LaVar literally ‘spoke it into existence.’ Behind LaVar’s braggadocio and self-serving marketing is a very special 19-year old basketball phenom who’s turned heads and shown championship mettle at every level from high school to college and most recently in the NBA summer league. Lonzo may only be 19 but his resume already projects a potential superstar player.

As a high school senior, Lonzo led his team to a 35–0 record and national championship, averaging 23.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 11.5 assists, 5.1 steals, and 1.9 blocks per game. As a college freshman, Lonzo led the Bruins to 31–5 record and Sweet 16 finish, averaging 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game. In NBA summer league, Lonzo led his team to the title and won MVP, averaging 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 9.3 assists per game.

You can’t measure a transcendent player like Lonzo by individual stats. Nor can you rely on just wins and losses. The NBA is not college. But an analysis of team stats from his high school, college, and summer league teams shows how dramatically Lonzo can transform how a team plays. His selfless style of play, relentless sharing of the ball, and exceptional vision and playmaking skills create a chemistry of sharing and moving the ball that wins games.

If Lonzo Ball is going to be the once-in-a-generation point guard that Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd believe he has the potential to be, then it follows he needs to produce a exceptional rookie year similar to Magic and Jason. That’s the pressure generated by the hype of being a transcendent player. It may not be fair but Lonzo seems able to channel the pressure and turn it into positive motivation. Then again, that ability is what makes players transcendent.

Jason Kidd’s rookie season is the perfect roadmap for Lonzo Ball to follow. The #2 overall pick in the NBA draft like Lonzo, Kidd averaged 11.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 7.7 assists, won Rookie of the Year, and led the 1994–95 Mavs to a 36–46 record, 23 wins better than the 13 wins the year before. Kidd’s transcendent play transformed a team from worst in the league to respectable, a remarkable testament to his ability to transform a team.

Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s rookie season also provides a great roadmap for Lonzo Ball. The #1 overall pick, Magic averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game, won Rookie of the Year, and led the 1979–80 Lakers to a 60–22 record, a 13 win improvement over 47 wins the year before. Of course, the Lakers won the NBA championship that year with Magic playing center for an injured Kareem and hitting a game winning baby ‘skyhook.’

If Lonzo wants to be the next Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd, then he needs to build upon his MVP summer league performance and average 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 8.0 assists per game, win Rookie of the Year, and lead the 2017–18 Lakers to a 46–36 record, 20 wins more than the year before. That’s the bar that Magic and Jason have set if Lonzo is going to be a transcendent point guard like them. If summer league is an indication, Lonzo is ready.

Transcendent point guards like Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd didn’t take years to develop. They come ready out-of-the-box to have major impact as rookies. That’s the standard Lonzo has to live up to if he wants to be an all time great point guard. But the game is more than just one player and it will take more than Lonzo Ball to turn the 26-win Lakers into a playoff team. It will take a Lakers team ready to take the next step and up their game.

Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have done a great job retooling the Lakers roster to provide Lonzo with the tools he needs to be successful right out of the gate. They’ve added shooting, defense, depth, and experience up and down the lineup. The revamped starting lineup of Ball, Caldwell-Pope, Ingram, Randle, and Lopez and bench of Ennis, Clarkson, Kuzma, Nance, Jr., and Bogut represent upgrades at both ends of the court at every position.

Luke Walton has already said the Lakers, who played at the 6th fastest pace last year, plan to run even more this year with Lonzo Ball manning the point. Luke is already planning to rev up the defense, looking to force turnovers and stops to fuel their transition offense. The addition of Lopez, KCP, and Bogut should give the defense a well needed shot in the arm while the addition of Lonzo, Kuzma, Hart, Bryant, and Caruso should provide more firepower.

The plan for the Lakers making the playoffs this season follows the blueprint Lonzo used to succeed in high school, college, and summer league, which is relentless pushing the ball and looking to score in transition on every single possession and freely shooting 3’s whenever open especially on fast breaks. It’s no secret Magic and Luke both want to run. While Luke would like to play like the Warriors on steroids, Magic would obviously prefer Showtime 2.0.

It’s been a tough four years for Lakers fan so forgive us if we let our minds soar and dream of Lonzo winning ROY and the Lakers making the playoffs. With Carmelo Anthony joining Russell Westbrook and Paul George in OKC, it’s more important than ever that the Lonzo Ball and the Lakers’ young core take their game to the next level. If Lonzo has a transcendent rookie year and his teammates have breakout seasons, it will be a whole new Ball game