The Lakers’ have a Lonzo Ball Problem!
How Lonzo Ball’s shooting struggles could endanger the Lakers’ rebuilding efforts and next summer’s free agency plans
The Lakers are stuck between a rock and a hard place as Lonzo Ball, the proclaimed future face of the franchise, has struggled to live up to the inflated expectations of his general manager, father, and adoring fans.
Off to a disappointing 9–15 start and facing a daunting December schedule, the Lakers’ hopes for a stunning turnaround season are quickly giving way to the reality the team is just too young and inexperienced to win consistently. There’s no question the Lakers have some great young talent but the problem is their championship window is 3 to 5 years out, which doesn’t synch well with the front office’s plans to sign 2 superstars in free agency this summer.
Nobody who knows the sport thinks Lonzo Ball will be a bust but the Lakers’ hopes and expectations were that he would quickly transform the team into an offensive juggernaut like he did the UCLA Bruins last year and lure elite free agents like LeBron James and Paul George to come and play with him. But superstars want to win now, not spend 3–5 years waiting for Lonzo to become a transcendent player and the Lakers a championship contender.
Which is why the Lakers have a Lonzo Ball problem. If they want to attract free agents LeBron James, Paul George, or DeMarcus Cousins this summer, they’re going to need Lonzo to start making baskets and winning games.
How to do that is the question the Lakers desperately need to answer soon.
While we’re just a fourth of the way through the season, Lonzo’s shooting woes have already become a key concern of the Lakers and their fans and a favorite target for haters and doubters polarized by the antics of his father. More importantly, they have cost the team valuable wins and left head coach Luke Walton faced with a tough challenge of what to do with his supposedly transcendent rookie point guard as the losses and concerns mount up.
Expected to transform the young Lakers into a playoff contender, Lonzo’s league worst shooting (31.9% from the field, 24.3% on 3-pointers, and 50% from the line) has almost completely overshadowed the 6.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game and 2 triple-doubles he posted in his first 24 games. Unfortunately, the struggles have also undermined Lonzo’s confidence and, as a result, adversely impacted the other areas of his game.
The theories why Lonzo can’t shoot are logically focused on his weird shot mechanics, which definitely raise concerns, but the better question to ask is why Lonzo can’t shoot now because was an elite shooter at UCLA, shooting 55.1% from the field, 41.2% from beyond the arc, and 67.3% from the line. While the 3-point shot is longer and the defense better in the pros, the reality is the shots Lonzo is missing are mostly wide open threes teams give him.
The explanations why Lonzo suddenly can’t shoot range from the crazy to the bizarre. One theory claims the reason is the basketballs he shot with at UCLA were made by Wilson, which have a softer grip with deeper ridges than the leather Spalding basketballs used by NBA. Other theories claim the problem is due to Lonzo’s poor balance and footwork or blame him for playing too fast or shooting too quickly. To me, these reason ignore the elephant in the room.
The answer to why Lonzo can’t shoot now has to be the intense pressure that has surrounded him since the Lakers drafted him #2 overall last summer. No NBA rookie has every faced the kind and level of pressure that Lonzo Ball has. Between Magic Johnson hyping him as the next great point guard, his father declaring him to be better than Steph Curry, and NBA point guards looking to harass, embarrass, and humiliate him, Lonzo has the world on his shoulders.
Imagine the pressure Lonzo must feel every time he takes the court in purple and gold. It’s not surprising his worst shooting games are when he plays at home in Staples Center with his father, family, and a full arena of Lakers fans, where he’s shooting just 16.7% from deep vs. 34.6% when he is on the road. That stat alone tells you the reason Lonzo can’t shoot now is a direct result of the overhyped and inflated expectations from his team, father, and fans.
The answer as to what to do to solve Lonzo’s shooting woes is not so easy. Should Lonzo stop shooting threes or try and shoot himself out of the slump? Should Luke reduce his minutes or consider starting Jordan Clarkson? The problem is exacerbated by the pressure to reward players like Clarkson who are playing well and deserve more minutes and win more since every Lakers game is a potential audition for LeBron James and other elite free agents.
So what are the realistic options to help Lonzo get out of his shooting funk? Everybody agrees that it would be disastrous to try and rework Lonzo’s shot during the season. That’s a project that, if needed, will have to wait until the summer. Bringing in a fresh face as his personal shooting coach certainly would make sense. In fact, you could argue that the Lakers need to do that for everybody on the team, considering they’re dead last in 3-point percentage.
What about moving Lonzo to the bench and starting Jordan Clarkson? While an option, there is just no way the Lakers are not going to start Lonzo Ball. While Clarkson has done an admirable job as backup point guard, he just doesn’t have the skillset to be a starting point guard in the league and will likely need to be traded if the Lakers want to sign two elite free agents. It would make zero sense to sit Lonzo for a player with no future on the team.
While limiting his minutes might help alleviate the intense pressure from the media and fans, I personally think giving Lonzo more minutes, especially in the fourth quarter, could actually be a smarter move. I like Luke’s continued support of Lonzo and giving him a green light to keep shooting. If you buy that Lonzo’s shooting woes are in his head and not in his mechanics, then it naturally follows the solution is for Lonzo to shoot himself out of the slump.
What Luke needs to do, however, is to surround Lonzo with a better mix of players. Rather than shunting him to the bench, Luke should be looking to surround Lonzo with players who would help him play better and minimize his need to score. That means replacing ‘Brick’ Lopez and Larry Nance, Jr. in the starting lineup with Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle. That would allow the Lakers to run more and play even faster, which better fits Lonzo’s skillset.
With a starting lineup of Lonzo, KCP, Ingram, Kuzma, and Randle, the Lakers would not need Lonzo to score as much, which would reduce the pressure to shoot when teams sag off of him. Statistically, that 5-man lineup has been the most productive of any lineups the Lakers have gone with so far this year. If Luke is serious about wanting to help Lonzo rebuild his confidence and fix his ‘broken’ shot, the smart move is to prioritize Lonzo playing with that lineup.
We saw a glimpse of the Lakers’ upside in last night’s road win over the 76ers when Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle closed out the game by out-executing the Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid led 76ers. The combination of Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram running pick-and-rolls with Julius Randle allowed the Lakers to withstand the Sixers fourth quarter comeback and start their 4-game road trip off with a big win against a playoff quality opponent.
While he went 0–3 on 3-point shots, Lonzo did a good job attacking the paint, hitting 5 of 8 shots inside the arc, and flirting with a triple-double with 10 points, 8 boards, 8 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 steals with 0 turnovers or personal fouls while playing a team high 38 minutes. The game winner by Brandon Ingram came off a great pass by Lonzo after he collapsed the 76ers offense by attacking the rim and finding Ingram wide open behind the 3-point line.
Unlike a similar loss last week when Luke called timeout to setup a potential tie-breaking, game-winning shot by Ingram, this time Luke refrained from calling timeout with 11 seconds left after the 76ers tied the game and instead allowed Lonzo to push the ball in transition and setup Ingram’s dagger three. Luke is learning on the job and the right move was to trust Lonzo to get the Lakers a better shot in transition than they would have gotten in half court.
Going forward, the Lakers just need to continue to be supportive of Lonzo and patient with his shot. His shooting woes are due to a lack of confidence more than anything else with time, practice, and experience the solution. Luke would also be wise to surround Lonzo with players who can play fast, which means starting Randle and Kuzma instead of Lopez and Nance, Jr. Lonzo needs to play with speed and shooters to fully optimize his skills.
Turning this season into a successful winning season is critical for the Lakers. They need to solve Lonzo Ball’s shooting struggles so they won’t endanger the team’s rebuilding efforts and free agency recruiting plans for next summer.