This season in Los Angeles is in large part about finding which players in the Lakers’ young core can fit with LeBron James. Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma are finishers and fit naturally and quickly next to an all-time great playmaker. It’s been more of a process with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, guys who had the ball in their hands last season and are having to adjust this season.
After Ball struggled on the road in Miami and Orlando last week, LeBron and other Lakers told him to start being more aggressive. You could see that in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 90-83 win against Utah on Friday night (a game where Donovan Mitchell had to miss the second half with bruised ribs). After the game, LeBron was trying to pump up Ball’s confidence, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“Sometimes he doesn’t realize how great he is,” James said… “The things that he possesses out on the floor, when Zo realizes how good he is on the floor, it makes him a very dynamic player and it makes us even better. And he’s been doing that as of late, [with] his aggressiveness.”
“Even when he’s not making, just his attack as you’ve seen earlier in the game, just him getting to the rim [is important],” James said of Ball, who went 4-for-10 from the field. “He missed a couple of ’em; that’s absolutely fine. He had a couple charges; that’s absolutely fine. When he’s aggressive it just changes our dynamic of the team, and he’s been doing it of late and we need him to continue to do that because he’s very good.”
That’s LeBron the coach — process over results. Make the right decisions, attack and be aggressive, and eventually the shots will fall. Finishing at the rim has been an issue for Ball, but he’s improved — last season he shot 48 percent at the rim, this season that is up to 56 percent (still below where he needs to be, but better, stats via Cleaning The Glass). What makes Lonzo dangerous on the drive is his passing skills and finding the open man when the help comes, but that’s only a real threat if he can finish plays himself so that help has to slide over.
Also, Ball is showing he can work off the ball, he makes smart cuts, can knock down jumpers if he sets his feet, and the 1/3 pick-and-roll with LeBron is showing a lot of promise. Consistency is the next step for Ball.
The Lakers have won three in a row and 9-of-11, with improvement on the defensive end sparking much of that. The offense, however, is starting to find its groove. And Ball is starting to figure out his place in it.