Jrue Holiday

Cassy Athena/Getty Images

Lonzo Ball says younger brother LaMelo “has a chance to be a better player than me”


Most people jumped off the bandwagon for LaMelo Ball — the youngest of the Ball brothers — long ago because he got caught up in the Big Baller Brand mess, ended up playing in Lithuania, and there was a perception he loved to score but didn’t enjoy playing defense or putting in the work.

That tide started to turn last year. Reports from people who had seen Ball at the Spire Institute school in Ohio said promising things: Ball was maturing, he was 6’6″ with handles, had gotten serious about his game, and was starting to look like a quality NBA-level prospect. This season, Ball is putting up numbers in the Australian professional league and could well be a high draft pick next June.

Lonzo Ball sat down with Shams Charania of The Athletic to talk about his tabula rasa in New Orleans and the opportunity that provides, but he provided this note about the youngest Ball brother.

“’Melo has a chance to be a better player than me, for sure,” Ball told The Athletic. “I feel at the same age, he’s better than me. In real time, I don’t think he’s better than me.”

Then Ball smiled and said, “But I’m the big brother so I’m always going to have that edge over him.”

LaMelo has a lot to prove still, but he was long considered the most naturally talented of the three. He seems to be tapping into those skills.

Look for a breakout year from Lonzo — if he can just stay healthy. Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo system should fit Ball well. Plus, if you throw alley-oops to Zion Williamson, you end up in a lot of highlights. Ball and Jrue Holiday form one of the best defensive backcourts in the league. This is a real opportunity for Lonzo.

But in five years, we may well think Lonzo was only the second-best baller in his family.

J.J. Redick warns Zion Williamson not to kill his playoff streak

Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

J.J. Redick has never missed the playoffs. Thirteen seasons in the NBA, 13 trips to the postseason. Whether in Orlando or with the Clippers or the past couple of seasons in Philly, the team always made it.

That streak is in jeopardy this season. Redick is on a promising but young New Orleans team playing in a stacked Western Conference. Vegas oddsmakers have the Pelicans ninth in the West (based on title odds) and most pundits see New Orleans being competitive but just out of a playoff chase where it’s likely going to take somewhere close to the 48 wins it did last year to make the postseason.

Reddick wants none of that, he expects to make the playoffs and doesn’t want No. 1 pick Zion Williamson screwing it up — and Reddick told him that. And he didn’t use the word “screw” either.

The Pelicans got this right: Reddick and Jrue Holiday are exactly the kind of veterans you want in the locker room around Williamson his rookie year.

Can Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram thrive in New Orleans?

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
1 Comment

This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

New Orleans is buzzing.

New Orleans is usually buzzing in one definition or another, but when it comes to sports it is a Saints town through and through. Other teams, including the NBA’s Pelicans, were more of an afterthought.

Zion Williamson has changed that.

Alvin Gentry, now about to enter his fifth season as coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, said he has never seen the city buzzing about basketball and the NBA like this before. Williamson has that kind of magnetism — he was even on NBC’s Football Night in America before the Saints game Sunday talking about the city. Zion has the Big Easy excited about fast-paced, high-flying Pelicans team that will be League Pass darlings this season.

It’s the perfect platform for Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, a clean slate to turn around their underachieving reputations.

Can they seize the opportunity?

Ball and Ingram were at the heart of a trade package that brought Anthony Davis to the Lakers, giving the Pelicans two recent No. 2 picks to go alongside Williamson and veterans such as Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick. Ball and Ingram both were up and down in Los Angeles, showing stretches of potential but also struggling to adapt to the NBA then to playing with LeBron James (something a lot of players have struggled with).

New Orleans gives Ball and Ingram a chance, outside the glare of the Lakers’ spotlight, to prove they were worthy of those lofty picks and expectations. That also comes with pressure because they are playing for their next contracts — Ingram will be a restricted free agent next summer, and Ball will be extension eligible.

The pair will get plenty of opportunities — Ball likely starts at point guard, next to the veteran Holiday at the two, and they will share shot creation duties. Ingram probably will start at the three, next to Williamson at the four. The question isn’t will they get minutes.

The big question is can they stay on the court?

Ball has played in just 99 games over two seasons, or 60.4 percent of the Lakers’ games, due to injuries. His season ended last March due to an ankle injury he was not recovering from as expected, and he has battled a host of injuries over his couple of NBA seasons.

Ingram has missed 53 games over the past two years due to injury, including playing in just 52 games last season, and his season was shut down in March also for the potentially more serious blood clotting issue called deep venous thrombosis. That diagnosis has teams cautious about him; if it is chronic it could cost him his NBA career. He’s also just thin (officially listed as 190 pounds at 6’9”) and the physicality of the NBA wears him down and leads to injuries.

If one or both have their season again shortened by injury, it will be a red flag to teams (including the Pelicans, which just upgraded its training staff considerably this summer).

There are reasons to believe Ball and Ingram can breakthrough.

They will also be in an up-tempo style that suits them — the Pelicans played in the second-fastest pace in the NBA last season and coach Alvin Gentry wants to speed things up, not slow them down.

That should be great news for Ball, who does his best work when playing on instinct in open space, more of a playground style. That’s when his look-ahead passes find targets, where his creation is at its best (he’s improved at thinking the game in the halfcourt, but that is still a work in progress). Ball, however, needs to be a bigger threat to score in transition to open up those passing lanes, he scored less than a point per possession on shots in transition last season. He improved as a finisher at the rim, although he’s pretty average there still, and force him into the midrange or a pull-up three and the defense wins. Ball has to change that.

Ingram got 18.8 percent of his shots in transition last season and score an impressive 1.22 points per possession that way.

Ingram played his best ball in the middle of his sophomore season, when the Lakers put the ball in his hands and made him their primary scorer. In February 2018, he was aggressive and attacked the rim, averaging 18.6 points per game shooting 54 percent overall and better than 50 percent from three for the Lakers through 10 games. He seemed to be breaking out, then ankle and knee issues essentially shut him down. The next season the ball was in LeBron’s hands more, and Ingram was slow to adjust.

Ingram can put up numbers — he averaged 18.3 points and 5.1 rebounds a game while shooting a career-high 49.7 percent overall last season — and nobody questions his athleticism, he just tends not to be efficient, shooting just 33 percent from three last season (after 39 percent the season before). When he’s aggressive and attacks the rim he gets to the line, but shot just 67.5 percent of free throws. He simply does not get easy buckets

Ball has skills that teams like — the court vision and passing, plus he is an excellent defensive point guard. Around the league, Ball still has fans in front offices watching as he cleans up some fundamentals (funky shot, taking off on the wrong foot on shots at the rim, etc.). He just needs to become more of a scoring threat. Right now defenses tend to treat him like Rajon Rondo and back off, he needs to develop a floater, and a more consistent three-point shot (he hit 32.9 percent last season, but let him set his feet and have space and he can hit it).

The trade gives Ball and Ingram a chance, an opportunity. That’s all they can ask for. Now it’s on them to grab it.

NBA bans ninja-style headbands for next season; competition committee reviewing

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jimmy Butler. Montrezl Harrell. Jrue Holiday. Maurice Harkless. Mike Scott.

That’s just a handful of the NBA players who wore ninja-style headbands last season — but will not next season. Because Nike hasn’t had the chance to properly market these yet there were concerns from teams and the headbands were not reviewed by the competition committee, the league has banned them for next season while they are reviewed, NBA spokesman Mike Bass confirmed to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This still strikes me has more marketing and making sure their apparel partner gets in on the act more than concerns about the length of the headband tail off the back or anything else. I can’t recall or find video of a foul from a player pulling on the back of a headband or anything of that ilk.

If the NBA wants to make the headbands uniform, that’s the business. And I expect in a year — after the competition committee review — they will be available for players to wear, just with a Nike swoosh (they already sell those) or a team logo on them.

And you’ll be able to buy them online. This is the NBA, everything must be monetized.

Lonzo Ball said he found out he was traded on Twitter

Cassy Athena/Getty Images

He knew it was coming. Lonzo Ball had heard his name in trade rumors tied to Anthony Davis all the way back at the trade deadline, he knew the Lakers wanted another star in Anthony Davis, and that the Pelicans liked him and wanted him as part of any potential deal.

Still, when the news comes it’s a surprise. Players expect to learn of that surprise because their agent calls them. Or maybe a team’s GM.

But more and more are learning via Twitter, from NBA news breakers. That’s how Lonzo Ball learned he was officially headed to the Pelicans, he told Big Boy on The Real 92.3 in Los Angeles. (Via House of Highlights)

News moves so fast in the NBA, this is how players learn of trades more and more. It’s not that Rob Pelinka didn’t want to call all the guys involved, but things move fast.

Of course, Lonzo is going to try to use this for fuel. Hence the quotes about him taking it personally — “They got rid of you. They don’t want you no more.” — but he also knows that’s the business.

Lonzo is set up to have a big season in New Orleans. He will pay the point next to Jrue Holiday, who is primarily a two-guard now, in what will be a strong defensive backcourt. Ball is at his best in the open court, playing on instinct and feel, and the Pelicans push the tempo as much as any team in the league under Alvin Gentry. Ball also will have some impressive athletic forwards — Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson — to feed the rock to in transition.

Ball got traded from the team he grew up wanting to play for, but where he landed may be better for him and his career.