For one season, Lonzo Ball may be the best UCLA basketball player to never win a championship. And if that that is not enough hyperbole for you, he may be a revolutionary player for the things he did not do.
The Greatest College Shooting Point Guard Ever*
Lonzo Ball shot 73% with his two point shots. Let me say that again: Lonzo Ball, a POINT GUARD, shot 73% from two point range. This is traditionally a number you don't even see from big guys who play within 2 feet from the basket. How did he do it?
Take a look at this shot chart.
There is something very interesting here. See the shots outside the paint and inside the three point line? None. Lonzo is not even the best shooter on his team last year (thus the asterisk) but he is one of the all-time great shooting point guards by percentage because he only takes two shots, three pointers and very close to the basket.
Lonzo does not shoot 2 point shots. Just "layups" and threes. This is where basketball is going and has been for a while. But Lonzo's shot chart takes this to the absolute extreme. Instead of pulling up, he backs up to take longer threes or beats you off the dribble.
Lonzo was a revolutionary.
The Brilliance of LaVar
I was reading about the United States Soccer best player in years, Christian Pulisic, who might turn into the best player ever for the US, when I was stuck by this quote:
Christian spurned the academy team of the Philadelphia Union, a unit consistently more talent-laden and successful than the PA Classics.
"When you are the best player on your team but your team is not as good, it means you handle the ball more, you have to do more to carry your team and in the process, you are developing your game," says Richie Williams, an assistant coach with the U.S. men's national team who coached Christian, then 15, at the U17 residency program in Bradenton and in the 2015 U17 World Cup. "If it is a loaded team, that same player might be identified as a role player and never develop those skills."
Then I thought about what bombastic blowhard dad of Lonzo Ball LaVar said basically the same thing:
LaVar Ball said he helped to build his sons into top players by placing them on the worst teams with the worst players. He said he figured that if Lonzo Ball could win with marginal players, he could win with good ones. Playing with those of lesser talent taught Lonzo leadership and accepting responsibility, LaVar said. When you lose, it's your fault. When you win, it's because of your teammates.
"If you can win with people that can't play, that makes you special," LaVar said. "Anybody can win when they've got all the best players. So that kind of made him [better] for whatever situation he was in, to always be the underdog. Give me whatever you want to give me; I'm going to do my best to help this team win."
When asked about his unselfish style, Lonzo said it was his nature. "If you're a point guard you should get your teammates involved before you," he said. "That's how I've been playing my whole life. It's been a pretty smooth transition [to college]. Guys are a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, but the basketball's the same."
AAU and High School basketball has been getting crazy with super teams like Oak Hill Academy, Findlay Prep, and, locally, Mater Dei. I have always thought Mater Dei players are overrated because their team is so good, their fifth best player is usually better than most "good teams" second best player. But this hurts players.
Not to knock him but Travis Wear was the opposite of Lonzo Ball. Wear played on an All Star Mater Dei team where he was an outside shooting big. Travis mastered the worst shot in basketball, the long two pointer just inside the three point line. A shot Lonzo NEVER takes. Further, Travis never developed a "whole" game as he might of if went to a lesser school where he would have to be the top rebounder, defensive intimidator inside, passing big, etc. Lonzo had to do it all on his teams including last year at UCLA where he was the best player on offense AND defense.
The trend toward super teams may be hurting kids who become really good at a few things but lack the all-around game that you need to be "great." LaVar by resisting (or more likely being too arrogant) the lure of all-star AAU teams helped make Lonzo a better player.
Why Lonzo is better than Markelle Fultz
Fultz is a done deal to be drafted first. Lonzo is only a strong maybe to be drafted second. Fultz is how a mad scientist would build a modern point guard. Lonzo has a three point shooting technique that would make a youth coach grimace. Yet, I would draft Lonzo over Fultz in a heartbeat. In part because of heart and more importantly Ball makes everyone better.
Ball took a 6-12 in conference and 15-17 overall team to 15-3 in conference and 31-5 overall. Fultz took over a 9-9 team in conference and 19-15 overall to 2-16 in conference and 9-21 overall. And, please, there was talent on Fultz's University of Washington team. For the sake of argument, even if there was not much, you would think ANY NBA number one draft pick would be able to win more than 2 games in the Pac-12, especially this year when the bottom of the Pac-12 was so bad.
Moreover, Fultz quit. Yes, Fultz had a minor injury but he sat out the end of the season to protect his draft status. Not a bad business move but, as a fan, I'm not sure I want that guy. Compare to Ball who at the end of the season played with a hurt thumb, a bruised thigh and a pulled hamstring. Ball never complained or came out. That goes back to high school, where his overcoming injury to win reached legendary status:
The five-star recruit dislocated his finger in his penultimate regular season game at Chino Hills, according to multiple sources, but found creative ways to play through it during eight consecutive playoff wins on the way to a 35-0 season that included a CIF State championship and No. 1 national ranking.
During Chino Hills' celebrated run to a mythical national championship last season, he primarily caught and passed the ball with his left (non-shooting) hand. His outside shot was severely hampered by the injury and he even attempted some free throws with his left hand.
Ball wore tape on the finger throughout a playoff run during which Chino Hills won by an average of 28.5 points, but wasn't asked about an injury that never became public knowledge.
"We couldn't put it in a cast because it was playoff time," LaVar Ball said. "He played left-handed as much as he could. Most of the time he would act like he was going to shoot and drive to the basket."
Lonzo was a great Bruin and, IMHO, will be a very good pro.
Good luck, Lonzo! Thank you and go Bruins!