Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball must elevate his offensive performance, especially while LeBron James recovers from his groin injury.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has been silent on offense too often; sometimes he’s so passive that one may forget he is even on the court. If Ball becomes a bigger scoring threat, it would allow his teammates to improve their offensive production as well.
Here is what LeBron said about Ball last month (via ESPN):
“We always want Zo to be ultra-aggressive. His speed, his size, his athleticism, be able to put the defense at bay and put pressure on the defense. We always want him to do that. So, Zo, he reads and reacts the game, and he’s been playing extremely good basketball. No matter if he’s making shots or not.”
However, the data unfortunately does not show he has been the aggressive player James described. He is not penetrating toward the basket, which can lead to open looks as well as easy passes or drawn fouls.
Top guards James Harden (19.1), Russell Westbrook (15.5), Kemba Walker (14.8) and Devin Booker (13.3) rely on driving to create their offense. Ball has averaged just 4.3 drives per game, which is minuscule compared to his peers.
It’s especially frustrating because Ball is athletic enough to blow by his defender and get a quick shot off before the help defense arrives. But it’s something that rarely happens, as he averages just 1.5 FGA’s per game on drives.
Because he has been such a disaster at the charity stripe, there is a chance Ball is shying away from contact partially to avoid embarrassing trips to the free-throw line. He has been fouled on just 3.3 percent of his shooting attempts. According to Cleaning the Glass, that ranks behind 96 percent of players at his position.
In addition to a lack of aggressiveness, Ball may be self-aware enough to know the results have not been pretty on plays that are not layups or pull-up three-pointers. His in-between game has been abysmal and he may simply be afraid to fail.
Ball is 5-for-34 (14.7 percent) on looks from within four-and-13 feet of the rim. That is the least accurate of all 215 players who have had at least 30 field goal attempts in this zone, per Basketball-Reference. (For what it’s worth, NBA.com credits Ball with one extra make in this region, which would give him the second-worst mark behind only Houston’s Eric Gordon.)
The remedy for Ball could be improved effectiveness on floaters (also known as teardrops). By nature, these shots are a bit farther away from the basket than a typical layup so it’s closer to the weak zone illustrated above.
Ball wouldn’t be required to gather his feet into a perfect set or go through the long, laborious shot mechanics Ball utilizes to get off his jump shot. It’s faster and would not be impacted by his unusual form.
It’s also a move that limits contact compared to a dunk, which means he can avoid trips to the free throw line (if that’s what is affecting him). He has taken just 50 runners in 94 games played, accounting for approximately 4.05 percent of the offensive possessions he has finished.
The possession above, originally shared by @LakerStandard on Twitter, would have been a perfect opportunity for a floater. The guard opted for a pass to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, which led to a missed three-pointer.
Ball has an athletic, 6-foot-6 frame and is tall enough to float the teardrop in over a smaller defender. If he started to succeed on these looks, he would be more willing to drive rather than settling for pull-up attempts and catch-and-shoot opportunities.
The ability to limit his total jump shots, replacing them with looks closer to the basket, would make him a significantly more efficient player.