In the leadup to the current 2016-17 season, an incredible amount of hype around the surrounded incoming freshman class. That excitement was definitely warranted, as that class provided around 5-6 prospects that had the realistic possibility of being the 1st overall pick in the following year’s NBA Draft. Names like Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson have stood at the tip of the tongues of NBA fans around the world. Despite the deserved praise that players of that ilk received, there was still one incoming freshman that fans dreamed about more than others: Lonzo Ball.
That hype surrounding Ball was because we’ve never really seen anybody that played the brand of basketball that he did. Playing alongside brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo at Chino Hills, Ball regularly pushed the team to average a phenomenal 98 points per game on 54% from the field. Those numbers are jaw-dropping considering that the average high school game lasts only 32 minutes.
Those jaw-dropping numbers were due to Chino Hills having an offense that was centered around perimeter shooting and high-paced transition play. Ball was at the center of that approach as he regularly threw shots that would’ve been well behind the NBA 3-point line. Alongside that, Ball threw outlet passes so precise that it would even make Aaron Rodgers blush. That knack as a shooter and facilitator allowed Ball to average a phenomenal 23.89 points, 11.5 assists and 11.3 rebounds on 62% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc during his senior year. Those numbers ultimately pushed Ball to being named as both the Naismith and USA Today High School Player of the Year.
While Ball’s amazing high school play entertained the masses, there was still some concern about how he’d be able to transition into college basketball with UCLA. Because unlike Chino Hills, college hoops teams like UCLA are huge organizations that are just incredibly structured.
That question was emphatically put to rest from the moment that Ball first laced up his sneakers at the Pauley Pavilion. During the first two months of the season, Ball has helped push UCLA from being a mediocre Pac-12 squad to currently being ranked as the 4th best team in college basketball. Ball has been able to do that by effectively being the same player that he was at Chino Hills. In the first 17 games of his freshman season, Ball has shined by averaging 14.7 points, 8 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game on 53% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc.
As those numbers might show you, Ball has been an extremely efficient player with UCLA. Currently, Ball possess a 66% True Shooting Percentage, which is the most efficient average among Pac-12 point guards. Although he does occasionally venture out and do some on-ball cuts, a lot of Ball’s work as a scorer is done as a perimeter shooter.
Ball’s reliance on his perimeter jumper makes a ton of sense as he is shootin 43% from beyond the arc on 5.6 attempts per game. That efficiency is impressive due to Ball having one of the strangest looking jumpers in recent memory. As SBNation’s Ricky O’Donnell explained, Ball’s jumper “looks like putting a basketball in a water balloon launcher”. That explanation actually makes a lont of sense as Ball’s stroke does look like a catapult with the way that his jumper regularly starts with the ball by his ear. Despite that weird start to his stroke, Ball is still able to finish his jumper with a quick and high release.
Coinciding with his efficient jumper, Ball has used the first two months of the season to stake his claim as arguably the best facilitator in college basketball. That praise is due to Ball maintaining an impressive 3.49 Ast/TO ratio alongside the 8 assists per game that he averages. Ball’s able to maintain such impressive efficiency as a facilitator due to his knack to create assist opportunities out of any situation. The UCLA point guard looks like Picasso with the way that he can make something amazing happen even when it looks like there’s nothing that he could really do.
Although a lot of that beauty occurs when Ball is working as an outlet passer, he’s still able to do some magic when e’s working in your standard half-court set. Over the course of the season, Ball has had a ton of success in pick-and-roll situations by utilizing top-flight freshmen bigs T.J Leaf or Ike Anigbogu. Ball’s work with those bigs has regularly ended with either of those bigs throwing down some terrific rim-rocking alley-oop slams.
Another avenue where Ball shines as a facilitator is through drive-and-dish opportunities. Starting out with a nice first-step, Ball is consistently able to cut through the teeth of the defense and make his way towards the paint. Following that, the 6’4 Ball can use his solid height to make the necessary read. Once that happens, Ball can either dish it to the rolling screener or kick it out to a perimeter player.
As Lonzo Ball and the UCLA Bruins continue their run through the Pac-12 conference season, they’ll likely be one of the most scrutinized teams. That scrutiny will be due to their high ranking and just having a different approach from any other college team. Over the upcoming months, there’s going to be pundits all over the country that will doubt Ball’s ability to push this UCLA team to success in the Pac-12 and the NCAA Tournament. While that negativity will remain in the air, I think that UCLA fans can be confident that Lonzo Ball has the tools to help lead UCLA to the kind of run they haven’t seen since John Wooden stood on the sidelines.