Whatever happens in Los Angeles during this upcoming NBA regular season, and until further notice, Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Lakers. You can kind of read that in this breathless Ohm Youngmisuk recap of last night’s Lakers preseason game against the Timberwolves:
In his first preseason game with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lonzo Ball struggled with his shot but still displayed his ability to rack up triple-double-like numbers.
Although Ball missed 7 of 9 shots, including shooting 1-of-5 from 3-point range, the rookie didn’t do anything to temper the excitement surrounding him and the Lakers for this season.
Considering that Ball had a very similar game in his summer league debut before racking up a couple of triple-doubles and leading the Lakers to the summer league title, the Lakers think their rookie point guard will only get better and more comfortable.
Whew! Ball was fine—he is constantly looking and pressing for opportunities to get the ball behind the defense, and I have no doubt whatsoever that he can be the lead guard on a really fun, uptempo team—but let’s calm down just a little bit. His “triple-double-like” numbers—five points, seven rebounds, and eight assists in 36 minutes, minus-11 for the game—were in fact exactly triple-single-like, and it remains an open question how exactly Lonzo will do any scoring at the NBA level. He’s fun to watch! He has a lot of that Ricky Rubio-Rajon Rondo odd-angle passing ability, and his willingness to throw a quick hit-ahead pass to turn semi-transition into full-blown transition makes for exciting stuff.
But Ball wasn’t even close to the most exciting rookie in a Lakers uniform Saturday night. That distinction goes to Kyle Kuzma, who was excellent all the way through the Las Vegas Summer League, and was excellent again last night, looking every bit the part of a modern NBA swingman:
Kuzma’s got the athleticism to throw down an ambitious alley-oop on the break, and a quick and compact jumper that he can fire off in catch-and-shoot situations. He moves around with conviction, and had a really fun second half showing off a bevy of in-between moves—a crucial area for wings who may not have the quickness or ball-handling skills to drive all the way to the cup. Kuzma finished with 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 28 minutes off the bench, and was just thrilling to watch the entire time.
Ball has his own kind of aggression, but after the game Lakers head coach Luke Walton talked about how the team is still trying to talk him into looking more for his own buckets—nine shots and zero free throw attempts in 36 minutes is really shockingly passive output for a guy who does as much ball-handling as Lonzo did last night:
“Lonzo is so gifted as far as the way he always makes everyone on the court a threat,” Walton said. “With him, we have been working on that. He is so unselfish that sometimes he has good shots for himself and he tries to get someone else a shot. We want him taking those.
“We are looking for him to be a little more aggressive to score the ball, especially early on. I thought he was great the way he was moving around out there and getting people involved.”
That is not a message the Lakers will also need to send to Kuzma. He seems to have a scoring mentality when he’s on the floor—getting to his spots, making aggressive moves, and looking to convert space into buckets. I have no idea how he was still available for the Lakers with the 27th pick in the draft, and right now it’s still too early to call him a steal, but the early results are massively encouraging.