It’s hard to be your program’s savior when six players are averaging double-digit scoring numbers, so for now, UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball will have to make due with being one of head coach Steve Alford’s very dope stars.
Ball is one of those “future of basketball” college players that crops up every year—essentially every lanky hybrid NBA prospect that can dribble, shoot, and dunk and is thus deemed to represent the newest way to play basketball. Ball was impressive in high school (duh, he plays in college) but not, “Oh shit, this guy’s gonna be a lotto pick” impressive.
Luckily for Bruins, the Chino, Cal. native went local, signing with Alford’s squad. Through 10 games, Ball, by way of draining 30-footers and finishing off-the-backboard dunks, has very much looked the part of a 2017 lottery pick. Ball has been fashioning himself into something of a Steph Curry disciple since high school, and so far that decision has served him well in the college game. Relatedly, UCLA has very much looked the part of a 2017 Final Four team.
Entering college, Ball generated hype thanks to his height, athleticism, and ability to service as a true point guard—Ball tied the high school All-America Game record with 13 assists. It was enough to make Alford look like he got a potential steal, but not enough to rank Ball at the top of his recruiting class. After averaging 14.6 points and 9.6 assists per game through the first eight contests, the knock on Ball and UCLA was,“But who have they played, bro???” Then UCLA went out and handed John Calipari his fifth career loss at Rupp Arena.
The thing about the Kentucky performance is that the two basketball skills Ball’s thrived on this year—taking and making Steph Curry-esque three-pointers while also functioning as the team’s top distributor—weren’t working well for him in Lexington. Ball hit just 2-of-8 long balls in the game and turned the ball over six times; he still finished with a line of 14 points, seven assists, and six rebounds.
There’s plenty to love about Ball’s game purely from the point guard position—he’s an expert passer in the open court and runs Alford’s system extremely well for a rookie, averaging 8.8 assists per game (he’s also averaging 2.7 turnovers, which could stand to change). I’m going to rave about his sweet range here in a second, but truly, his ability and willingness to make the extra pass and set up his teammates is impressive for such a young, offensively gifted player. He’s scored in double-digits in all but one game—he went for five points on 2-of-3 shooting with three steals and 13 assists in a win against UC-Riverside.
Passing ability acknowledged, the single-most fun thing about Lonzo Ball is his nutso range. Look at this shit and bend at the knee, for this is the future:
He does this a lot:
Ball is connecting on 45.3 percent of his three-pointers—as of Sunday’s blowout win against Michigan, he’s shot 53, made 24. Ball can shoot the hell out of the ball, and UCLA’s scheme gives him the green light to find shots wherever he wants. Whether it’s off a turnover or score, when the Bruins get the ball, they fly up the court. As of now, they rank second in the nation with 97.5 points per game, and that’s because they can drown you in threes, or they can turn to their front court and let them cook for a bit.
Ball has been highly efficient from inside the arc, too. Behind T.J. Leaf, who’s nearly averaging a double-double at 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, Ball is second on the team in two-point field goal percentage at 71.1 percent. And when he’s not dropping bombs from 30, Ball also rocks a 40-inch vertical and does things like this:
The only knock on Ball’s righteous deep game is that the right-handed sharpshooter carries the ball over to the left side of his face before letting it fly. It looks janky as hell and seems to be begging to get blocked, but it works, which is all that matters when he’s seven months away from signing an NBA contract. Maybe Ball’s shot will eventually be snuffed out by NBA defenders, or maybe he’ll just rain on those poor souls, too.