By Nathan Nguyen
Coming out of UCLA, many NBA fans were excited to see how Lonzo Ball would adjust to the NBA game. Despite his elite playmaking skills and defensive prowess, his shot form was described as “funky”. Nonetheless, he was drafted #2 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, a storybook ending to a great college career with the Bruins. Being able to stay near his hometown of Chino Hills while playing for the Purple & Gold was the goal, and it seemed as if everything was going to continue to go right. In Summer League, Lonzo led the Lakers to win the championship. He also won Summer League MVP, giving Lakers fans hope that he would be the savior to lead the team to its first championship since 2010. But, things took a turn for the worse during Lonzo’s first season with the team.
During his rookie season in 2017, Lonzo’s teammates included young players such as Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Kyle Kuzma. A young roster like this should have led to wins consistently. However, this was not the case. The Lakers finished the year 35-47, despite having the second-fastest pace in the NBA. For Lonzo, he missed 30 games due to injury. His funky shot motion led to a mediocre shooting percentage of 36% from the floor, including 31% from the three-point line. His free throw percentage was 45%, leading to criticism from analysts everywhere. He had to make changes to his game, especially his jump shot if he wanted to improve in his second season.
Lonzo’s second year with the Lakers was the start of the evolution of his shot form. When he shot the basketball, his feet would land towards the basket instead of to the left, something that led to inconsistency during his rookie season. His shot form still started on his left side, but not to the extreme that it was before. There was a sense of renewal in Los Angeles because LeBron James signed with the team. Fans dreamed of Lonzo passing the ball to LeBron for alley-oops, bringing back memories of the Showtime Lakers of year’s past. This was supposed to be the year the Lakers would return to the playoffs. After all, wherever LeBron goes, the team succeeds. However, the 2018-2019 season was another mediocre one for Lonzo. Ball missed 35 games due to injuries. To make matters worse, the team finished with another losing record of 37-45. Even though his field goal and three-point percentages improved in year 2, his points per game decreased from 10.2 to 9.9 during his second year. Something had to change.
Rumors circulated throughout the 2018 season that Anthony Davis wanted to play with LeBron in Los Angeles. However, the New Orleans Pelicans demanded a package of young players and draft picks from the Lakers if they wanted Davis. Patience was running thin in Los Angeles, and LeBron did not want to miss the playoffs again. So, the team decided to trade Lonzo Ball to New Orleans, along with Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and a few draft picks in exchange for Anthony Davis. This was a breath of fresh air for Lonzo, as New Orleans is a small market that will allow him to focus on his game without any distractions. More importantly, his shot form continued to change. When he shot the basketball, the ball was in the center and he felt more comfortable with where his feet would land. He played the most games in his career during the 2019-2020 season, with 63. His three-point percentage improved to 38%, and his free throw percentage skyrocketed to 57%. He felt more comfortable shooting the basketball, and he got to pair with young star Zion Williamson. But, the Pelicans finished 30-42, good for 13th in the Western Conference. Head Coach Alvin Gentry was fired, replaced by Stan Van Gundy. This coaching change could be what Lonzo needed. However, this statement couldn’t be more wrong.
Unlike players like Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball continued to work on his shot. Before his second season with the Pelicans, he made another change. Ball’s new shot began to start from the right side, showing he is willing to do whatever it takes to improve his game. Honestly, this new shot form looks better compared to other NBA players. It showed during the 2020-21 season, as he scored a career-best 14.6 PPG. His free throw percentage improved to 72%, while consistently shooting 40% from field goal range. However, we know Lonzo is a point guard whose play-making skills make him different from other point guards. But, Stan Van Gundy changed Lonzo’s role completely. Instead of having Lonzo bring up the ball regularly, he made Lonzo a “3 and D” player, relegating him to the corner while having Zion and Brandon Ingram play as point forwards. Lonzo shot the ball more than ever, but his assist numbers dropped from 7.0 the year before to 5.7. Fans knew Lonzo needed to run the traditional point guard role, leading to speculation he needed another change of scenery.
If there’s anything that Lonzo deserves, it’s stability. Playing for two teams in four years is not the best way to help a young player develop into a solid NBA player. One team was willing to commit to Lonzo: the Chicago Bulls. On August 8th, 2021, they traded Garrett Temple, Tomas Satoransky, and some second-round draft picks in exchange for Lonzo. Then, they signed him to a four-year, $85 million contract to be their point guard. He teams up with Zach Lavine, Demar Derozan, and Nikola Vucevic, giving Bulls fans hope that a playoff appearance is coming this season. For Lonzo, it’s a chance to show the world he deserved to have been drafted #2 overall in 2017. He just needed time to grow, as most young players need. With a more comfortable shot and experience in the NBA, Lonzo has all the tools he needs to succeed with Chicago. As of right now, the Bulls are off to an 10-4 start, good for second in the conference. In regards to Lonzo, his three-point percentage has increased to 44%, showing he’s knocking them down consistently. He has started all 13 games so far for the Bulls, and his improved play is a welcoming sight to see after four years of inconsistency and struggle. As a Lonzo Ball fan myself, I’m glad he’s found a home in Chicago. It’s early in the season, but I expect Lonzo Ball to win the Most Improved Player award this year while leading the Bulls to the playoffs. Keep being you, Zo. I’m proud to see you succeed on a team that appreciates you as much as I do.