Lonzo makes Lakers a playoff team!
How Lonzo Ball’s transcendent ability to make teammates better will power the Lakers to the NBA playoffs
Once in a generation, a point guard comes along who can transform a losing team into a winning team in a single season. That’s what Jason Kidd did for the Dallas Mavericks as a rookie and what Lonzo Ball will do for the Lakers.
The Lakers team we’ve watched this preseason is not a playoff contender. Despite upgrades from last year, the Lakers still need better players at every position to be a serious threat to make the playoffs. You can upgrade every position on the team by going out and getting better players or by going out and getting one special player who can make all the other players on the team better, which is exactly what the Lakers did by drafting Lonzo Ball.
Frankly, the Lakers could not have written a better script for the start of Lonzo’s career in purple and gold. With his preseason limited by injury, Lakers fans are still not sure what to expect when Lonzo takes the court for the first time against genuine NBA players in his first regular season game. Will he be able to transform the Lakers as a rookie the way he did the Bruins as a freshman? Will he be able to duplicate his summer league heroics?
The answer to those questions will start to be answered this Thursday when the Lakers open at home against the Clippers but there are good reasons to expect Lonzo to have a big impact and start making his teammates better the minute he steps onto the court. That’s what he did in high school, college, summer league, and preseason and what most expect him to do in the NBA. The only question is how long will it take him to do it as a professional.
When basketball people talk about players making their teammates better, they’re usually talking about superstar players whose simple presence on a team has a rippling positive effect on their teammates’ confidence. Having a big time clutch scorer like Kobe Bryant on your team, for example, makes it easier for teammates due to the attention and double teams he commands and the confidence he gives you that he can hit the shot when you need it.
But Lonzo is a completely different kind of force multiplier when it comes to making teammates better because he does more than just giving confidence. He actually helps them perform better by creating a contagious selfless culture that changes how everybody plays and by getting the ball to players when and where they can be successful. The difference is deceptively simple. Many players make teammates better. Lonzo Ball makes them play better.
That distinction may seem trivial at first glance but it’s the reason why Lonzo is capable of having such a dramatic and immediate impact on his teammates and transforming losing teams into winners. He figures out how to elevate each teammate’s game, determines when and where they need the ball to be successful, and then delivers it to them right in their shooting pocket so they have an easy high percentage shot to make. Lonzo makes them play better.
Offensively, the Lakers need to play faster to get more points in transition, shoot better from the field and beyond the arc, and commit completely to sharing and moving the ball. Fortunately, these are all areas Lonzo’s selfless style of play and elite playmaking can positively impact. Lonzo’s relentless pushing of the pace, pinpoint passing in rhythm, and selfless sharing of the ball will ultimately transform the Lakers into an offensive juggernaut.
Lonzo was born and bred to play fast and his commitment in transition to advance the ball to an open player rather than keeping the ball and going coast-to-coast himself will have his teammates running harder every play. He’s a full court outlet passer like Kevin Love and coast-to-coast facilitator like Magic Johnson. NBA teams will adjust but look for Lonzo to start every Lakers’ possession quick outlet passes to Kyle Kuzma and teammates.
Last year, the Lakers were 10th in the NBA in transition possessions, shot attempts, and points per game but 17th in transition field goal percentage. With Lonzo at point, the Lakers should be a top transition team in each of those areas with 20% of their points coming in transition vs 14.6% last year. The Lakers need Lonzo to relentless push the ball and the team to finish among the league leaders in transition if they hope to make the playoffs.
After getting easy points in transition, the Lakers’ next offensive priority is improving their shooting efficiency, especially from behind the 3-point line. While they added capable shooters in Lopez and Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers lost their best 3-point shooters in Russell, Young, and Williams as free agents. To make the playoffs, they’ll need Lonzo to create wide open catch-and-shoot opportunities beyond the arc to elevate their mediocre 3-point shooting.
Last year, the Lakers 45.0% field goal percentage ranked 21st and their 34.6% 3-point shooting percentage 22nd in the league. The key to improving the Lakers’ shooting woes is better shot selection, which will result from more easy layups and wide open 3-point shots in transition and better ball and player movement in half court. Lonzo’s transcendent ability to hit cutters in stride and shooters on time will elevate the Lakers shooting to playoff level.
Finally, Lonzo Ball has a once-in-a-generation ability like Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd had to transform a team’s culture and chemistry to play a selfless pass-first style of basketball today’s shoot-first point guards no longer play. Creating that kind of environment is a top priority of every NBA front office and coaching staff because it becomes contagious and affects the play of everybody on the team. You can’t win an NBA championship without it.
Defensively, the Lakers need to develop the kind of team chemistry and trust to play as a single unit rather than five individuals and use defense to trigger their transition offense. The selfless style of play and team-first culture Lonzo brings to the Lakers’ offense is the same foundation the Lakers need to build a championship defense. Lonzo’s ability to anticipate passes, block shots, force turnovers, and make steals to ignite fast breaks will drive the Lakers’ defense.
You can’t separate or isolate offense and defense in basketball as they’re integrally connected. Good defense leads to good offense and good offense leads to good defense. The key to winning games is managing the transition between offense and defense. That’s where Lonzo’s ability to see the court and anticipate what’s going to happen in transition at both ends is going to prove invaluable. That’s what managing the pace of the game is all about.
Last year, the Lakers’ 111.5 points allowed per game was 28th, their 48.3% field goal shooting percentage allowed 30th, and their 37.0% 3-point shooting percentage allowed 26th in the league. With Lonzo at point guard and better defenders at every position, the Lakers should be able at least to jump to the middle of the pack defensively this season. If they can accomplish that, the Lakers should have a reasonable chance to make the playoffs.
While the Lakers making the playoffs may be a long shot this season, don’t be surprised if Lonzo Ball makes his teammates so much better that he wins ROY and the Lakers make the Playoffs. That’s what we call the Lonzo Effect.