Ball commented after the game that the physical play by these NBA regulars did affect his game. So he had only 14 points on 12 shots, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1 steal, while getting to the free throw line 7 times (addressing one of the earlier criticisms leveled against him).
It should be noted that all of these players are 6'6" or taller, and on Sunday, we got the chance to see what he might do against a shorter point guard who might try to defend him.
Against Dallas, Ball posted up Dennis Smith Jr. and scored on an easy turnaround jump shot. Later on, he got into the lane and made a floater, and got to the free throw line five times. And he hit two long jump shots over the smaller point guard. In all, Ball made 5 of 7 shots, was a plus/minus+17 for the game, and led the Lakers to a 62–40 half time lead against the undefeated Mavericks (10–0 going into the semi-final game against the Lakers). So there is a little evidence that he can become effective in the half court.
Because of the huge hype around Ball and the ready-to-hate-Ball fan reaction in response to his outrageous father, Ball is not being judged fairly:
First, the whole “it’s only Summer League” is a fair statement, as long as it’s applied equally to every player.
- Jayson Tatum looked great scoring 27 points against the Lakers, but people forget that Kuzma torched him for 31 points.
- De’Aron Fox looked great in early games, but was only the second best guard on his own team against Lakers, and got completely outplayed by D-League Laker reserves Caruso and Nwaba in the game Lonzo didn’t play.
- Dennis Smith has looked great on offense, playing against Summer League level opponents, while being exposed on the defensive end.
Secondly. the complaint about his on-ball defense is fair, but ignores the short comings of hall of fame level guards like Nash, Harden and Curry. None of these guys can stop the other top guards. What we’ve seen so far is Ball is a very good off-ball defender, deflecting passes and getting steals, and he’s good at following the play after the guard gets by him. He has gotten a few blocks trailing the play in this fashion.
Third, Ball won the Summer League MVP award for a reason and made fans care about these games in a way I’ve never seen before. Unlike most commenters, I watched almost every Laker game this Summer, focusing on Ball. People don’t seem to understand the unique effect he has on his team that you don’t see with any of the other star draft choices. When Ball’s on the court, the Lakers look like a younger version of the Golden State Warriors, as everyone is committed to making the extra pass. I agree that he isn’t nearly as good in the half court offense yet, but he still made a lot of smart plays that helped the team.
I think the combination of his transformative team play and his consistent praising of his teammates may lead to the biggest, yet unseen benefit of drafting this 19-year-old with the funky jump shot — the chance of attracting top free agents to the team in a way that Kobe never did.