What Does Yesterday’s Lakers vs Mavericks Game Tell Us?

Photo from Dallas Morning News

After all the talk about him ducking De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball came to the semifinals ready to face Dennis Smith Jr. The Lakers came out with the win, but both players put up great numbers, Ball with 16 points (5–7 FG) and 10 assists and Smith with 21 points (7–13 FG) and 6 assists. Regardless of their individual performances yesterday, the two rookies have both shown the potential to be star players in the NBA and garnered the attention of fans. The media however has put the overwhelming majority of the spotlight on Lonzo Ball. Most of the attention has been on his shoes or his father’s antics, but there has also been a lot of talk about where he can take this Lakers team. Meanwhile, Smith, who has exceeded a lot of expectations after being taken at no. 9 in the draft, gets very little talk about his future with the Mavericks. Why is it that people have heightened their anticipation for Ball but are reluctant to consider Smith as a future superstar?

Perhaps, the answer lies in what we have seen from the past. Ball has drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd, and Smith’s explosiveness reminds us of that of Russell Westbrook or pre-injury Derrick Rose. When fans think of the former, they remember championships and improving teammates especially with Magic, but not so much for the latter. The NBA has fallen out of love with athletic scoring guards like Smith because they have become disassociated with the aspect given the most weight in basketball, winning.

Now, that is not to say that players like Ball are more likely to win then players like Smith. In fact, when we look at the most recent NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors were able to win because they had players with broad offensive arsenals. The Cavaliers, who had a high IQ facilitator and scorer in Lebron James, were actually the ones to come up short. Given that single case, an argument could be constructed that Dennis Smith Jr is just as likely to win a championship as Lonzo Ball is. Of course, that argument would be much more complicated than that, but in making the connection that the past is dictating how players like Ball and Smith are evaluated, I am talking about immediate memory.

Lonzo is expected to be a player who is going elevate other players with his extraordinary passing/court vision and leadership, and most see Smith as an elite scorer and athlete. For whatever reason, the general consensus has become leaders who can improve their teammates are more important than players who can get easily get you at least 20 points a night even though the greatest winners that the NBA has ever seen like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have been score-first guards with crazy athleticism. A championship team needs a great blend of scoring, ball-movement and leadership, and who is say that any one of those are more important than the others. Maybe, I am just over-analyzing the situation and it is merely the product of the hype accumulated from Lavar Ball’s underappreciated marketing genius. Whatever the case is, it is still going to be a fun to watch these two, along with the other players in this deep draft, develop over time.

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