Lakers Lonzo Ball era begins… and he looks every bit the rookie

The Lonzo Ball hype machine in Los Angeles is close to overheating (in no small part thanks to his father). After hearing for years — remember, Ball grew up in L.A. and went to UCLA — unfair comparisons to Jason Kidd and how he is the best passing Laker guard since Magic Johnson, many Lakers fans expect… you know.

Those fans sold out the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas Friday night to see Ball and the Lakers open Summer League against the Clippers. Every time he touched the ball early in the game, there was a roar.

His strengths were on display — he has great court vision and passing instincts, and he showed that on the first play of the game connecting with Brandon Ingram.

As the game wore on… Ball looked like a rookie.

His potential weaknesses were on display as well — his unconventional shot was 1-of-11 from three, and as he tried to set up others the Clipper defense started trying to make Ball a scorer, and he didn’t fill that role. He also got torched defensively at times, unable to stay in front of his man at the top of the key.

It’s one Summer League game, it means about as much as “proof” the Earth is flat.

What this game can do is give us an idea of the journey Ball will need to take as a professional to live up to the hype (or at least come close to it, his hype man/father makes it hard to live up to all of it).

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Ball did a number of things well, things he can build upon. My personal favorite is that he didn’t need to bring the ball up himself and control the action, when he could he threw the ball ahead to forwards who ran the court, which allowed guys like Ingram to operate in space, kept the tempo up, and it led to easy baskets. The Lakers ran and moved because he would get them the rock.

Ball finished with five assists, but that undersells the number of shots he created for Lakers teammates with hockey assists and those hit-ahead passes. His passing set the tone, and as a team the Lakers pushed the pace and moved the ball. Those are good signs going forward.

The biggest concern was the shooting — he knocked it down in college, but not every scout was convinced his shot would translate. He struggled with his shot in his first game, took some poor ones, and finished 2-of-15 overall and 1-of-11 from three. He missed all his shots in overtime.

“I liked the looks, I just missed them,” Ball said after the game, sounding like a shooter.

(The Lakers eventually lost to the Clippers in OT. If you care about the final score of a Summer League game it was 96-93, but if you really care you need to re-evaluate parts of your life.)

Ball is going to have to prove to teams he can knock down shots when they go under picks, or things will be far harder for him. The Clippers laid back on him and took away driving/passing lanes playing off him more as the game went on, Ball couldn’t make them pay this night. Part of his development needs to be doing just that.

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Other notes from this game:

• One of my favorite barometers in Summer League is: How much did a guy who got regular NBA run last season improve from a year ago? Summer League is about development, this league is a measuring stick.

In that front, Brandon Ingram was fantastic. His ball handling skills were much improved (even from the second half of the season), which opened up his face up game and attacking the rim. He’s gotten stronger, but he’s gotten smarter about how to use his body to create space. The result was he was the best player on the court, finishing with 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Ingram did not take part in overtime after mildly tweaking his knee late in the game — Magic Johnson was courtside and after the play signaled to the Laker bench Ingram was done for the night. After the game the Lakers said it was nothing serious, he wanted to go back in, but the team is understandably being overly cautious.

• Lakers’ second-round pick Bryant showed potential as an energy big off the bench, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds. He had a very good night.

• The Clippers did not run out anyone likely to see a lot of time on the court with the big club next season. Maybe the one exception is Sindarius Thornwell, the rookie who turned heads at South Carolina last season, as he finished with 26 points on 13 shots and had a good night. NBA vet Brice Johnson added 23.

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