The Lakers weren’t able to hang on to beat the Pistons on Monday, but, all things considered, it’s little to be upset about. Hampered with injuries and clearly fatigued, both mentally and physically at the end of their road trip, an inability to close isn’t all that surprising.
Even if you want to take a less forgiving approach in the big picture than I just did, though, there were some small picture things that happened in that game which mattered too. Namely, Lonzo Ball bounced back from some of his recent struggles as a scorer to hit 7 of his 8 shots, including a couple of mid-range pull up jumpers out of the pick and roll that have been a weak spot for him nearly all season — and a major critique coming out of UCLA regarding his utility as an NBA level scorer at point guard.
These shots, then, are important for Lonzo to take and make — especially as the season comes to a close. They are building blocks for an expanded offensive attack which he can leverage to even further strengthen his already defined (and high) skill level as a passer and shot creator for teammates.
Coming out of college there were certain conceptions about Lonzo’s game and what he could and could not do on a basketball court. Nearly completely through his rookie season, I think it’s fair to say that some of those have proven to be myths while others have rang true enough to offer skepticism about how his development arc will unfold.
I think one of the bigger questions about Lonzo was his ability to hit shots while going to his right. This shot vs. Detroit, then, was a sight for sore eyes:
Lonzo: 12 PTS | 9 AST | 7 REB through 3 on League Pass! pic.twitter.com/xvsurRpaIP
— NBA (@NBA) March 27, 2018
There’s a little bit of drift on this shot that I’m not too fond of, but the general mechanics of this shot are spot on. See how he plants his left leg and turns his right hip into a position to square to the basket? Notice how he’s on balance when going into his gather — a key point we have discussed when examining his success (or lack thereof) on his jumper this year.
Lonzo has always shown he’s more comfortable going left to shoot, but those were on step-backs (more on that later) instead of shots of the pull-up variety. In Detroit, though, Lonzo also showed he had this shot in his bag:
It’s up to all of us to determine whether making these types of shots constitute belief in what is possible moving forward or an anomaly that showed up for a random game in March at the end of the year. As I’ve said throughout this season, Lonzo has consistently been viewed through a certain lens where you either believe certain things or you don’t.
Some think he’ll never be a good shooter. Some think he doesn’t have certain tools in his bag. On the other end of the spectrum, some believe he’ll be better than “just fine” as a shooter and scorer at this level and use the historical evidence from his time at UCLA and his highchool career at Chino Hills.
Wherever you fall on the belief scale, however, there’s another significant piece of evaluation that can be taken from these specific shots. These are things that Lonzo has worked on this year and, in many ways, showing a bit of success on them now is a product of that work and his gaining of experience on how and when to apply that work into game situations.
Here is clip that Lakers sideline reporter Mike Trudell posted earlier this year:
This is not replicating exactly the game situation that plays out in the second game clip above, but it is basically the exact same shot. There Lonzo goes, taking a hard dribble to his left and raising into a pull up jumper that he drills. How many times do you think he’s worked on this exact shot with development coach Miles Simon this year? Hundreds? Thousands? It’s up there, I know.
Maybe more important, though, is what I noted above — the application of these things in real games after practicing them and after gaining the experience to know how to apply that practice to actual competition. Here’s a wonderful thread of tweets from our guy Pete Zayas:
As Pete notes, there’s a lot of work to be done still. Not only from a reading the game standpoint, but from a skill work one.
But, he’s getting there. And I think, over time, we’ll start to see more blending of what he’s already good at mixed with things he’s improving at in order to produce results which tangibly impact not only his individual success, but that of the team.
Now, for fun, here’s Lonzo correctly reading a defender going under a screen on him and then using his step back to hit a…you guessed it….a nice jumper.
— Cole Zwicker (@colezwicker) March 29, 2018