Lonzo Ball is a player who comes with a lot of questions. Is Lonzo Ball a point guard? Is Lonzo Ball a small forward? Is Lonzo Ball good? And while we need more than one game to answer those questions, he certainly showed one thing in the Chicago Bulls’ 36-point win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Lonzo Ball is a basketball savant. Let’s take a look at a few of Lonzo’s smartest plays.
Lonzo Knows Ball
Lonzo Ball knows what’s wrong with this picture, do you? Believe it or not, the Bulls have essentially already scored at this point in the possession. However, last year’s team wouldn’t have been able to execute the easy bucket here. Luckily for the Bulls, the new-look roster can — and that’s mainly down to Lonzo. Let’s look at what he does.
The Bulls had just forced a turnover on the defensive end and both teams rushed back on the fast break. As the Cavaliers scramble in an attempt to stop the Bulls from scoring, a mismatch occurs. And this leads to 7-foot, 260 pound Nikola Vucevic being guarded by 6-foot-5 Isaac Okoro.
Lonzo Ball, being the phenomenal floor general he is, notices this immediately. He then instantly fires a perfect pass that’s placed in a spot where only Vucevic can get it. I tried to time how long it was between Lonzo receiving the pass and the ball leaving his hands on its way to Vucevic. I’m using a hand timer, but I have it at about 0.65 seconds.
I’m not really sure what Lauri Markkanen is doing here, but I think he’s trying to double Vucevic, which is likely the correct call. So Vucevic shifts the ball to a wide-open Javonte Green who drains it. Lonzo doesn’t get the credit for an assist here, but he made these three points.
How Lonzo Ball Scores
Lonzo Ball set a career-high in points per game last season with 14.6. And most of that is accredited to his much improved three-point shooting. While that fact is absolutely correct, the way Lonzo gets himself open is actually more impressive.
In this clip, he starts with the ball at the logo before quickly passing it off to Zach LaVine. While most players would likely be complacent with simply standing at the three-point line and providing spacing, Lonzo isn’t.
He never stops moving in this clip, and by the time the ball makes its way back to Lonzo, his defender has absolutely no idea where he is. And even so, Darius Garland is about half a step away from contesting Lonzo on this shot. Every step that Lonzo made as he slowly approached the corner in this clip mattered. And it’s the reason that this is such an open shot.
It’s one thing to be able to make three-pointers, but it’s another to be capable of getting yourself open without the ball. It’s subtle at times, but there aren’t a lot of guys in the NBA who know where to be on the court and have the attention to detail that Lonzo possesses. I think the greatest example of Lonzo’s off-ball movement in action is when he scored a career-high 33 points in a May 1st game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, which you can watch here.
Lonzo Ball’s on-ball defense was impressive, but it’s actually off-ball where he shines brightest. I wanted to include a clip from last night’s game, but I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t use this one from his time with the Pelicans last season.
Lonzo starts this possession on-ball guarding Ricky Rubio. Rubio drives, but Lonzo shuffles his feet well and denies the driving lane. Rubio then gives the ball to Karl-Anthony Towns, and this is where Lonzo’s genius begins.
Towns is Minnesota’s best offensive player, so to start Lonzo steps up and fakes a double team with an intent to bait Towns into giving the ball to someone else. However, the Timberwolves big man doesn’t bite. Towns pump-fakes and gets his defender in the air. He quickly shovels the ball to his teammate Naz Reid in the corner. BUT BEFORE REID EVEN RECEIVES THE ORIGINAL PASS, LONZO SHUFFLES OVER TO CUT OFF TOWNS’ DRIVE.
It’s one of the most insane defensive reads I’ve ever seen in my life. And it forces the Timberwolves to settle for a late-in-the-clock Ricky Rubio three. Finally, as if he hasn’t already done enough, Ball boxes out a 7-foot center, grabs the rebound, and fires a Lonzoian full-court outlet pass on the money to Zion, whom the Timberwolves have to foul.
When Lonzo Ball was drafted with the second overall pick in 2017, he was known for his flashy passing and large size as a point guard. However, it’s his feel for the game and basketball intelligence that make him a truly special player.
Over the past four seasons, the Chicago Bulls have been really bad. It’s a breath of fresh air to see the Bulls not only winning, but doing so with one of the smartest young guards in the league. Lonzo Ball is a basketball savant who will help the team win games with his play on both ends of the court.