What good is a series without a trilogy? For the third time, The Sports Fan Journal heads on the NBA Journey. For the first two years, we had a level of surety as to where our destination would be. The first year, we were correct. The second, we were correct in location, but not in victor, as the Toronto Raptors won the title last year. Now, the NBA springs anew and for the first time in a while, we're not totally sure where our destination lies. This allows for a current kind of exploration. Let's continue with our next installment after a week of games.
Song of the Week: Destiny 2 OST - "Lost Light"
Overcoming adversity is a necessary part of life. It also is the basis of hero-based video games. Sometimes, games strip powers and the protagonist has to go on the adventure in a quest themed around growth, strength and betterment. Other times, that quest to grow stronger comes from a crushing defeat. The acquisition of power and the lessons surrounding it are spurred on by a loss that the protagonist never wants to suffer again. The hero creates his own second chance by improving and steadily climbing towards the goal of that rematch.
Destiny 2 has that second type of beginning to it. The sequel to the co-op game from Bungie set in a mystic science fiction world. The game makes its money from the online play, but the story is pretty compelling, too. The Guardians are attacked by forces of the Red Legion. Their commander, Dominus Ghaul, drains the Guardian of their power, nearly killing the player's controllable character. And so begins that journey back to acquiring power in order to take down Ghaul and save the world from total destruction.
Just like last week and Brandon Ingram, there are plenty of players who are cast away after struggling with the NBA for various reasons. If given a second chance on a new team, their personal quests for improvement begin. While the stakes are not as high as fictional planetary annihilation, the player's growth and improvement are vital to his career path. Such is the case for another former Lakers #2 overall pick that was sent to New Orleans.
Coming into the NBA, Lonzo Ball was expected to be great as soon as he walked into the Staples Center. In a point guard dominated league, Ball was supposed to transcend the position. With size, freakish athleticism, a high basketball IQ, a pass-first mentality that was akin to Jason Kidd, and the swag of a Big Baller, many pegged him as the next best thing.
Not only was he was supposed to transcend the point guard position, but he was also expected to bring his hometown Los Angeles Lakers out of obscurity. In the post-Kobe era, Ball was the face of the franchise, and he didn’t live up to the lofty expectations. To some, he was an immediate bust. But when he played, he showed flashes of being a special player.
Stats can be blinding at times. And because of Lonzo’s stats being modest, he was painted as a player who was not one of the top players in his draft class, despite being drafted as such.
The flashes weren’t enough. And due to the win-now mantra of the new-look, LeBron-led Lakers, L.A. mortgaged their youthful roster for a superstar in Anthony Davis. Thus far, the move has paid off mightily for both Los Angeles and New Orleans. Anthony Davis is having an MVP-like season in L.A. and in New Orleans Brandon Ingram is playing like an All-Star, Josh Hart has shown he’s a capable role player, and Lonzo Ball is playing the best basketball of his career.
The biggest knock on Ball was his inability to shoot the ball. He entered the league with a quirky shooting form and as a result of that his shooting splits were 36/30/45, 40/32/41 in his first two years donning forum blue and gold. With a new shooting form and new-found confidence, Ball still struggles to shoot, but he has made improvements. For the season his shooting splits are 40/35/51. There is still a lot of improvement needed in that area, but it’s obvious that he has a new-found focus in NOLA.
In January, Ball has three games of 20 points or more, one triple-double and the Pelicans have won seven of their last ten games—in large part due to the play of Ball. It’ll be an uphill battle to make a playoff push given that they are second to last in the West, but there is a lot of basketball to be played. It also helps that the backcourt of UCLA greats Jrue Holiday and Ball pose one of the best defensive backcourts in all of basketball.
The progression of Lonzo Ball has been a steady rise in confidence and productivity. As he becomes more comfortable, he will improve even more. Critiques of his game were not totally fair— as health hindered his growth. In his two seasons, he missed 65 games, which is nearly a full season. This year he has only missed eight games, and is on pace to have his best season as a pro.
After two years of misery in the City of Angels, the Ball is now in Lonzo’s court in his second chance to attain greatness.