While Kentucky’s freshmen duo of Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have garnered a ton of attention, another freshman is making waves on the Left Coast. Lonzo Ball’s unique skill set has powered UCLA into the top five. And speaking of Monk and Fox, Ball's one-man show helped secure a victory over the highly-touted Wildcats in Rupp Arena. While die-hard college hoops heads have been aware of Ball’s presence, the casual fan needs to take note before they miss the show.
The Bruins were in need of a transformation coming off a dismal 15-17 season, just the program’s fourth losing season since John Wooden first prowled the sidelines in 1948. That type of performance is unacceptable at UCLA, and coach Steve Alford’s seat was getting mighty hot. With Alford looking for reprieve from the heat and the program desperate to wipe the 2015-16 smudge from their pristine history, the Bruins needed someone or something to alter the course. Enter Lonzo Ball.
Ball joined UCLA as a consensus top-five recruit, and he has not disappointed. As of this writing, Ball is averaging 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. Despite one of the most curious shooting motions you will ever see, he is shooting a respectable 43.2 percent from three-point range, and that consistency opens so many doors for the Bruins offense.
While his numbers are good, Ball’s impact on UCLA goes beyond immediate statistics. At 6-6, Ball has great size at the point guard position and presents a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. He can shoot over smaller guards or, more lethally, pick them apart with his great vision and passing ability. If the opposition throws a bigger player at Ball, he simply uses his quickness to go around him. He is just as deadly using his athleticism to finish at the rim or kicking to an open teammate as the defense collapses. Defending Ball is a “pick your poison” proposition.
The Bruins average 92.8 points per game, good for third best in the country. They lead the nation in assists at 22.8 per night. A lot of that is a direct result of the man initiating their offense.
While Ball has been the focus of the turnaround, he is far from the sole actor in UCLA’s 16-1 start and number 4 ranking. Fellow freshman T.J. Leaf is leading the team in scoring and rebounding, and the Bruins have a total of six players averaging double figures. Still, Ball’s fingerprints are all over the balanced scoring. The 6-10 Leaf is shooting an impressive 48.6 percent from three, and Bryce Alford and Aaron Holiday have seen significant bumps in their three-point percentages as well. This can be attributed to the looks that Ball is generating for his teammates.
Another aspect of UCLA’s improvement has been its defensive rebounding—30 per game—and by extension, its ability to get out in transition. Again, we can directly trace Ball’s impact in these areas. At 6-6, he rebounds well from the guard spot, allowing him to not only help on the glass but also immediately start UCLA’s fast break when he does so. Even when he doesn’t grab the rebound, he begins to leak so his teammate can find him in the open court, where his athleticism and vision make him virtually unstoppable. As if all of that wasn’t enough for opposing teams to worry about, Ball’s length and jumping ability allow him to be just as punishing finishing alley-oops as he his dishing them out.
Ball is a perfect fit in the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles with his supreme athleticism, unorthodox style and spectacular plays. His uncanny ability to see the game provides an air of suspense as you wait to see what he’s going to do next. The only question left is how far can Ball can carry the Bruins? We shouldn’t be surprised if that ends up being Phoenix. In the meantime, enjoy the show.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.