Lonzo Ball: Is He Any Good?

The mere inability to shoot the basketball does not necessarily disqualify a player from becoming an all-time great.

After all, Jason Kidd couldn’t shoot for beans (40.0 FG% for his career, and his five years in Phoenix were the only stretch with one team where he shot above that mark) and he’s in the Hall of Fame.

Further away from the basket, Russell Westbrook is arguably the worst 3-point shooter of all-time. His 30.4 percent mark is second behind only Charles Barkley‘s 26.6 for players with at least 2,000 attempts, but Russ has attempted 3,150 through games of January 9, 2020 and is worst among players with more shots than Barkley took.

Westbrook is also a guy who has a way-above-average chance of joining Kidd in Springfield someday, what with that whole MVP season, Finals appearance, and three times averaging a triple-double in his favor, plus twice leading the league in scoring, twice leading the league in assists, and twice taking home All-Star MVP just for good measure.

Lonzo Ball is, when shooting the ball, complete and utter garbage. But he’s also a slick passer, a crafty rebounder for his position, and a solid defender.

Unfortunately for Ball, he was also the second overall pick. Which means he’s in the company of guys like Kevin Durant, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, and Isiah Thomas.

Of course, he’s also in the company of Hasheem Thabeet, Darko Milicic, and Steve Stipanovich, not exactly guys who set the world on fire in the NBA.

So for Ball to be Confirmed here, he has to be the equal of, at the very least, a guy like Victor Oladipo (another second-overall pick.)

But to be Plausible, he has to…well, plausibly compare to guys who were actually good in the role Ball’s best skillset has him set to fill on a team that’s using him the right way.

Otherwise, Busted.

Well, there are no preconceived notions on this show, so let’s do the science.

The Counting Stats

Ball’s shooting is, very simply, atrocious. He is a career 38.7/32.6/46.3 percent shooter on FG/3PT/FT, giving him a cover-your-eyes TS% of just .475.

Since 1979-80, when the NBA added the 3-point arc, that is the 40th-worst TS% of anyone with at least 1,350 overall FGA.

That’s not worst of all time level—it’s not even worse among active players, with Stanley Johnson, Ronnie Price, and Michael Carter-Williams all shooting the ball worse than Lonzo—but it is pretty putrid when you’re one of the 40 worst players at something in the past 40 years.

When you pull free throws out of it (and lose a bunch of centers whose FG% was way better than Ball but had their TS% Hack-A’d way down) and go by pure FG%, Ball is 12th-worst in the last 40 years.

But even that is a sign of overall declining FG% as 3-point attempt rates go up. Ball is only fifth-worst among active players, with MCW dropping off the list and Isaiah Canaan and Marcus Smart joining Ball among the worst shooters in modern NBA history.

Then again, we’re talking about Canaan and Price as though they’re still active, but neither has played in the NBA this year, and Price hasn’t played since 2017.

But hey, we get it, Lonzo can’t shoot. So what else we got?

Besides Lonzo’s 6.8 rebounds and 7.0 assists per 36 minutes…

The Advanced Stats

Well…good news and bad news.

The good news is that Lonzo’s finally posting positive Offensive Win Shares for the first time in his career.

The bad news is that his defense has dropped off a cliff to the point where he’s a slightly below-average defender by DBPM (and sorry, but defensive advanced stats are wretched but they’re all we’ve got.)

Making matters worse, Ball has a negative on-off Net Rating split on a garbage team. The Pelicans are actually 2.0 points better when Lonzo sits than they are when he plays.

And, of course, there’s his career-low .048 WS/48, a mark consistent with an average player on a 19-win team, a matter made even worse when you consider he’s always hovered around the “20-win player” mark on two Lakers teams that had win totals in the mid-30s and a Pellies squad that is on pace for 28 wins by won-lost record and actually plays more like a 33-win team in terms of opponent-adjusted Net Rating.

So he’s a guy who is bad by the standards of a bad team, has posted right around that level of crap play his entire career so far, who can’t shoot to save his life, who seems to be forgetting how to play defense, and whose sole remaining saving grace is his Westbrookian ability to occasionally gun for counting stats to prop up his box-score-adjusted advanced stats (and with a PER of 13.6 on the season and 12.5 for his career, he can’t even do that right.)

THE VERDICT!

Ball’s ceiling is Tony Allen, another poor shooter who made up for it on the defensive end. But Allen was the 25th pick in the 2005 draft, not the second-overall pick in a draft that included Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac, Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen…you see the problem.

And Ball, thanks to that decline in defense, looks a million miles away from Allen, even further away from the likes of Jason Kidd, and like nothing so much as a completely wasted pick by the Lakers, a team he’s not even on anymore.

Big name and big hype means big bust when he doesn’t meet even the most generous of expectations.

Which means the question of whether Lonzo Ball is any good is, like his status as a draft pick, Busted.

NEXT WEEK: Another third-year player gets the eye of Is He Any Good turned on him to see if he might be “more like a turd year player, amirite?”

Kyle Kuzma is next. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!