Saturday, November 25News That Matters

Lonzo Ball struggles with shot but still excites in Lakers preseason debut


ANAHEIM, Calif. — In his first preseason game with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lonzo Ball struggled with his shot but still displayed his ability to rack up triple-double-like numbers.

After a summer and first week of camp (he went 6-0 in 5-on-5 scrimmages with the team) that only added to the hype surrounding Ball, the No. 2 overall pick finally made his preseason debut with five points, eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals in a 108-99 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Honda Center.

Despite the fact that Ball missed seven-of-nine shots, including shooting one-of-five from 3-point range, the rookie didn’t do anything to temper the excitement surrounding him and the Lakers for this coming season. Ball still entertained fans with his passing as he zipped balls all over the court. And he did so with the Lakers barely having worked on any offensive sets in camp thus far.

If anything, Lakers coach Luke Walton wanted to see his unselfish rookie point guard shoot even more as Ball tried to get his teammates involved and going.

“Lonzo is so gifted as far as the way he always makes everyone on the court a threat,” Walton said. “With him we have been working on that he is so unselfish that sometimes he has good shots for himself and he tries to get someone else a shot. We want him taking those.”

“We are looking for him to be a little more aggressive to score the ball, especially early on,” Walton continued. “I thought he was great the way he was moving around out there and getting people involved.”

With team president Magic Johnson, GM Rob Pelinka and Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss on hand, there was a considerable buzz at the Honda Center for just a preseason opener. The building was packed with 18,000 on hand.

Ball’s outspoken father, LaVar, was there and he was busy before the game entertaining fans who formed a line up the stairs from near courtside to almost the concourse just to get a selfie or autograph from the elder Ball.

“We did exactly what we’re supposed to do,” LaVar said of the attention. “Welcome to the Ball era. Everybody’s coming to the Ball era.”

LaVar stuck to his prediction that his son will win Rookie of the Year.

“I said he’s gonna be Rookie of the Year. How could he not?” the elder Ball said. “… [The hype around Lonzo is] going to keep growing. That’s what Big Baller Brand does. It grows.”

“That’s why I told him they’re going to win a championship between one and seven years because help is on the way,” he added. “My other two boys will be here in a minute.”

After winning Las Vegas summer league MVP honors with his contagious passing and triple-doubles, Ball came out in this first game trying to dazzle right away in his Big Baller Brand ZO2 Prime Remix shoes.

Ball’s first pass attempt was an alley-oop lob to Larry Nance Jr. that was broken up. Still, the excitement was there.

He admits he should have lobbed the ball higher for Nance but perhaps the rookie was trying to calm his own excitement down after realizing a childhood dream of hearing his name not only announced in the Lakers starting lineup but the last player to be introduced.

“Oh man, it felt great, especially when they called my name and the fans were cheering,” Ball said. “That is what you dream about as a kid and it is finally here and that was a great moment. But at the end of the day I got a job to do.”

The rookie registered his first assist after grabbing an offensive rebound and finding Brandon Ingram for a 3-pointer. His first two assists went to Ingram — something Johnson said he hopes to see frequently since he believes the tandem will develop Magic-James Worthy-like “Showtime” chemistry in the near future.

After missing his first two shots, Ball made a 3-pointer with 3:47 remaining in the first quarter as fans cheered on. The rookie did make some mistakes, having some passes deflected and he once jumped into the air before making a decision and turning the ball over — something Johnson had warned him about after seeing it happen during the summer league.

The Lakers have been preaching run whether it be after a miss or make and the players might’ve been fatigued, especially after a week of camp and two-a-day practice sessions. Ball wasn’t the only Laker to miss shots. The Lakers missed 25-of-30 3-point attempts.

“I think they were good shots,” Ball said. “A lot of shots I felt were great shots, guys just missed shots, including myself. It is going to take time. Playing fast like that definitely takes a toll on you. Once we get used to it we will be OK.”

Ball had three turnovers in his 36 minutes playing a good amount against Minnesota’s veteran point guard Jeff Teague. Considering that Ball had a very similar game in his summer league debut before racking up a couple of triple doubles and leading the Lakers to the summer league title, the Lakers know their rookie point guard will only get better and more comfortable.

After the game, Ball huddled with his family in a tunnel as his father gave him some pointers and observations.

“I don’t like that we lost,” Ball said of his debut. “But I do like that we are starting to get a foundation now… we got a little tired so we got to get in shape and keep going at it.”

“First time out there… it felt alright.”

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