Pelicans officials have been impressed with how Ball responded to the trade chatter and cite his three-game break during New Orleans’ six-game road trip in mid-January as the springboard for his recent success. Many now view the point guard as New Orleans’ third-best player.
Since the aforementioned three-game break, Lonzo is averaging 15.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. However, it's his efficiency that has seen the biggest improvement. He is shooting 44.9% from the field over the span, connecting at a 43.1% clip on 7.9 attempts from the three-point line.
Ball's stretch in February alone is even more impressive. In 15 games played, a fourth-year point guard is averaging 16.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists with no single-digit scoring performances (16th longest active streak in the NBA). His overall efficiency has seen yet another jump -- 45.5% from the floor, 45.9% from three, and 85.9% from the charity stripe.
As of March 2, only 10 players in the league are shooting at least 39% from behind the line on at least 7.5 attempts. Lonzo, whose shot was once seen as broken, is a member of that elite group.
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Tim Hardaway Jr.
These numbers include Lonzo's slow start to the season. Looking only at his numbers in February, Ball is shooting the highest percentage out of all players at that volume of shots. After lowering the attempts threshold to 6.5 per game, the list only includes Jamal Murray, Zach LaVine, Paul George, and Joe Harris. Zo hasn't only improved as a shooter -- he's become one of the deadliest long-range threats in the NBA.
As such, Ball has opened a lot of space for Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson who are operating as offensive initiators in Stan Van Gundy's system. And while that hasn't paid dividends for the Pelicans yet (15-19, 11th in the West), it did enhance Lonzo's chances of re-signing with the team. The only question is -- would that even be the best move for the trajectory of his career?
Last year under coach Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans were 3rd in the league in pace (103.7). Thirty-four games into the 20/21 season with SVG as the head coach, their pace ranks 17th in the NBA. They also ranked 5th last year in fast-break points per game with 16.6 -- this year, they are averaging 2.5 points less.
For one of the youngest, most athletic rosters in the entire association, this is a problem, and Stan Van Gundy has to take the blame for it. The 61-year-old head coach isn't maximizing the team's potential in transition, and it's mostly due to not allowing Zo to push the ball the way he's been doing since he joined the NBA.
It seems that, despite Ball's overall improvement, SVG had become a prisoner of preconceptions he had for him before he even joined the team as a head coach. I mean, he did describe Lonzo as nothing more than a role player, insinuating he would use him as an off-ball guy due to his disability to create offense for himself.
Working with Fred Vinson during the offseason, the 6-5 point guard addressed that deficiency in his game. He's pulling up from midrange, shooting floaters, looking the most comfortable he's ever been driving to the basket. Zo is still far from an above-average NBA slasher, but with his incredible IQ and playmaking instincts, he should be the one running the Pelicans half-court offense, a lot more than he's been allowed to thus far. And that's on Stan Van Gundy.
Should Lonzo even want to re-sign with the Pelicans with teams like Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, and New York Knicks showing interest? Not until Van Gundy makes some adjustments. The potential of Zion, Ingram, and Ball on the same team is huge. But I don't see them fulfilling it with Stan as their coach -- at least not with the system currently implemented.