Lonzo Ball passed on a low-ball extension by the Pelicans and decided to bet on himself. Three games into the season, it's clear why -- a 23-year-old point guard finally looks ready to take the next step.
Zo is coming off his season-best performance in a 98-95 win over the Spurs. In 37 minutes of action, Ball had 15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals on 7-for-14 shooting from the floor. But it's not about what he did. It's about how he did it. Because we're used to Lonzo occasionally filling up all columns of the NBA stat sheets. Just not in this way.
The scoring variety Ball showcased against the Spurs is something we haven't seen from Zo during his first three years in the NBA. His offensive game, up until this season, was labeled as (at most) uni-dimensional. He was either a shooter or a distributor. Anything between spotting up for a three or dishing the ball to a teammate through a pick-and-roll or an extra pass was nowhere to be found in Ball's offensive arsenal. But not anymore.
Lonzo added a mid-range game to his repertoire. It's been a focus of his throughout the offseason, and so far, it's paying dividends. Ball is yet to miss a shot from 16-22 feet. He's converting .428 of his mid-range attempts while only being assisted on .333 of them. He's looking comfortable pulling up off the dribble and, for the first time in his NBA career, is showing no hesitance doing so.
Ball is also much more aggressive attacking the basket. Up until this year, finishing at the rim seemed like the last resort for a former 2nd pick of the '17 NBA Draft. This year, he's showing more initiative to take it all the way after beating his guys off the dribble. Lonzo is yet to miss a shot within 3 feet and is looking much more decisive as a slasher. Oh, and he's also attempting 2.7 FTs per game -more than double compared to the 19/20 NBA season - and converting .625. of them. It's far from elite, but it proves the Pelicans point guard is on the right trajectory.
Before you say anything - no, I'm not getting ahead of myself. All this being said, Lonzo Ball is still a below-average offensive player in the half-court. But the thing is, he's much closer to the average than ever before. And with how gifted he is at everything else besides scoring, becoming an average bucket getter might be enough for him to unlock his potential as an elite all-around NBA performer. His offensive game was what held him back. Now, it may give him the push he needs to take that next step.
You can point to the small sample size and say that it's too early to draw any conclusions. And I can agree; it is small, but it's not negligible. However, what's even more indicative is the eye test. Ball's body language, his confidence, his motor - they're all a tier above compared to Zo's first three years in the association. For the first time in his NBA career, he's completely healthy and seems locked in to take his game to the next level. And I don't know about you, but I'm still rooting for the guy.
He may not end up meeting the standard Magic Johnson set for him on draft night, but he can still be a great player in the association. With guys like Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson around him, that may be enough for the Pelicans to also start their breakout campaign. But first, they'll have to pay the man. And judging by how he's playing, it may end up being a lot more than they initially hoped for.