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Lonzo Ball: The Man, The Myth, The Mistake For The Celtics

By Ben Riela


The Celtics are at an important crossroads in their franchise history. They just returned to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in five years. This  team is arguably the strongest team since the glory days of the “Big Three” (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen) Celtics teams that won the 2008 NBA Championship and dominated through the turn of the decade. The Celtics have an extremely young core of players, and their future is extremely bright. Through a trade with the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics have earned the number one pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Although things couldn’t be going better for the franchise, I have one nightmare that could put a huge dent in the growth of the team: drafting Lonzo Ball with the number 1 overall pick.

Lonzo Ball? The Lonzo Ball who averaged a triple double as a senior in high school and led his team to a state championship with a perfect 35-0 record? The same Lonzo Ball who was on the First Team All American for all of college basketball as a freshman? The same 6’6” point guard with a 6’9” wingspan and is just as quick and fast as any other point guard in the NBA Draft? The same Lonzo Ball who shot 41% from 3-point range at UCLA last season? Yes, I’m talking about THAT Lonzo Ball and I strongly believe he would be a terrible pick for the franchise.

In case you are not familiar with the name, Lonzo Ball is projected to be a top-2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He is from the greater Los Angeles and played one year of college ball at UCLA before declaring for the NBA draft in March. He is a point guard who facilitates the offense through both passing and scoring, and he’s also an impressive three-point shooter. His father is Lavar Ball (more on him later), and he has two brothers, LaMelo and LiAngelo, who are both planning on following Lonzo’s footsteps to the NBA.

One problem I have with him is his physicality. Although he is 6’6” and can block shots, he’s a toothpick (he only weighs 190 lbs) and you can see that he has no muscle on him. He’s a finesse player who rarely looks for contact, as shown by only attempting 2.7 free throws per game (of which he only shot 67% from the stripe, a very low number for a “sharpshooting point guard”). In the current NBA where elite point guards like James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Isaiah Thomas score a large percentage of their points from the free-throw line, Lonzo failed to do this at UCLA. His physicality worries me and the fact that he doesn’t take the ball strong to the basket and absorb contact will be a major problem for him in the NBA.

Another problem I noticed when watching him is how he runs the offense. He is a pass-first point guard who looks to pass more than shoot. While this characteristic is fine for a bench player, you don’t want passing to be the first instinct of the best player on your team. With the number one overall pick, you want a leader who takes control of the game and always looks to score, taking matters into his own hands first and then finding help if he needs it. While having trust in your teammates is always a good quality, he has shown that when his teammates didn’t step up that he couldn’t take over and lead UCLA (cough, cough, NCAA tournament, more on that later). There is a reason why pass-first point guards like Rajon Rondo and Ricky Rubio aren’t NBA stars while scoring point guards like Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry are.

Will Lonzo even work in the Celtic’s system? Although it seems like a basic question, it nonetheless needs to be asked. While he is an effective cutter away from the ball, Lonzo often needs the ball in his hands to make plays happen. But there is a pretty big problem in Boston…the 5’9” Isaiah Thomas. Everybody knows the Celtics are Thomas’s team, and with the way he’s playing right now, I don’t see anybody taking his spot at starting point guard for the next couple years. The Celtics’ 23-year-old backup point guard, Terry Rozier, is also playing extremely well right now and has improved every season. This means that Ball will have to play at the 2-guard spot in the Celtics line-up, something that will be difficult for him. For every team he’s played on, he’s always brought the ball up and handled it the most. Since he’s never had experience at the position, I think he will struggle at the two-guard spot, hindering his development into an NBA star.

Then there’s his father, the infamous Lavar Ball. In case you’ve never heard of him, I’ll fill you in – he’s crazy. Although there’s a laundry list of idiotic things he’s said and done in the national media, I’ll give you the highlights:

  • Quoted saying, “Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one.” As you can imagine, calling out the greatest basketball player of all time (and saying you could beat him when you averaged only 2.2 points per game in college) has raised some eyebrows across the basketball world.
  • Also quoted saying, “I’ll tell you right now, he’s [Lonzo Ball] better than Steph Curry to me.” The kid hasn’t played an NBA minute, yet Lavar already puts his son ahead of a 2-time MVP and NBA Champion…
  • Guaranteed before the season that the Lonzo Ball-lead UCLA Bruins would win the 2017 NCAA Championship, only to say after their disappointing early round playoff exit that, “realistically you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow”.
  • Made sexist remarks to a female sports show host by telling her to “stay in your lane”, then saying to the male host, “I don’t even worry about her over there. … I don’t look over there ’cause she scares me.”
  • He’s also the reason why Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas will not sign Lonzo to a shoe deal despite the fact that he’s the most popular player in the NBA draft.

It’s guys like these that NBA teams have huge red flags on because sooner or later I believe he will get in the way of Lonzo’s progress. Lavar is Lonzo’s primary brand-builder, but more importantly he is his personal basketball trainer and agent, which means that it will be harder for Lonzo to separate from his father than you might think. Although the 19-year-old Lonzo may be okay with him right now, it’s only a matter of time before the two will come to blows. If this happens, trust me, it’ll be a trainwreck.

Finally, I want to address Lonzo’s ability to step up in big time games. In his season at UCLA, his team played in plenty of important games, including in the NCAA tournament. However, I’m not sold with his performance in these games to take him with the number one overall pick. Against #1 ranked Kentucky on December 3, he posted a pedestrian 14 points while shooting only 2-8 from 3-point land and racking up 6 turnovers. Later in the season #7 ranked Arizona, Ball only posted 8 points, going only 1-6 from 3-point territory. In all, his scoring average in the six regular season games versus top 25 teams was 14.3 points per game, while his average for the season was at 14.6 points per game. With the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft, you would hope that your pick plays above average in big games, but unfortunately this isn’t the case for Lonzo Ball.

Then the NCAA tournament happened. After breezing through the first two rounds, UCLA played Kentucky in the third round, a huge challenge. And what did Lonzo Ball do in this nationally televised and most important game of his basketball career with the eyes of the basketball world glued to him? He choked! Scoring only 10 points while shooting 1-6 from 3-point territory and coughing up 4 turnovers, UCLA lost by double digits and was eliminated from the tournament. All the while Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox (who Lonzo is often compared against) stepped up by scoring 39 points and taking over the game. Time and time again, Lonzo Ball has shown that he doesn’t elevate his play in big games, which is a huge problem. This is a tough sell for me because the Celtics should be looking to draft a player who steps up to the plate and performs at his best when it’s all on the line, not one who’s going to wet his pants in the NBA limelight. When your back’s against the wall, you can’t trust Ball.

These points finally bring me to my conclusion that it is a waste of a pick to draft Lonzo Ball with the first overall in the NBA Draft. The Celtics are on a major upswing right now, but I’m very afraid that Lonzo Ball could cause a stall or even a regression in the movement of the Celtics franchise. I’m very optimistic about the future of the Celtics organization, a bright future that hopefully comes without the headache of Lonzo Ball.


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6 Responses to Lonzo Ball: The Man, The Myth, The Mistake For The Celtics

  1. Quinn Donovan

    June 13, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Great insight Ben… While I like Lonzo as a player, I think he gets screwed by his Dad and I’m also unsure if he is the right fit for the Celtics right now.

  2. Will Schiffman

    June 13, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Great opinion feature with great evidence to back it up!

  3. Mike Doherty

    June 13, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    I agree I think his weight is definitely going to be a problem in the nba. There is no way he can stop heavier guards only weighing 190lbs.

  4. Joe Thompson

    June 13, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Great article Ben, I agree with you that the Celtics shouldn’t draft Lonzo Ball with the first pick.

  5. Zachary Walker

    June 14, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Great article Ben, personally I think it be an awful decision for the Celtics to draft him. I think he will be a role player at best.

  6. Matt Doherty

    June 14, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    I agree I feel as if he needs to put on muscle and work on his conditioning because at his workout with the Lakers they reportedly said he was out of shape.

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