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Ball, who has struggled to shoot consistently since joining the NBA as the 2017 second overall pick, has improved to 40.7 percent from the field after hitting just 36 percent of his shots as a rookie. He’s not a good shooter, but he’s made some progress.
Where Ball needs to massively improve is at the free-throw line, where his shooting has made Shaquille O’Neal look like Steph Curry.
Through five games played in 2019, Ball has really slumped, hitting just two of 11 attempts (18.2 percent), even eliciting boos at Staples Center. It’s surprising that teams haven’t looked to intentionally foul Ball, like O’Neal before him when it was called “Hack-a-Shaq.”
He’s dropped to just 41.3 percent on the season. Ball seems to just slump his shoulders of late, looking completely drained. It may be a good thing he only attempts 1.1 per game, although coach Luke Walton doesn’t necessarily agree.
Lonzo Ball gets booed by Lakers fans for missing free throw https://t.co/mDPPcsPL0e
“In practice, he’ll sit there and make 25, 30 out of 35. He sits there, and he’ll hit them,” Walton said. “Some people only go [to the line] twice a game or once every other game, and then that’s tough to get into a real rhythm at the line. With him, I think the more he gets there, the more comfortable he’ll become.”
What can Walton and his staff do to help Ball improve at the line?
“It’s hard to really tweak things during the season,” Walton said. “It’s different for everybody. Some people go through mental blocks.”
That’s the problem. Ball didn’t get any time to work on his shooting over the last offseason, recovering from a knee injury. More than any Laker, and maybe more than anyone else in the NBA, Ball needs a long, productive offseason with a player-development coach to work on his fundamentals.
That’s not to say his odd shooting form needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Habits are hard to break, and Ball will probably never have a traditional shot. But he needs to put in significant reps on footwork, balance and timing.
“He’s been shooting like that for his whole life. If he starts trying to significantly change his form, it’ll probably lead to an injury,” one video analyst said.
Can a point guard be successful in this league shooting below 50 percent from the line?
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Fellow Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo has had his share of similar struggles. The four-time All-Star has shot 60.4 percent over his career, and in the 2014-15 season, he hit just 39.7 percent. Rondo doesn’t get to the line much either, but he’s still a productive, if limited, floor general.
Ball’s outside shooting has slightly improved this season from 30.5 percent to 33.3 percent. That’s still subpar, but if he can climb to about 36 percent, he’ll help the Lakers win a lot of games—especially when sharing the court with James.
Without James and Rondo, the young Lakers have been forced to adapt. Ball has improved over the last two games after going scoreless in a 108-86 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, responding with 21 points (4-of-8 from three) the following night versus the Dallas Mavericks.
He wasn’t going to replicate that hot shooting against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, but his 11 assists coupled with aggressive defense helped the Lakers get the 113-100 victory.
Ball is a rare player who can make a significant impact on a game while scoring just five points. In almost 35 minutes while he was on the floor, the Lakers outpaced Detroit by 24 points, as Ball put the clamps on Blake Griffin on switches—yes, Blake Griffin.
When he’s fully engaged, Ball can be one of the best players in a game, despite his inability to consistently finish at either the basket or free-throw line. That’s why he can’t let a poor shooting night take him out of his game. He’s not a good shooter. He’s going to have a lot of off nights.
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Ball has some similarities to retired All-Star Jason Kidd. Although Kidd was a far more ball-dominant point guard than Ball, in his second season, Kidd only shot 38.1 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from three-point range. At his shooting peak, he hit 42.5 percent from deep in the 2009-10 season, well above his career average of 34.9 percent.
It took Kidd over a decade to find his shot. Now that the Lakers have James, they’re suddenly in win-now mode. They may not have time to wait for Ball to find a consistent jumper or free throw, especially if teams are able to take advantage of his inability to shoot in the postseason.
Walton and his teammates have encouraged Ball to be more of an aggressive scorer and he has looked to shoot more within 10 feet of the basket. Per NBA.com, Ball is attacking in that range on 38.1 percent of his attempts, up from last year’s 31.6 percent. Ball is also converting at a higher clip as well, up from 52.2 percent to 55.4 percent.
Would the Lakers see an even bigger jump from Ball at the basket if he could also convert at the line?
“It seems like that’s true, but that’s just me trying to get into his head,” another video analyst said.
Ball may not even consciously know but he needs to be a credible scoring threat for the Lakers, especially as the team moves on past the regular season.
“We’ve got to fix [our free-throw shooting], especially if we want to win in the playoffs,” Ball said recently on the Spectrum Sports Net broadcast. “We’re not going to win if we keep missing free throws as a whole. Myself, I obviously have to make mine and the rest of the guys that are getting to the line.”
For now, Walton can only act as cheerleader, encouraging Ball to be aggressive as a scorer.
“I think the more he continues to play aggressively, the more he gets to the line, he’ll get more comfortable there. He’ll knock them down,” Walton said.
It’s an annoyance today, but in April, May and potentially June, it could be a serious problem.