San Antonio prepares for their final regular season game of the year in New Orleans, this piece looks at how Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball affected both the Spurs and Pelicans. First, let’s compare Ball to the Spurs young point guard Dejounte Murray.
Murray’s trip to the NBA was quite different than Ball’s. While both were one-and-done, their college careers were polar opposites. Ball was the best player on an outstanding UCLA team which was nationally ranked all year, and probably saved the job of UCLA coach Steve Alford. Ball was seriously considered for the top pick in the draft, and wound up being picked by the Lakers with the second pick. Magic Johnson immediately anointed Ball the face of the franchise and predicted he would someday have his uniform hanging from the rafters in Staples Center.
Murray did not have Ball’s college career. He spent his one year at the University of Washington, far from a traditional power. During Murray’s one year on campus, the Huskies finished 2 – 16 in the Pac-12, 11th place in a 12 team league. The year after he left, the Huskies fired head coach Lorenzo Romar. Of course, we all know that the Spurs then picked Murray with the 29th pick in the draft. Unlike Ball, who was second pick from the top, Murray was the second to last pick in the first round.
The two players are physically similar – long and lanky. Ball is 6’6’’ and 190 pounds, Murray 6’5’’ and 170. Ball is a bit stronger, Murray a bit quicker. Both are excellent defenders, and rebound very well. Both are weak shooters – Ball is shooting 30% from the three point line this year, Murray 26%. But there is a key difference. Murray knows he can’t shoot, which is why he has taken only 34 three pointers all season. Ball doesn’t know he can’t shoot, and averages 5.7 threes point attempts per game – which leads to the theme of this piece: How Lonzo Ball affected the Spurs season.
Some of you may recall the Lakers’ win over San Antonio on March 3. If you do, it hurts. The Spurs led by 12 points with 5:43 left. In the final minutes, Lonzo Ball forgot that he was a 30% three point shooter, and decided to become Ray Allen. With 2:46 left, he made a three to cut a four-point Spurs lead to one. With 1:15 left, Ball’s three pointer turned a one point Spurs lead into a two-point deficit. And most painfully, with 42 seconds left, Ball made yet another three – turning a 109-109 tie into a three point Laker lead which they never gave up. For the night, Ball doubled his percentage to 60% from three, going 6 for 10 overall, and giving the Spurs a rare home loss.
But like a late night infomercial – That Is Not All! No, there is much more. Three weeks later, the Lakers played New Orleans. The Pelicans were on the final night of a 5 game in 6 night stretch, and they looked it. Entering the fourth, New Orleans was down 9 points to the same Laker team that had beaten the Spurs earlier in the month. But not exactly the same Laker team, because Lonzo Ball decided to pay back all the good karma he had enjoyed in San Antonio.
With 4:36 left in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers up by one, Lonzo bricked a three pointer. With 2:13 left, the Lakers still up by one, he bricked another three – with 10 seconds on the shot clock. And finally, with the Lakers down one, 17 seconds left in the game – and 10 seconds on the shot clock – Ball took yet another three. Heat check? Not so much. When Ball took that shot, he was 1 for 11 from three. After he shot it, he was 1 for 12, and the Pelicans won.
How did Lonzo Ball affect the Spurs season? If he had shot his normal three point percentage in those two games, the Spurs would have easily beaten the Lakers in San Antonio, and the Pelicans would have lost to the Lakers in New Orleans. Instead, because the Laker rookie had his best shooting night of the season against the Spurs, and his worst shooting night against the Pelicans, Wednesday’s night’s game between the Spurs and Pelicans features two teams who go into the game tied in the West.
Put another way, absent Lonzo Ball’s shooting, the Pelicans would be 46-35 and battling to even make the playoffs, and the Spurs would be 48-33, and tied for third. Ball don’t lie – except sometimes it, and he, does.