How he got here
Sometimes skills build over time, and sometimes they just are. The latter scenario unfolded as Lonzo Ball rose to prominence at Chino Hills (Calif.) High. As a freshman in 2012-13, Ball proved a flashy and multi-faceted scorer and playmaker with easy three-point shooting range.
Unlike many of today’s players, who prefer to hold their recruiting thoughts close to the vest, Ball said even then that he’d grown up a UCLA fan.
|Ball is a natural with the rock in his hands|
Ball advanced into his sophomore season touted as one of the West Coast’s top prospects. A 6-5 point guard, he didn’t even need to finish that year before he was ready to commit, announcing for the Bruins in January, 2014.
Our West expert, Josh Gershon, has been there from the beginning, but my first close observation of Ball’s game took place last summer at the Pangos All-American Camp. There, Ball proved to be an electric performer with an intense skill level and tantalizing overall upside.
This season, he has continued to cement his place within the elite range of the 2016 class. Ball performed well during our viewings at the Tarkanian Classic and, although we continue to list him at 6-5, ultimately might hit 6-6. Bottom line, he’s a very tall performer for (at least arguably) point guard and has good size even for the NBA wing.
The Bruins, which obviously have played up and down this season, should benefit immediately and profoundly from his talent.
To 2015. …
During the course of writing these junior primers, on several occasions I’ve referenced a player facing a positional question. That scenario typically connotes uncertainty in a negative context, but in Ball’s case it’s actually more of a positive.
That’s true because even if one doesn’t view him as a point guard long-term, there’s no question he can be a wing. He possesses the size and shooting ability to play off the ball, and the fact that his ideal position is such a non-concern illustrates just how gifted he is.
Ball definitely can make a living as a jump shooter. Though not a pure marksman in terms of mechanics, he’s a rhythm shooter with a quick release capable of catching fire. When he’s cooking, he can knock down even heavily contested shots.
Meanwhile, he’s an extremely skilled handler and passer at 6-5. He outdoes most point guards as a playmaker and possesses all the moves he’ll ever need to be effective as a dribbler, though he could improve his handle versus pressure.
Defense primarily drives the confusion about his ultimate court destination. He may be too tall at this point to realistically defend high-major point guards — who in many cases will be 4-5 inches shorter than him — and there’s no reason that he should fail to gain muscle to defend opposing wings. If anything, he likely could guard most two guards and wing forwards in college.
Ball appears to have gained some quickness and explosiveness this season, and suffice it to say he’s not overrated at No. 11 in the class. Irrespective of whether we list him at point or shooting guard, he should challenge for the top spot at his position nationally.