He always was a natural. Lonzo Ball established talent beyond his years from the beginning, demonstrating uncanny gifts for the game that transcended his age.
Ball became a national name immediately out of the gate, and he committed to UCLA in early 2014. From there, the slender combo guard proceeded to illustrate exactly why he always has slotted among the nation’s best prospects in the 2016 class.
He would attract company on the UCLA commitment roll that’s very close to home. Both of Ball’s younger brothers, LiAngelo (2017 class) and LaMelo (2019), subsequently pledged to Steve Alford’s program as well.
The Balls’ father, LaVar, explained the family-wide commitments:
”We have a great relationship with Steve Alford,” said LaVar. “I trust him with my sons and know he will take them to another level I can’t take them.”
Lonzo competed with his younger siblings this past summer. While Lonzo himself was not as visible at national events as some blue-chip peers, he competed for a full week at the Adidas Summer Championships in Las Vegas to close the July live period and showcased his diverse abilities.
Ball continues to project as a top-15 overall prospect in the positively loaded 2016 haul.
The best way to open a description of Ball’s game is to remark on his unique skill set. He’s either a very tall point guard at 6-5, or else he’s a supremely skilled and instinctive wing. Either way, he can fulfill a large number of roles.
His passing ability and court vision may stand out most. Ball possesses an exquisite knack for anticipating where his teammates and the defense will be after he makes a pass, and physically he’s able to thread the needle with impressive precision.
Ball loves fullcourt whip passes, in particular, and he tosses them with ideal touch. He won’t get to make as many of those in college, of course, but his vision and creativity certainly pay off in the halfcourt as well. At his height and with long arms, he easily passes over opposing guards and even many wing forwards.
His scoring game features herky jerky drives, pull-up jump shots and a barrage of long bombs. Despite an odd shooting motion (more on that below), Ball wields a dangerous three-point shot that also benefits from a quick release.
And though he has a long way to go in terms of technique, defensively his size, length and above-average lateral quickness should enable him to become effective on that end of the court as well.
But I want to touch again on his instincts. Ball makes plays that are seemingly unseeable, and they don’t necessarily relate to his athletic or skill attributes. He simply plays a little faster than the game itself, and attempting to elucidate that doesn’t work nearly as well as watching him play.
Ball plays a high reward, high risk style. He’s prone to some turnover binges thanks largely to passes that even he cannot pinpoint accurately, and additionally he can force shots off the dribble in traffic that have a low percentage of success.
Meanwhile, his shooting mechanics do pose a legitimate question mark. He has a hitch in his shot and his placement is almost overhand, giving the ball an odd rotation. That said, upon release the shot looks pure and flows through the net with ideal arch, so perhaps even at the sport’s higher levels he already holds an affirmative answer.
Simply stated, Ball possesses truly superb talent both for the short- and longer term. He’s a magnificent scorer and playmaker with prototypical size, athleticism, intelligence and incomparable competitive instincts.
He’ll need to gain strength and improve his decision-making immensely — and no one can say for certain to what extent his jump shot will translate — but he could become a force both at the college and professional levels.
Ball will arrive on campus behind experienced and talented guards, but my expectation is that he’ll likely start, anyway. Whether on or off the ball, he’s a dynamic talent who will push any of the incumbents as much as they can handle and then some.
If he were to depart for the NBA following his freshman season and make an early impact at that level as well, I doubt many would be surprised.