Is there a Lonzo trade out there?

(photo cred Sportsnewsinstant.com)

Immediate follow up question: Should the Lakers even consider trading Lonzo?

Do yourself a favor and search “Lonzo Trade” on Twitter. Grab a coffee, maybe a snack wrap from McDonalds, and settle in somewhere cozy. Then look at all the angry tweets from Lakers fans, urging Magic and Pelinka to ship away their young point guard for a whichever talented guard exploded for their team that night. Last night, it was Kemba Walker (more on him to come.)

There is a case to be made for trading Lonzo, despite him still possessing a high ceiling. On the other hand, a case can be made that Los Angeles might be one of the worst fits for Lonzo regarding his development; he may never reach that high ceiling next to LeBron.

Therefore, this will be a blog of five parts: two quick arguments on why and why not Lonzo should be traded, two possible trade destinations and a final statement. Buckle up, folks.

1. Taking my Ball and going home

When the UCLA product was in his pre-draft process, it was easy to see how scouts fell in love with his ability to pass the ball. People were comparing Ball to Jason Kidd, and saying that his floor would be someone like Ricky Rubio, but with the potential to be a better shooter and better defender.

I cannot emphasize his extraordinary vision enough. Ball simply sees reads more quickly than other guards; some guards don’t even see them at all. Take this clip below, for example. Ball starts passing the ball to a cutting Kyle Kuzma before Kuz even leaves from his spot in the corner.

The majority of NBA guards either won’t see this read, or when they do, it is a step late which will force the cutter to either adjust for the score, or allow the defense to catch up. Ball’s feel for the game is innate, and it shows in his passing ability.

Ball’s defense has been encouraging as well. He has good lateral quickness, is a smooth athlete, and has a decent wingspan to match that 6’6″ frame. At times, his defensive IQ is just as good as his offensive IQ, and when the effort is there, Ball shows the potential to be a plus defender who is capable of guarding multiple positions. See for yourself.

At the end of the day, Ball has been both frustrating and tantalizing at times. His rookie season stats, however, put him in historic standing. Take a peak at home many players averaged at least 10 points, 7 assists and 1.5 steals their rookie year.

Query Results Table
Crit Crit Crit Crit
Rk Player Season Age Tm Lg PTS AST STL WS
1 Magic Johnson 1979-80 20 LAL NBA 18.0 7.3 2.4 10.5
2 Chris Paul 2005-06 20 NOK NBA 16.1 7.8 2.2 10.4
3 Ben Simmons 2017-18 21 PHI NBA 15.8 8.2 1.7 9.2
4 Mark Jackson 1987-88 22 NYK NBA 13.6 10.6 2.5 7.6
5 Phil Ford 1978-79 22 KCK NBA 15.9 8.6 2.2 5.7
6 Sherman Douglas 1989-90 23 MIA NBA 14.3 7.6 1.8 4.4
7 Allen Iverson 1996-97 21 PHI NBA 23.5 7.5 2.1 4.1
8 Jason Kidd 1994-95 21 DAL NBA 11.7 7.7 1.9 3.7
9 Tim Hardaway 1989-90 23 GSW NBA 14.7 8.7 2.1 3.3
10 Isiah Thomas 1981-82 20 DET NBA 17.0 7.8 2.1 2.3
11 Kenny Smith 1987-88 22 SAC NBA 13.8 7.1 1.5 2.2
12 John Wall 2010-11 20 WAS NBA 16.4 8.3 1.8 2.2
13 Lonzo Ball 2017-18 20 LAL NBA 10.2 7.2 1.7 2.0
14 Ricky Rubio 2011-12 21 MIN NBA 10.6 8.2 2.2 2.0
15 Gary Grant 1988-89 23 LAC NBA 11.9 7.1 2.0 -0.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/18/2018.

2. It’s your Ball now

Sometimes, we have a tendency to overthink the game.

Lonzo Ball’s best skill is his ability to create for others. In order to do this, he must have the ball in his hands often. Playing alongside LeBron James, Brandon Ingram and Kuzma, Ball does not have the ball often enough to maximize his impact on the game. Logic.

Specifically, I compared Ball’s average second per touch to other players who either were among the league leaders in assists or had a similar playing style to Ball. John Wall, Ricky Rubio and Ben Simmons, as well as a plethora of other creators, all averaged more seconds per touch than Ball (NBA.com) What’s more, they led Ball by considerable margins as well, as Lonzo averaged a mediocre 3.82 seconds per touch.

Yet, Ball finished the league 13th in total touches per game last season. There is conflicting data here. How can Ball get so many touches while not keeping the ball in his hands for too long?

The answer lies in the Lakers’ pace. They are 3rd in the league in pace, which means they get up and down the court a lot. They are 2nd in the league in fast break points and also 2nd in total possessions per game. These dudes fly up and down the court, and Lonzo is often the creator. His grab and go ability allows him to do this.

So what do we make of this?

Lonzo is a beast at finding people in transition. He makes full court outlet passes reminiscent of Kevin Love. Yet, Lonzo struggles in the pick and roll. In order to reach his ceiling, Lonzo has to improve this area, something of which he is surely capable of doing. Ball finished in the 17th percentile for pick and roll ball handlers last year, and despite improving to the 45th percentile so far this year, Lonzo still hasn’t mastered this part of his game.

With LeBron and other creators on the Lakers, Lonzo will not get the chance to develop fully into a complete NBA playmaker. If Magic and co. want Lonzo to be a transition god who takes 57 percent of his field goals from 3-point land, then so be it. But they would be wasting an entire area of his game which if developed correctly, could see Lonzo become one of the best point guards in the league.

As of right now, the Lakers are using him as a 3&D, grab and go fastbreak leader, although he can be so much more. If that is their plan for Lonzo, why not trade him for an established star who is a better fit besides LeBron? Speaking of which…

3. Charlotte, an old trading partner

We all remember how the Hornets gave Kobe Bryant to the Lakers, right? Perhaps now is a time for karma to swing back Charlotte’s way.

Kemba Walker is one of the most underrated stars in this game. His pick and roll game is elite. Kemba finished in the 92nd percentile as a PnR ball handler last year for a dismal Hornets team. The dude’s lack of team success probably leads to him being overlooked as one of the league’s premier guards. But let’s see how his last last season compares to the 2017-18 season of other stars such as Kyrie Irving, Dame Lillard, Kyle Lowry and John Wall.

Per Game Table
Rk Player Season Age G FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
1 Kyrie Irving 2017-18 25 60 8.9 18.1 .491 2.8 6.8 .408 .568 3.9 4.4 .889 3.8 5.1 1.1 2.3 24.4
2 Damian Lillard 2017-18 27 73 8.5 19.4 .439 3.1 8.6 .361 .519 6.8 7.4 .916 4.5 6.6 1.1 2.8 26.9
3 Kyle Lowry 2017-18 31 78 5.2 12.1 .427 3.1 7.6 .399 .553 2.9 3.3 .854 5.6 6.9 1.1 2.3 16.2
4 Kemba Walker 2017-18 27 80 7.4 17.0 .431 2.9 7.5 .384 .516 4.5 5.3 .864 3.1 5.6 1.1 2.2 22.1
5 John Wall 2017-18 27 41 6.8 16.3 .420 1.5 4.1 .371 .466 4.3 5.9 .726 3.7 9.6 1.4 3.9 19.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/18/2018.

Kemba is right on pace with his colleagues. This year, he is putting up a crazy 28.7/6.1/4.5 stat line while taking 10.3 triples per game and making a wild 37 percent of them. He is wonderful fit next to LeBron too.

Not only does Kemba have the intangibles to play with LeBron, his on-court style meshes well with what the King needs. For instance, Kemba is more than a ball-dominant point guard. This season, he is taking 4.5 3-pointers per game on catch and shoot opportunities, and sinking 38 percent of them. Wow.  This shows that Kemba can move around on off-ball action when LeBron is handling the rock.

Yet, Kemba can also take some of the offensive load away from LeBron. He is a pick and roll savant who can dish to open teammates or hit a deadly pull-up. I’m not kidding about the “deadly” part. Walker hits 45 percent of his 10 pull-up attempts per game, and 37 percent of his 5 pull-up triples per game. So far this year, those are better numbers than what CP3, Lowry, Irving, Lillard, Wall and that Harden guy have put up. He is a late game closer, for sure.

On a one-year, expiring deal, Los Angeles would have to get a wink-wink deal from Kemba that he would resign. But, the man is an excellent fit next to Lebron. He will turn 29 this season and seems to be getting better as he grows older.

Charlotte has a lot of incentive to make this deal too. They have a promising young core in the much improved Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. They cannot let Kemba walk in free agency for nothing in return. Landing Ball would be a steal. Charlotte could bottom out and pick up a high draft pick this year, giving them four solid players to build around going forward.

I know what you are thinking: “Lonzo Ball has more trade value than Kemba Walker.” Well, not so fast. What are the odds Lonzo Ball turns into a two-time All-Star and ever stars a season the way Kemba has this year? A better question: What are the odds Lonzo Ball ever plays as good as Kemba is playing this year? Of course, we all have differing opinions. But, Magic Johnson and company should seriously consider reaching out to the Michael Jordan and the Hornets.

The Trade:

kemba-trade.png

4. What’s up, Milwaukee

This is the one I will catch a lot of pushback on, I can feel it. Well, pushback from Bucks fans, most likely.

If there is one player who will challenge Walker for most underrated in the league, it is Khris Middleton. The guy can defend four positions and beat you from all three levels offensively. This year, my guy is putting up 19 per game on 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep, on 7 3-point attempts per game, mind you.

A two-way star, Middleton will be receiving a max contract this offseason that likely starts around $30 million per year. Ouch.

The Bucks already have a team payroll of $126 million for this season. Let’s do some projecting here. Next season, if they resign solely Middleton and no one else, their salary will be around $110 million. Keep in mind that they still have to resign at least one of either Eric Bledsoe or Malcolm Brogdon, both of whom will not come cheap. Oh, and given that Brook Lopez is having the most efficient shooting year of his career (62.5 eFG percentage!) the Bucks may want to bring him back too.

Let’s be generous and say that Brogdon, and not Bledsoe, comes back for $12 million per year. That brings their cap up to $122 million. Congrats (sarcasm), you aren’t bringing back Lopez in this scenario, or the rejuvenated Bledsoe.

The Bucks would be cap crunched for years if they resign Middleton. He is a wonderful talent, but does a core of Giannis, Middleton and X take the Bucks to a title? Hmmm. Let me present to you another option.

Send Lonzo Ball to Milwaukee for Khris Middleton. Sell high on the guy and get a guard with All-NBA potential. Replacing Ball for Middleton will see the Bucks salary (before any signings) be at $89 million next year. This gives them the flexibility to bring back both Lopez and either Brogdon or Bledsoe.

Lonzo would be a much better fit next to Giannis than he would next to Lebron. Despite having the Greek Freak on their team, Coach Bud and the Bucks still run a ton of action through Bledsoe, their point guard. In fact, Bledsoe is assisting on 28 percent of their buckets while on the court. Pretty good.

The Bucks play a style of basketball that would allow Lonzo to take advantage of his push-the-pace style. They are 5th in pace this year and 8th in fast break points. A Giannis-Ball fast break connection should give you shivers. Yet, they also run a great combo of free-flowing sets and traditional pick and roll basketball, giving Lonzo a place to develop the PnR game previously discussed.

Calm down Bucks fans, and let me tell you why you should consider this trade. In all likeliness, the Bucks ceiling with Middleton falls somewhere short of an NBA title. In a Eastern conference with a talent-heavy top four teams, you need to take a gamble to acquire top-end talent. That is the way the league has always been and will always be.

Lonzo Ball is not currently top-end talent, but he has the potential to be. If he hits, then the Bucks would be looking at an plus defensive player who is one of the best playmakers in the league and can space the floor too. Plus, he is cheap right now. Locking in Middleton means that the Bucks roster will stay the same for the foreseeable future, for better or for worse. Acquiring Ball gives Milwaukee a dice roll at supreme talent and cap flexibility for the future. Throw in another asset for good measure.

The Lakers should be all over this deal. In a lineup of Middleton, LeBron, Ingram and Hart, the Lakers would have four plus defenders who are super switchy. Also, a lineup of those four plus Kuzma gives LeBron the coveted “four shooters” lineup we want around him. Can the Lakers get better talent than Middleton, however?

middleton-trade.png

5. Closing statement

Jimmy Butler is resigning in Philadelphia. KD is not coming to LA; if he wants to be better than LeBron then he cannot play with LeBron. Klay Thompson is most likely staying put. Will DeMarcus Cousins recover from his injury, and if so does he sign in LA? Who knows. Kawhi? So far, we have heard nothing further about him coming to LA and if anything, he looks mighty comfortable in Toronto.

What’s the point? The free agency market –  or better yet, pre-agency market –  does not look too promising for the Lakers. Shoot, they couldn’t convince hometown star Paul George to sign. Don’t get me wrong, the Lakers still have a great shot at landing Kawhi. But should LA really put all their eggs in that basket?

If they strike out in free agency, a real possibility, then what does LA do next? Why not trade for Middleton or Kemba and have the leg up on resigning them? Lonzo won’t be the player he was drafted to be there, so send him out for a good return before his trade value plummets even more.

Thoughts? @Mattesposito_

PS. Here is how the rest of NBA Twitter feels about this so far…

https://twitter.com/MattEsposito_/status/1063912269539655682

 

 

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Lonzo Ball vs. Rajon Rondo: Who should start for the Lakers?

Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers go into the 2018-19 season with the NBA’s most interesting roster for those who like to play mix-and-match with lineups.

LeBron James, of course, drives a lot of that intrigue. He has spent most of his 15-year career as a point guard who is listed at small forward, who sometimes plays power forward and shooting guard and center. The only job LeBron hasn’t taken on yet is that of the sixth man.

But after the Lakers acquired LeBron this summer, their subsequent additions combined with their existing talent made for a curious collection of players.

Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lance Stephenson are three more Lakers who can realistically play up to three positions.

JaVale McGee is an athletic freak who is talented enough to be a starting center in the league, but still would give plenty of coaches pause with his infamous mental mistakes. Josh Hart had a solid rookie season for L.A. and followed it up with a great summer league, but he’s a wing player on a team loaded on the wings. So how much do those two get on the court?

Then there’s the point guard situation.

One year ago, the Lakers took Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in the draft and made it clear that he was meant to be the face of the franchise’s future. Even when Lonzo struggled shooting the ball, when he was benched for the entire fourth quarter of some games, and when injuries limited him to just 52 games last season, Lonzo remained L.A.’s starting point guard.

It was reported even before LeBron joined the Lakers that he wanted to get away from playing de facto point guard so much, therefore his arrival didn’t necessarily mean Lonzo’s days as L.A.’s point guard were over.

But the Lakers’ signing Rajon Rondo made things complicated.

A four-time All-Star who has led the league in assists three times, the 32-year-old Rondo is still one of the best point guards in the league. Last season with the New Orleans Pelicans he was mostly quiet, but then broke out during the playoffs, averaging 10.3 points and 12.2 assists per game and helping the Pelicans upset the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round before falling to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.

Rondo reminded the basketball world that he’s still a game-changer and still has a lot left in the tank.

When Rondo agreed to join the Lakers on a one-year contract worth $9 million, it gave L.A. three of the best passers on the planet: Lonzo, Rondo and LeBron. The latter two are actually two of the greatest passers the sport has ever seen.

So assuming LeBron sticks to his plan, who is going to be the Lakers’ starting point guard?

Here’s how Rondo and Lonzo stack up.

 

Offense

Prolific scoring is not part of the scouting report for Rondo or Ball. The book on Lonzo is that he’s a willing shooter who too often misses the mark. The book on Rondo is that he avoids shooting whenever possible because he’s made peace with his weaknesses.

Ball scored 10.2 points per game as a rookie, connecting on 36.0 percent of his field goals, 30.5 percent of his three-pointers, and 45.1 percent of his free throws. While normally the free throw shooting would be most alarming, Ball only attempted 1.4 free throws per game. Whereas his 5.7 three-point attempts represented more than half of his shot output, so his lackluster long-range shooting was a running story line throughout the season.

Everybody had theories on what Ball should do to fix his shooting issues. Some said it was his form, some said it was a lack of confidence, some said it was simply a slump that would fix itself in due time. He’s only 20 years old and going into his second NBA season, so it’s not like he’s settled into being whatever he’s going to be as a pro.

Rondo, on the other hand, is what he is at this stage in his career. He’s 32 years old, entering his 13th season in the league. He’s a career 46.3-percent field goal shooter, 30.9 percent beyond the arc, and 60.4 percent at the line. He rarely shoots threes (1.2 attempts per game) and is sometimes cautious to a fault when it comes to pulling the trigger as a shooter.

The strength of these two point guards is their passing and ability to run an offense.

Ball is a brilliant passer. In his one season at UCLA, he led all NCAA Division-1 players with 7.6 assists per game. Last season, he finished second among NBA rookies with 7.2 assists. He had two triple-doubles, and nine double-doubles with points and assists. There’s a reason Lakers president Magic Johnson is so enamored with Lonzo; he really does have that proverbial third eye when it comes to playmaking.

Rondo has that same vision, but his is just a bit better. Chalk it up to experience having been in the NBA much longer, but Rondo is a mastermind at not only making great passes, but also manipulating defenses and orchestrating offenses to get his teammates in the spots he wants to make those passes. Rondo had two triple-doubles and 17 double-doubles (points and assists) last season. He also had two games of 20-plus assists.

If Ball is a passing prodigy, Rondo is an established genius.

Advantage: Rondo

 

Defense

By all statistical measures, Ball is a better defender than Rondo.

Last season, Ball averaged 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, compared to 1.1 steals and 0.2 blocks for Rondo. For his career, Rondo averages 1.7 steals and led the league once with 2.3 steals per game, but in recent years he has not been as prolific in his thievery.

Ball posted 2.5 Defensive Win Shares and a Defensive Box Plus-Minus of 2.5 last season, while Rondo recorded 1.7 and -0.7 in those advanced categories.

Rondo is known for his long arms, but he stands just 6’1″ and is mostly limited to defending other point guards. Ball, at 6’6″ and with room to get stronger, can potentially defend up to three positions.

The Lakers are going to be built around LeBron, and the idea of building a team around a specific player is to play to his strengths and hide his weaknesses.

Given that LeBron will turn 34 years old this season and is going into his 16th pro season, his defense can only be expected to continue to decline. That means L.A. needs to put defenders around him, ideally the kind of long, energetic defenders who can keep up with high-powered offenses like the Warriors and Rockets. Ball fits that profile.

Advantage: Ball

 

Intangibles

There is already a traveling circus element to these Lakers, and Rondo and Ball each have a hand in that perception.

Rondo has a history of clashing with teammates and coaches, dating back to his time with the Boston Celtics — you can read all about it in Ray Allen’s book From The Outside. It’s no coincidence that he’s now on his fifth team in the five years since Boston first traded him.

Lonzo Ball is by all accounts a great teammate who doesn’t rock the boat … but of course he arrives at the boat with LaVar Ball, his controversial father. One player’s carnival-barker relative should not really be a problem for a professional sports team, but such is the media climate in 2018, where LaVar is a topic the Lakers constantly have to address.

Durability is a concern with both Rondo and Lonzo.

Rondo has missed significant time in recent years with a variety of injuries, while Ball missed 30 games of his rookie season with a knee injury, then had minor surgery on his knee this summer. It’s too early to call Ball injury-prone, however.

The obvious edge in experience goes to Rondo. He has more than a decade under his belt in the league. He’s won a championship and played in over 100 playoff games. He’s played with everyone from Kevin Garnett to Dirk Nowitzki to Anthony Davis. Lonzo plays with a veteran savvy uncommon for someone his age, but he’s really just getting started and there’s a lot he hasn’t seen that he can only learn with time.

Another thing to consider is the contract situation.

Rondo is in L.A. on a one-year deal. It feels like an experiment, given that he hasn’t been with any of his last four teams for more than one season — not to mention this entire Lakers’ season is taking on a trial-and-error vibe. Ball, meanwhile, is still on his rookie contract and could potentially be with the Lakers until 2022 before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. With the Lakers having made a bigger investment in Lonzo, it would make sense to give him the keys to get his chemistry with LeBron, Ingram and Kuzma flowing sooner than later, because that’s the team’s core for the next few years.

Advantage: Ball

 

Final verdict: Lonzo Ball

For a team that is trying to win right now, Rajon Rondo would seem like the better option at point guard. He’s a championship-experienced veteran who runs an offense better than anyone in the NBA and gets the ball where it needs to be. He also steps his game up in the playoffs to another level.

Lonzo Ball seems like the better option for a rebuilding or rising contender situation, with his age and inexperience and the fact that he’s still working out the kinks in something as basic as his jump shot.

But for these Lakers, the right call is to start Ball, while making sure to give Rondo enough minutes to keep him engaged and motivated.

With LeBron on the team along with scorers like Ingram, Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Beasley, there shouldn’t be much pressure on Lonzo to score. He can focus on doing what he does best, and if the jumper starts to fall, that’s a bonus.

Rondo, a veteran who is aware of his place, hopefully won’t be too salty about coming off the bench. So far he’s saying all the right things, but you never know how a career-long starter will react when he’s actually not in that role anymore. Assuming he’s of the belief that finishing is more important than starting, the Lakers would be smart to have Rondo on the floor in high-pressure, crunch-time situations later in the game — particularly in the postseason.

Rondo may very well be the better overall player right now, but Lonzo is the better option for L.A. as its starter.

 

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