Lonzo Ball has asserted himself as the point guard of the future for the New Orleans Pelicans this season, but what exactly is his ceiling?
It’s difficult to find a player comp for New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball because he has such a unique game. Stylistically, there haven’t been many players like him who are elite in transition but relegated to a spot-up role in the half-court. That being said, we’re going to try to find some reasonable comparisons for the talented young guard.
Best case scenario
The best-case comparison for Ball is Jason Kidd. Like Ball, Kidd struggled with efficiency for a large part of his career. However, that didn’t stop him from dominating the game.
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Over Kidd’s first three seasons he averaged 13 points, nine assists and six rebounds per 36 minutes, whereas Lonzo Ball has averaged 12 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. The numbers are similar, but Ball has been far more efficient (.482 effective field goal percentage vs. .436) in his brief career with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans. That being said, Kidd was a better defensive player. Although Lonzo has been good on that end, he doesn’t have the strength that Kidd did, which allowed him to excel in an on-ball role
If Ball can improve his strength, he could potentially reach Jason Kidd’s level. However, Kidd’s calling card for most of his career was his defense, so Ball has some serious work ahead of him to get to that level. By year five Kidd had become one of the best guards in the league, so we’ll see if Ball’s career follows a similar trajectory.
Ball also has to become a more aggressive scorer to reach Kidd’s level. In Kidd’s first three seasons he averaged just under four trips to the line per game, whereas Ball is barely averaging one. Lonzo may be hesitant to drive because of his horrid shooting percentage from the stripe.
If Ball can fix the mental block that’s keeping him out of the paint, and improve his strength to supplement his defensive instincts, he’ll become the next Jason Kidd.
Worst case scenario
The worst-case comparison for Lonzo Ball is Ricky Rubio. There is nothing wrong with Ricky Rubio’s game, he’s an above-average vet with career averages of 11 points, eight assists, and four rebounds. Rubio has terrific vision in the pick-and-roll but struggles to score when he keeps the ball which allows defenses to cheat, much like they do against Ball.
Ricky Rubio came into the league with a lot of hype (like Ball), and although he’s certainly not a bust, he never reached the level that people expected. This outcome could certainly happen for Ball. If he doesn’t improve his ability to finish at the rim, his ceiling will most likely be as a competent guard.
In Rubio’s first season he averaged 10.6 points per game and 8.2 assists. His best season to date has been 13.1 points per game and 9.1 assists. Ricky Rubio came into the league as a competent guard and hasn’t improved much since. The same thing could happen to Lonzo Ball.
Rubio needed to add a three-point shot to become a star in the league. Ball, on the other hand, either needs to add a floater or post-up game to transcend “competent guard” status. A floater would allow him to punish anyone who cheats away from him in the pick and roll, while a post-up game would allow him to punish smaller guards in the paint.
Rubio never added an elite 3-point shot to his arsenal, so he never became the star some expected. Ball has the chance to become a star by improving his scoring abilities in the paint, but if he doesn’t do that he’ll become the next Ricky Rubio.
It’s hard to say which outcome is more likely, that Ball turns into the next Jason Kidd or the next Ricky Rubio. Most likely he’ll end up somewhere between the two. I’d say the over-under on his number of All-Star appearances is two and a half, which is way up from where it was around this time last year before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans.