New York Knicks: Why trading for Lonzo Ball makes sense

Jan 10, 2020; New York, New York, USA; New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball (2) controls the ball against New York Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton (6) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2020; New York, New York, USA; New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball (2) controls the ball against New York Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton (6) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /
2 of 3
New York Knicks (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
New York Knicks (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Evaluating Lonzo Ball

The former second overall pick from the 2017 NBA Draft is a dynamic point guard that would bring immense value to the Knicks. When he was at the University of California, Los Angeles, he demonstrated that he could score, facilitate, rebound, and defend very well. That’s why he averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game with a .551/.412/.668 slash line – yes, his free throw shooting has always been a concern.

Because of Ball’s skill set, that’s why the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him. Also, with the DiAngelo Russell-Nick Young incident at the time, the Lakers needed a point guard after trading Russell to the Brooklyn Nets.

Ball’s transition to the NBA hasn’t been smooth, but he is starting to transform into the player he was projected to be.

While he was in Los Angeles, his shooting was the biggest concern. Yet, once Ball landed in New Orleans, he started to shoot better – this is after being included in the major trade package for Anthony Davis to the Lakers.

Ball’s shooting splits while he was a Laker were .380/.315/.437. Since playing for the Pelicans, his splits have been .412/.379/.639. However, this season in particular, Ball has been shooting .425/.385/.767, which has been his best production in his young career.

Even though his averages have improved while he has been in New Orleans, his numbers took a dip during the Orlando bubble and the start of this season. During the bubble, he averaged .305/.281/.556, and at the beginning of the season he was putting up .399/.325.643 (from December 22, 2020, to February 2, 2021).

The dip in his shooting percentages raised some eyebrows about whether his shot is legit. But a good indication that his shot has come around is the increase in his free throw percentage.

The other benefits of Ball’s game, which I already mentioned, are his rebounding and ability to help score in transition. Let’s just look at how Lonzo can grab the rebound, push the pace, and find Zion Williamson in transition for the easy finish.

And here is another one where he finds Josh Hart for an easy bucket.

According to NBA Advanced Stats, the Knickerbockers are second to last in scoring in transition (and anyone who watches the games knows that’s not a surprise). The Knicks’ inability to get easy points in transition makes the game a lot harder for them than it sometimes needs to be. Having Ball, Randle, and Barrett as strong rebounders who can push the pace would make the Knicks more versatile than they currently are.

Another essential attribute of Ball’s game is his defense. He is capable of defending on and off-ball and we’ve seen him quickly rotate well when it comes to help defense. Watching Ball play, it’s more than evident that he is a willing defender, which would obviously go well with a Tom Thibodeau-led team. Also, having a guard with Ball’s size and length is great for guarding multiple positions, since he stands 6’6″ and has a 6’9″ wingspan.

More from New York Knicks

But of course, not everything is sunshine and rainbows when it comes to Ball. One problem with Lonzo is that he doesn’t like to attack the paint and isn’t a great finisher around the rim. And as Knicks fans know, because they have to watch Elfrid Payton every night, Thibodeau loves guards that can attack the lane to generate floor spacing on the perimeter. That way, it causes the defense to shift so that the Knicks offense can find a crack in opposing defenses.

According to NBA Advanced Stats, Lonzo attempts 5.1 drives per game and completes 37.2 percent of his shots while doing so. Now, that may be concerning because Derrick Rose and Payton both average 12.1 and 11.1 drives per game, respectively, and both complete over 44 percent of their shots. But does Ball need to attack the lane that much to be successful on the Knicks?

As a team, the Knicks rank seventh in the NBA in drives per game with 52.6 drives per game (the league leader is the Oklahoma City Thunder with 60.4 drives per game). Here is a list of some of the best teams and their rank in the league in drives per game:

  • LA Clippers = 43 drives per game, ranked 23rd
  • Brooklyn Nets = 41.9 drives per game, ranked 24th
  • Milwaukee Bucks = 40.5 drives per game, ranked 26th
  • Los Angeles Lakers = 39.8 drives per game, ranked 27th

Now the difference between the Knicks and the teams listed is that the Knicks are one of the worst teams at converting their field goals while attacking the lane, and the elite teams that I listed are in the top 12 of completing their shots on the drive. So even if the Knicks were to drop in the number of drives they average, just adding Ball will improve their overall team shooting, which is more valuable than just attacking the rim constantly and wasting shot attempts.

On top of that, if Ball can continue to shoot well, then he would help create space for Randle and Barrett to operate freely in the paint without it being clogged (and let’s be honest, that would be better than what Payton offers).

Additionally, before Lonzo went to New Orleans, he was averaging a 35.5 field goal percentage on 7.4 drives per game. And if watching Randle and Ball this season has taught us anything, young players are still developing their game. So we should be hesitant on claiming that Ball can’t become better at attacking the lane.