UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball is a bunch of things, and the next great NBA star might actually be one of them.
If you’re LaVar Ball, that would be a rhetorical question. For those of us on the objective side, it’s something that warrants conversation. The Jason Kidd comparison is something that comes up more than anything else, and, although it’s asinine to put college kids in the same breath as a future Hall of Famer, it’s different this time.
“Jason didn’t have the jump shot at that young of an age. But I just love his ability to make others better, and he’s the kind of guy that I think guys want to play with. The ball moves, it becomes contagious, they move the ball around and share it, he’s so explosive. He just plays basketball. He just plays basketball the right way. He can dominate a game without scoring. And of course, we know, he can score. We know he’s got great range. He’s a great athlete. He just has a feel. You can tell he didn’t just work out and train and do drills. He played a lot because he has that special quality and just great instincts that you really can’t teach.”
Hearing a source that isn’t family gush about Lonzo’s game is worth a listen, and the two have eerily comparable numbers from their time in college. Kidd played two seasons at Cal and won the Conference Player of the Year award as a sophomore, and Lonzo was in the conversation but ultimately lost to Oregon standout Dillon Brooks. Regardless, Ball had a sensational year and is watching his stock balloon into legitimate number one pick territory.
Through 35 games so far, he’s played the game of basketball as purely as anyone in the NCAA, and the Bruins are worlds better because of it. Nothing is forced, and Ball doesn’t want to do anything that won’t make his team better. His 7.6 assists a night put him atop the nation’s leaderboard, and he’s got 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals to go along with it. Kidd’s got a slight edge in scoring (14.9 for his career), a bigger edge in passing (8.4 assists for his career) and was undoubtedly a better defender (3.5 steals in his two seasons). At UCLA, defense is arbitrary, so Ball (kind of) gets a pass because the coach doesn’t stress the importance of it.
Instead, he makes up for it with radical efficiency from every part of the floor. His clip overall is 55.6 percent — that comes from a ludicrous 73.1 clip on twos and an equally appalling 42 percent from three. If anything detracts from that, it’s the 67.7 mark he shoots from the charity stripe, but Ball spends most of his time on the perimeter.
Kidd never had offense like that and made just a third of his threes while at Cal.
For those keeping track at home:
- Shooting: Ball (by far)
- Rebounding: Ball (not much)
- Passing: Kidd (not much)
- Defense: Kidd (by far)
To complement all of the development to his skills, Ball has the size and athleticism that Kidd didn’t have. He stands about two inches taller at 6-6, and the Bruins utilize his deceptive bounce by putting him behind the defense and throwing alley-oops his way. Of all the things Kidd was, a high-flyer doesn’t make the cut.
The numbers are comparable, but how the two played the game makes the comparison even easier to see. Both are pure point guards to the fullest extent. Ball loves to make the extra pass whenever it’s there. There are numerous times in a game where Ball advances the ball with a pass opposed to dribbling, and that’s why UCLA can run their opponents ragged and put so many points on the board. In the halfcourt, he’s a such a threat to give up the ball that the extra pass is almost always a wide-open three and the Bruins aren’t a team who miss open shots.
The most shocking part of it all is that Ball’s a relatively low-usage point guard. Judging by the number of turnovers committed by Kidd in his career (4.1 a night), it’s clear he had the ball in his hands a lot. According to Sports-Reference, Ball’s usage rate is just 18 percent. Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr., the two other top point guards in the class, were at 31.4 and 27.3, respectively. That’s also a product of Ball being on a better team, but the impact he has is intensified with how little he’s directly involved.
Guys around the league may not like his dad bloviating about how he’ll be better than Stephen Curry and LeBron James, but they’ll certainly like a high IQ player who is willing and able to give them the rock.
Lonzo Ball isn’t yet Jason Kidd, and he won’t ever be, but the similarities in style are there. Simply put — Ball has an old-school mentality with new-school execution and flare.
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