The Las Vegas Summer League kicked off Friday, and that signaled the start of De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball’s professional careers.
For most of their freshman seasons, Fox and Ball were mentioned side-by-side. Both were terrific college players. Their head-to-head matchups during the regular season and NCAA Tournament were must see, and both Ball and Fox have contrasting skill sets that make them a joy to watch. They’ve been well documented up to this point.
Some believed that Fox was a better prospect than Lonzo and, honestly, they have a legitimate point. Each has star potential, but Fox is a better two-way player, and that’s huge when he’s going to be matched up against the likes of Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook on a nightly basis. On top of that, Fox manipulates the pick-and-roll with ease. Fox’s ability to get to the basket was a huge reason why he gave Ball 39 points when they last met, and that’s been a point argued ad nauseum when comparing the two.
Lonzo is a much different player. He’s an outstanding passer who makes his teammates better with minimal effort. His vision and IQ were unmatched this year in college basketball, and that’s why the Los Angeles Lakers and Magic Johnson were enamored with him. Despite the reports of poor one-on-none workouts, which is a setting where Lonzo wouldn’t shine anyway, the Lakers stuck to their guns and drafted Ball second overall.
Lonzo Ball – D
It was a brutal debut for the Lakers’ Big Baller. In 32 minutes, Ball floundered around the court in a way we’ve never seen before. He shot just 2-of-15 and scored five points — this includes his piddling 1-of-11 from three. Ball also added five assists, four rebounds and three turnovers in the Lakers’ 96-93 loss.
He had his moments for sure. I don’t want anyone who didn’t watch to think he played an entirely awful game. It was only about 92 percent terrible. However, two things were noticeable — Ball’s confidence never wavered, and he still did his best to make his teammates better. The latter point is the driving force behind Lonzo’s star potential.
The very first possession of his pro career was an alley-oop to Brandon Ingram, and that was the only highlight Ball recorded. Ingram went on to finish with 26 points, but it says a lot about Lonzo if his team only lost by three and his play teetered on garbage.
He still put pressure on the Clippers all night long even if it didn’t look that way; every time he touched the ball, there’s the threat of a big play happening, and Summer League defenses aren’t equipped to deal with that.
The other point I brought up is what kept me from giving Ball a lower grade. He missed 13 shots. And he continued to shoot. It takes unshakeable confidence to keep shooting when it feels like you can’t throw the ball in the ocean. Lonzo has that, and all the shots he attempted were good shots that just didn’t fall. If he started taking bad shots, it’d be different.
It’s vital to remember that one bad game doesn’t mean he’s a bust. Any talk of that is unfair to the player because the Summer League is a different beast. It’s a group of guys who have never played together trying to learn each other’s tendencies on the fly.
De’Aaron Fox – B+
Outside shooting was a huge knock against Fox when he was coming out. In this pace-and-space NBA, it’s difficult for a point guard to excel if he can’t stretch the defense. Fox missed all three of his downtown attempts to start his career. Other than that, he was everything Kentucky advertised.
Sacramento’s rotation was bizarre, which led to about equal playing time for everyone. They played just eight guys, and Fox got 27 minutes of action. He turned that into 18 points on 7-of-16, five steals and four assists. Phoenix’s defense had a hard time keeping Fox from going north and south, and his mid-range shot was dialed in. Moreover, his blinding speed got him to the cup both in the halfcourt and in transition, and he busted out some nifty finishes from around the basket.
Fox also put showed us a couple of pocket passes that got some attention from the crowd. He’s not a true point guard like Ball, and he’s also not a generational-type passer, but Fox is still more than capable of finding his teammates if they make themselves available.
The most eyebrow-raising part of Fox’s debut, though, was his defense. He was ultra-aggressive. There was an argument to be made that Fox was the best defender in the entire draft, and he’s got all the skills transform into an elite player on that end. Not only does he have the athleticism and quickness, but his sleight of hand and anticipation are also advanced for a rookie. That skill set creates offense just as much as it does defense, and anything that allows Fox to get into the open court is dangerous for the opposition.
De’Aaron Fox had a better showing than Lonzo. Don’t overreact to this outing, either. Once again, it’s the Summer League. Fox played a great game, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be a star. Once the NBA’s season starts and he plays at a high level for a couple of years, then we start with that discussion. Contrarily, if he has an off night, which he will, it’s paramount to stay rational.
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