Sam Bernstein managing editor
Coming from a Boston Celtics fan, the Los Angeles Lakers never cease to amaze me. They talk huge game. Lakers fans had been promising me that LeBron James was going to join the purple and gold for what seems like a lifetime now. It’s a tired narrative: the Lakers will inevitably always be fine simply because of the market they reside in, but it’s a narrative that proves to be consistently accurate throughout NBA history. The Lakers always get big name free agents regardless of the season they had the year prior. Los Angeles hasn’t gone over .500 since the 2012-13 season, yet somehow they had the draw to bring in the best basketball player in the history of the sport to their up-and-coming franchise.
The addition of James is the best thing that could happen to point guard Lonzo Ball, aside from finally caving and signing a Nike deal. The second-year UCLA product absolutely lucked out this offseason, as the Lakers brought in the perfect player to help elevate Ball’s game. Ball, a pass-first point guard, has the potential to develop into a 6 foot 7 inch Jason Kidd-type. Ball possesses elite awareness on both sides of the ball, quality court vision, and absurdly good passing ability. Ball’s weak point is his controversial jump shot, which has been crucified on NBA Twitter. But even that’s fixable; young players in the modern-day NBA often times develop better shooting habits as they gain experience in the league. An interesting best case-scenario comparison for Ball’s development is Celtics guard Jaylen Brown. Brown, who is about to start his third year in the NBA after being drafted third in the 2016 NBA draft out of California, had an abysmal three-point percentage in his sole college season, shooting just 29 percent from beyond the arc. In his second year under the tutelage of Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens, Brown improved to a 40 percent clip from three-point land. Ball, coming off a season in which he shot 31 percent from three on 5.7 shots per game, could absolutely use improvement. Brown’s improvement shows that while difficult, it is absolutely possible to develop a consistent three-point shot during a player’s time in the league. If this happens, and it absolutely could, James has the chance to turn Ball into a consistent impact scorer like Brown, which should be incredibly exciting for the purple and gold.
James is a great teammate for any young guard. James played a huge role in helping point guard Kyrie Irving develop. Irving, who is now teammates with Brown in Boston, saw his three-point percentage jump from 36 percent to 42 percent in his first season with James in Cleveland. After three years in Cleveland together, Irving shot 41 percent from three on just under seven shots per game in his first year as the main offensive option on the Celtics. In the 2008-09 season, guard Mo Williams joined James in Cleveland. Williams, who was a 34 percent three point shooter in his five NBA seasons prior to joining the Cavaliers, improved to a 44 percent clip in his first season with James and the Cavs.
In terms of style on the court, James and Ball are a match made in heaven. Ball’s 6 foot 7 inch frame gives him an interesting court perspective. Big point guards have the natural advantage of literally being able to see over whoever is guarding them. Ball used this to his advantage often last season, helping second year forward Brandon Ingram double his points per game in the duo’s first season together, as well as improve on his field goal percentage by 60 percent. Replacing Ingram, who by any stretch of the imagination is not a top 20 wing in the league, with an NBA legend will make Ball’s contributions even more valuable to the team.
James has also never played with another guard like Ball. Most of the guards James has played with in his career were established before James’ arrival. By the time James returned to Cleveland, Irving was already a rookie of the year, two-time All-Star and an All-Star game MVP. By the time James paired up with Dwyane Wade and Isaiah Thomas, the two were already established superstars who had both finished highly in MVP voting the season before. The only reasonable comparison was Mo Williams, who was a rising star when he teamed up with James, but that situation was completely different in the sense that he didn’t have nearly the amount of hype that Ball has. The expectations surrounding Ball from the Lakers, the Lakers media and Lakers fans are unprecedented. NBA Hall of Famer and Lakers owner Magic Johnson declared that Ball would one day have his jersey number retired by the franchise before Ball made his professional debut. Fans have compared him to all sorts of NBA legends, including two-time MVP Stephen Curry.
Ball and James are about to embark on a blind date that may result in multiple NBA championships, and Lakers fans have every reason to be excited for it. This team, and this duo, is a real championship contender for the 2018-19 season. You can watch the tandem’s first game together tonight on TNT. Tipoff at the Rose Garden in Portland is at 7:30.