*all stats correct prior to games starting 01/29/2021.
Is Lonzo Ball an option for the Chicago Bulls?
The New Orleans Pelicans are rumored to be listening to trade calls for the former number two overall draft pick, Lonzo Ball, per Shams Charania of The Athletic.
The Pelicans, viewed as a key team in NBA trade market, are receiving calls on Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick from interested teams and have shown openness to discussing both, per sources.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 26, 2021
The Heavy’s NBA Writer, Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson later added, via Twitter, that the Chicago Bulls are one of several teams interested in Ball.
Chicago Bulls have interest in Pelicans PG Lonzo Ball I’m hearing.
Clippers, Knicks, Magic, Raptors, Mavs do also as reported last week.
— 👑📍Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson (@ScoopB) January 26, 2021
During the 2019-20 offseason, Ball was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the blockbuster Anthony Davis deal.
Offense: Shooting, Catch and Shoots and Pull-Ups
To say Lonzo Ball’s offense leaves a lot to be desired is an understatement. The UCLA star has struggled in nearly every aspect of scoring upon entering the league. His funky shooting stroke has led to several shooting slumps and an abysmal free throw percentage. His lack of finishing through contact has affected his ability at getting to the rim.
Ball’s first year in New Orleans saw him take to the court with a new jumper. In his two years in Los Angeles, Ball was knocking down just 32.5 percent of catch and shoot threes, but significantly increased that to 38.9 percent for the 2019-20 season.
However, Ball’s consistencies from deep have again been brought into question this season. Through his first 13 games, he is converting catch and shoot three-pointers at a career-low, 26.2 percentage on a career-high 5 attempts per game. The Ball in the Family star needs to be hitting that shot at a reliable rate if he is going to carve out an NBA career worthy of the number 2 pick.
Prior to this season, The former UCLA star could only be seen as a poor pull-up shooter, which greatly diminished his significance in the pick and roll. However, to start this season, the former Laker is showing signs of growth in this part of his game. Through the first 13 contests, he is converting pull-up three-pointers at a career-high, 39.3 percent, on a joint career-high 2.1 attempts per game.
Room for improvement
Along with this, Ball has added a mid-range shot to his game. In each of the first three years, Ball was converting mid-range shots at 32.6, 35.5, and 27.6 percent rates. So far this campaign, the former All-Rookie honoree is shooting mid-range jump shots at an impressive 50 percent clip.
Ball has often been criticized for his impact in the pick and roll. Throughout the first three years of his NBA career, the highest he ranked as a pick and roll ball handler was in the 21.6th percentile. But this year has seen a positive change as he is currently ranked in the 55.1st percentile. For comparison, Coby White is currently in the 35.3rd percentile as a pick and roll ball-handler.
In the first three years, The Los Angeles native’s points per possession as the pick and roll ball-handler were 0.63, 0.69, and 0.58 respectively. This year has seen that number shoot up to 0.91 to rival the likes of Jamal Murray (0.92), Chris Paul (0.92), Devin Booker (0.91), Paul George (0.91), and Jrue Holiday (0.90).
Last year, 0.91 points per possession would have considered Lonzo Ball a better pick and roll ball-handler than Jimmy Butler (0.86), Rajon Rondo (0.78), D’Angelo Russell (0.89), De’Aaron Fox (0.89), and Zach LaVine (0.89).
The correlation of an improved pull-up and mid-range jump shot, and becoming a much better pick and roll ball handler is not a coincidence.
Ball is not the player to drive aggressively to the rim and his touch when he is inside is rarely present. The 190-pound guard finished a lousy 47.6 percent of his layups throughout his first three seasons. This year he is converting layups at a career-high 68.2 percent, albeit on a lower frequency, just 1.7 attempts, down from 2.7.
Lonzo Ball could be the playmaker the Chicago Bulls need
The Pelican point guard’s playmaking is easily the best part of his offense. The highlight reels of full-court passes to Zion Williamson after playing less than a full season together are jaw-dropping for sure. His passes have the touch and accuracy that few others can offer.
In his rookie campaign Ball averaged a career-high 7.2 assists per game, a tally higher than any Bull since Derrick Rose in 2011-12. His career average is 6.5 assists per game and has an assist to turnover ratio of 2.5:1.
Ball loves to push the pace and thrives in transition. Many of his finest plays come when he spots teammates quickly in transition and places a full-court pass right on the money. Ball’s basketball instincts are outstanding.
Lonzo's always looking to advance the ball! 🎯
21 PTS, 5 AST for Zo on ESPN pic.twitter.com/mZAdYPDxlK
— NBA (@NBA) January 30, 2021
Talking about Lonzo Ball’s court vision on a specific play to an NBA reporter, via Pelicans writer Jim Eichenhofer, Jrue Holiday said, “Lonzo sees everything”.
Defense: on-ball and off-ball
Lonzo Ball’s defense is arguably his greatest skill. He possesses the athleticism, and smarts to routinely make the right defensive plays. Standing at 6’6” with a length 6’9” wingspan, the former Pac-12 All-Freshman has imposing size as a guard.
His height and length allow him to guard wings, although strengthening his 190-lbs frame would improve his defensive prowess. This season, Ball has spent 81.1 percent of his time matched up against opposing guards and has done a good job so far.
None of the 6 players that have attempted 5+ field goal attempts when guarded by Ball are shooting even 50% from the field. These players are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Donovan Mitchell, Fred VanVleet, Malik Beasley, Terry Rozier, and Victor Oladipo, “all of whom are talented offensive options.”
Off the ball, the 23-year-old’s defense does not slack either. He positions himself well on the help defense and oftentimes closes the passing lanes, frequently leading to Ball intercepting passes and getting out in transition.
Ball’s reliable defense would bring value to any team in the league. His 1.5 steals per game and 0.7 blocks per game are not to be taken lightly either.
Why do the Pelicans want to trade Lonzo?
With Alvin Gentry’s departure in the off-season, the New Orleans Pelicans appointed Stan Van Gundy to be the new head coach of one of the most exciting young cores in the league. Along with a new head coach came a new scheme and it is one that does not complement Lonzo Ball.
Last season the Pelicans were one of the fastest teams in the league, ranking 2nd in pace. The 2020-21 campaign has been a stark difference for New Orleans, currently ranking 22nd.
The team’s transition possessions per game are down from 20.3 to 17.4. Lonzo Ball is a player that needs his team to be playing with speed to be effective on offense.
This season Ball is often found stuck in the corner as a catch and shooter. As previously noted, his catch and shoot numbers have been appalling this year and it is no surprise the Pelicans are struggling.
The fourth-year guard is being used less as a pick and roll ball-handler despite the statistics backing him up as a considerable threat in that situation compared to his first three years.
It is fair to question just how well Lonzo Ball is currently being utilized in the Pelicans offense this year.
For the last two years, the Pelicans organization have chosen guards in the draft lottery, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Kira Lewis Jr., despite Ball being on the roster. The rumors are that the Pelicans want to trade Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick, and Eric Bledsoe to free up minutes for the young guys, who have shown promise in the few chances they have received thus far.
What system works for Lonzo and could that work in Chicago?
After just 8 games in his first season with the New Orleans Pelicans, the young guard suffered an injury. When he returned, he found himself relegated to a bench role.
Finally earning a spot back in the starting lineup, Ball started to shine. He was unquestionably playing the best basketball of his career, and it was translating to wins.
In this 34 game stretch, the Pelicans went 21-13 following a dreadful 7-23 start to the season. Zion Williamson’s introduction played a large part in the improved record, but he only participated in 19 of the 34 games.
Ball’s stats in this span sat closer to his expectations following the hype upon entering the NBA. His per-game stats read 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 8.1 assists. The Pelican guard’s efficiency also improved his shooting 43 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three-point range. He’s taking a good amount of three’s too, shooting nearly 7 attempts per game. He also scored double-figure points in 24 of the 34 games.
The Pelicans and Ball blossomed in this stretch as they were playing to each other’s strengths. During that run, the Pelicans were the fastest team in the league. They were sharing the ball well, ranking at the top of the NBA in assists per game.
The successful offensive system draws a lot of comparisons to the offense Bulls head coach, Billy Donovan, is putting in place. Both are a modern-brand of basketball and emphasize fast play and getting everyone involved.
Bigs can feast with Ball on the floor as he can throw up lobs in the tightest of angles. The passing arsenal Ball has at his disposable is rivaled by few in the NBA. The Bulls, Daniel Gafford, would be a particularly exciting running partner for the lengthy point guard.
What do the Chicago Bulls need?
The Bulls are missing a lead playmaking guard. Despite Coby White‘s best efforts, organizing an offense is not his game. White’s instincts, in contrast to Ball’s, lie with scoring not playmaking. The Coby White point guard experiment is still raw. The Bulls are 18 games into the season and it may be too early to make changes.
On the other side of the court, Chicago drastically needs better perimeter defenders. With the loss of Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison over the offseason, the Bulls lost their point of attack defenders. LaVine has come up with some good defensive stops, but he’s still not a consistent defensive stopper.
White has not been a good defender thus far in this NBA career. This season he has the lowest defensive box plus-minus for the Bulls. Of Chicago’s regular rotation players, White has the lowest defensive rating.
Off the bench, the Bulls have Garrett Temple, who despite being a plus defender, is 34 and not part of the ‘young core’. Tomas Satoransky is a smart team defender but is not blessed with the foot speed or athleticism to keep up with some of the best athletes in the NBA. Denzel Valentine is another subpar athlete and on-ball defender but plays the passing lanes well.
What pieces could entice the Pelicans?
The New Orleans Pelicans have a poor record early on. They have been one of the worst offensive and defensive teams in the entire league, struggling to defend the perimeter.
The Pelicans need to desperately add some shooting in their big man rotation. With a starting pair of Zion Williamson and Steven Adams, the three-point threat is non-existent. Their current first big off the bench is Jaxson Hayes, who also does not possess a three-ball.
If only the Bulls had a floor-spacing big man to trade. Lauri Markkanen’s long-term future in Chicago has been speculated by many since the Bulls were not able to come to terms with a long term extension.
Does this mean the Bulls do not value Markkanen as much as they claim to? Bulls’ basketball boss, Arturas Karnisovas plays his cards very close to his chest, so it’s anyone’s guess. Either way, he is certainly a piece the Pelicans could utilize.
Next on the Pelicans priority list should be adding some perimeter defense. The Pelicans currently allow the opposition to take and make the most three-pointers in the league. Adding a player like Chandler Hutchison or Otto Porter Jr. could help the Western Conference team.
Acquiring Lonzo Ball to run the show is a hot topic for Bulls fans right now. If used properly, Ball can be a great facilitator for a promising offensive team. The real question is, can Ball play with the freedom he did before the NBA Bubble?
Lonzo Ball comes with several well-documented concerns. He has displayed flashes of brilliance in New Orleans. If he can put it together with the Chicago Bulls, he could be the missing piece the franchise needs.