There might come a point when Lonzo Ball’s teammates and coaches don’t marvel at what he can do, when his talent just becomes a normal part of their days.
It hasn’t happened yet.
On Wednesday night, the Lakers got to see Ball run an offense in five-on-five scrimmages for the first time in training camp.
“It is almost as if the game is moving a little bit slower to him than it is other players,” coach Luke Walton said. “Because we are asking everyone to play fast, fast, fast and he is out there just making simple passes and when guys are open ahead, he is putting it on their hands.”
The game slows for Ball so he can speed it up for everyone else. The Lakers want their pace to be fast and their players to run. They kept that in mind when drafting and signing players in free agency, and Ball will be the catalyst for it. Through the summer and already in camp, they are beginning to see that.
“Zo plays a great pace,” forward Julius Randle said. “His vision is obviously second to none, and his understanding of the game. So he looked amazing.”
Randle was not part of Ball’s team in scrimmages. Walton pulled back some of his restrictions and allowed the Lakers to just get out and play. He especially wanted to see Ball play with a group that could get up and down the court and take advantage of the rookie’s passing ability.
That team consisted of no projected starters other than Ball, who was joined by rookies Kyle Kuzma and Thomas Bryant, veteran Corey Brewer and Vander Blue, last year’s development league MVP. It helped that Ball, Bryant, Kuzma and Blue all were part of the Lakers group that won the Las Vegas Summer League championship. Brewer was there to watch one day.
“He makes the right pass every time,” Brewer said of Ball. “There’s only a few guys that can make those passes and they’re really good players.”
Ball and his mates went 3-0 in the scrimmages. And even in a sloppy session that Walton called “gross,” Ball’s ability shined through.
“It was pretty fun for me,” Ball said. “My team won so I had a good time, but everybody was in here competing, getting after it, and it was fun, our first time actually getting up and down like that.”
Pace has always been important to Walton. It’s part of his pedigree as a coach. The Golden State Warriors, with whom Walton began his NBA coaching career, liked to play fast. It worked because they had a point guard with a great feel for the game, shooters and an underrated defense. The Warriors had the second-best defensive rating in the NBA last season after the San Antonio Spurs.
The Lakers are expending tremendous energy trying to solve their problems defensively. Offensively, they feel confident that Ball can help facilitate the style they want to play. After all, the UCLA offense he ran last season averaged a national-best 89.8 points a game.
“Starting with the point guard and the way he moves the ball and throws it ahead,” Walton said. “You look at some of the wings we have. Brandon Ingram. They signed [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope], and Jordan Clarkson. These guys can fly up and down the court. And we have a point guard that’s really skilled at hitting people on the move like that.”
There will be growing pains, Walton cautioned. He’s already anticipating losing sleep over Ball and his teammates’ understanding when a quick transition is available and when it’s better to pull back and set up the offense.
Ball also knows that learning his teammates’ likes and dislikes, understanding where they want the ball, will be a process.
“I can’t put a timetable on it, I think it just comes with playing together and just going from there,” Ball said. “I think it just happens naturally.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli