There will be no magic salve for Lonzo Ball’s shooting, just as there hasn’t been for hundreds of players who came before him. It will take time, it will take work and while he works on getting there, he will be hounded constantly about what is wrong and how he can fix it. And his team will keep embracing him with its support.
On Thursday night after the Lakers lost to the Washington Wizards 111-95, Ball was asked if he ever wishes he had room to grow, or if he knows he never will.
“I already know; I live in reality,” Ball said, then he pursed his lips and nodded the way he does to close most answers.
In the 12th game of his NBA career, Ball neared a triple-double with 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He also made only three of 12 shots and was one for seven on three-pointers. Fans at Capital One Arena jeered and laughed when Ball missed shots, but after the game his teammates offered the kind of patience and understanding he isn’t getting from the outside.
“Every time you turn on any sports show, all they talk about is his shot,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He’s already playing for the Lakers so he’s got a lot more pressure on him than anyone has in a long time that has come out in college.
“I am thrilled he is on our team and he is going to start making those shots. It is just a matter of time. But he makes our team so much better when he is on the floor. Even when that shot is not going in, the way he can push the ball, the way he can make plays on the defensive end, the way he comes in and rebounds from a guard position is incredible. Is it extra pressure? 100%. He is a rookie, as you put it, dissected by everybody and that is what it is and that probably will not change. So we will keep working with him and encourage him to make plays and get better and he will.”
In November, Ball has made 13 of 57 shots. The month began with an 0-for-2 performance against the Portland Trail Blazers that led Walton to ask for more aggression from the point guard. Then he made three of 15 shots against the Brooklyn Nets, three of 13 against the Memphis Grizzlies and four of 15 against the Boston Celtics.
After the Lakers lost to the Celtics, Ball revealed that Walton and Magic Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations, had talked with him about correcting his footwork to improve his balance. While the Lakers have said they won’t tinker with his unorthodox shooting motion, the balance is part of what Ball works on with assistant coaches Miles Simon and Brian Shaw.
On Thursday, the Lakers were facing a hungry team that lost to them in overtime last month. In the first quarter, they gave up 37 points to the Wizards, who made 60% of their shots. But they kept pace largely because of their own strong shooting. After one quarter the Lakers trailed by three.
The Wizards outscored the Lakers by 10 in the second quarter and led by as many as 16 points. The Wizards finished with three players scoring 20 or more points — Otto Porter Jr., Bradley Beal and John Wall. They made 51.8% of their shots and scored 27 points off 19 turnovers.
The Lakers’ leading scorers were Brook Lopez and Jordan Clarkson, who each scored 15 points.
The Lakers, meanwhile, made only 36% of their shots and three of 23 three-pointers.
Ball wasn’t the only player who struggled shooting, but Wizards fans, like most road fans do, keyed on his performance. After a missed free throw that bounced off the front of the rim, the crowd jeered loudly for his next two free throws, louder than they had for the first. After an air-balled three-pointer, many in the crowd laughed.
“Probably in his head a little bit when the crowd gets at him a little bit,” Lakers second-year forward Brandon Ingram said. “Of course he’s a rookie so he’s going to make mistakes. He needs to keep fighting and keep fighting. All he can do is keep his head up and keep trying to play the right way.”
Said third-year forward Julius Randle: “Can’t make ’em if you don’t take ’em. You gotta shoot. He’s proven that he’ll make shots. Eventually the tide will turn. He works his butt off. … You gotta shoot ’em. Can’t be hesitant.”
The attention and pressure is greater now than it was when Ball was in college, even as an NBA prospect at UCLA. But he knows he’ll have to find his own way to grow through that.
“Try to stay balanced, go out there and help my team win,” Ball said. “Everybody focuses on me, spotlight’s been on me for a while now. … I really don’t even care, to be honest. I’ve got to just keep shooting and just improve with every game.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli