NBA and Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson made the rounds on the ESPN shows on Monday. On “First Take” with Stephen A. Smith during a segment about the New York Knicks, Magic said the Knicks would be better if they had Lonzo Ball. Of course Magic selected Ball with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft as president of basketball operations for the Lakers. Still rocking with his choice.
“Lonzo Ball would’ve made them a playoff team,” Johnson said on “First Take.” “I’m telling you!”
In his five seasons in the NBA, Ball has yet to make the playoffs. Though that will change this year, as the Chicago Bulls sit at fifth in the Eastern Conference. Ball is hurt and had to delay rehab of his injured knee due to complications. But according to the Bulls, he is ramping up and the hope is that he will be able to play in the postseason.
Since the day he stepped into the NBA, Ball has been a plus defender. His defensive EPM this season is +2.3. That’s in the 96th percentile in the league. He’s third among all starting guards in that metric, behind Marcus Smart and Dillon Brooks. Ball is also having his best season in terms of offensive efficiency, with a TS% of 58 and an eFG of 57.
Smith was his usual incredulous and bombastic self when Magic made the claim that the Knicks would be a playoff team with Ball. It’s difficult to know with any certainty.
The problem for most casual NBA fans is that as a No. 2 pick, people expect Ball to be a floor raiser. These are the expectations fans and clearly certain media have with top five picks. But that’s a narrow and short sighted way of looking at things.
To win in this league you have to have talent up and down your roster. Yes, you need dudes who get buckets. But you also need dudes who defend, rebound, get other players involved, and don’t need to have the ball in their hands at all times to impact the game.
That’s Ball in a nutshell. He is a ceiling-raiser.
On a good team with enough scoring, he is the perfect piece. See this year’s Chicago Bulls before injuries slowed them down. With Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic; Ball is the fourth scoring option.
Excellent defense at the point of attack, pushing the pace in transition, and playmaking for Vucevic and the other non offensive initiators. When the Bulls have Ball and Alex Caruso on the floor, it’s a torture chamber for opposing ball-handlers.
Magic opined about Ball on the Knicks with current players Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. Maybe with the right coach, long-term planning, and a commitment to player development Ball and the Knicks would be in the playoffs.
The likelihood of Knicks fans and media having the patience to allow Ball to develop, for the team to go through the necessary struggles to be good, was probably not high.