Pacific Division Quick Takes: Is Lonzo Ready To Ball?
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
The two-time defending champs’ title run was almost derailed by Andre Iguodola’s injury last season, pointing out how fragile a championship run can be, even for a team as talented as the Warriors. So the shocking addition of free agent DeMarcus Cousins not only potentially adds another major talent to the roster, but if he’s healthy and returns to his normal form, the Warriors will be even more equipped to survive any bumps in the road.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
With all the hype around Lonzo Ball’s arrival in Los Angeles last season, and the surprising performance from fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma, second-year forward Brandon Ingram got lost in the shuffle, despite making huge strides from his first year in the league. But a new teammate by the name of LeBron James has had high praise for Ingram’s game, saying on media day, “Look out, I think he’s next.” The addition of “The King” should accelerate Ingram’s growth, who combines his size and length with a very good skill set. Now as far as Lonzo, he apparently tweaked his shooting form on a jump shot that delivered very ugly results last season. But for me, a complete lack of confidence was a bigger problem than his technique. Ball shot 80 percent from the foul line in his senior year in high school and 67 percent in his lone season at UCLA. That number fell to an embarrassing 45 percent in his rookie season. A precipitous drop like that has everything do with his mind and not the way he shoots the ball.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Unlike their co-tenants at the Staples Center, the Clippers don’t have any “star” power, but they have a lot of really good players, and could have one of the better forward tandems in the NBA in Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris. With their size and ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot from long range, they could present some matchup problems for a lot of teams. In the backcourt, Patrick Beverly and Avery Bradley give the Clips one of the best defensive tandems in the league, and then you have Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams coming off the bench with his offensive explosions. Because of that trio of guards, first round draft pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will have to earn his playing time. I love his size and length and his cool, calm composure on the court.
When I think of the Suns, Devin Booker and rookie Deandre Ayton are the two names that come to mind. But right behind that is Dragan Bender, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Suns’ also selected Marquese Chris at number 8 in that draft. And those two players are probably a big reason why Suns owner Robert Sarver fired GM Ryan McDonough just eight days prior to the start of the regular season. McDonough gave up on Chris, dealing him during the summer to the Houston Rockets. Bender, meanwhile, has been a huge disappointment, and his confidence, which never seemed very high, looks almost completely shot at this point. It’s certainly a possibility that he’ll see limited minutes this season and it could be his last in Phoenix.
I have a feeling second-overall pick Marvin Bagley will have his share of struggles in his rookie season. Bagley’s size and athleticism was too much to handle for college players, but with his lack of upper body strength and a go to move right now, he’ll find it a lot more difficult to score on the next level. And I don’t like the fact that he has trouble going to his right and finishing with that hand around the basket. At just 19 years old, he will be a work in progress, but the Kings need him to show the promise they saw in him that warranted taking him at number two. And last years’ fifth overall pick, De”Aaron Fox has to become a more consistent threat from the perimeter. The former Kentucky standout shot 41 percent from the field last season and only 30 percent from beyond the arc. A more reliable jump shot will enable Fox to take better advantage of his speed off the dribble.