Welcome back NBA!
It really has been too long. So much has changed since you been gone. There have been some really horrible natural disasters, a new President and Will & Grace is back. I know, it’s a lot to take in. Please know we NBA fans missed you and are excited to have you back.
The NBA preseason officially kicked off with a match-up between the Lakers and the Timberwolves. While a lot has changed in general a lot has changed specifically for the Timberwolves as well. Suddenly, the team from the city the Lakers originated in are showing off some real NBA power.
Jeff Teague (2015 All-Star), Jimmy Butler (3x All-Star), Andrew Wiggins (2015 ROY) and Karl Anthony-Towns (2016 ROY) are no joke and form the nucleus of a potentially very good team. The Wolves also added outstanding players to come off the bench including Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson to join Shabazz Muhammad. In short, this team is stacked and prime to compete in the NBA’s Western Conference.
But, who cares?
Ok, that’s a bit harsh. No offence intended to Timberwolves fans, but you know the preseason started with the Lakers vs. Wolves, not the other way around, right? It’s honestly a bit odd to see so much excitement for a team coming off a 26-56 season and has only averaged 23 wins out of 82 for the last four seasons.
I mean honestly, this team has been bad AND hard to watch for years.
Of course, this team is a bit different. First, the Lakers now have Magic Johnson guiding the ship. It’s easy to forget he actually coached the Lakers at one point. Those that do remember it try very hard to forget. He seems more a fit as President of Basketball Operations though. A new President is joined by a new General Manager in Rob Pelinka and suddenly there is excitement in La La Land. Oh, ya, they also have this prized rookie.
A few of them actually.
In fact, that’s the reason the NBA, the one professional sports league that truly understands that they are in the entertainment business, kicked off their preseason with the Lakers. Everyone wants to see Lonzo Ball. Did you know that here in LA we were getting updates on the number of scrimmages Ball won during practice. He went 4-0 if you care (you really shouldn’t).
The truth is that these preseason games matter just as much as those scrimmages, not at all. Yet, we were all excited to see Lonzo Ball ball. Part of that excitement stems from the show he regularly put on during the NBA Summer League. Another stretch of meaningless games with a Championship that the Lakers actually managed to win. When you add the decent Summer League showing with the fact that Ball is the first NBA player in memory to come with his own carnival barker (see LaVar Ball), the anticipation for the first preseason game was palpable.
I remember being at the StubHub center when David Beckham made his debut for the Galaxy. May seem an odd comparison for the non-soccer fan but I remember Beckham’s first touch only because the crowd went crazy. He didn’t score, he didnt assist, he didnt bend anything, he literally just touched the ball and crowd erupted! It is no stretch to say that the same level of excitement exists today for Lonzo Ball.
The key distinction however is that Beckham came to the Galaxy with a substantial resume and experience. Ball does not.
Beckham marked a key point for soccer in this country. His arrival was a milestone for the sport which is now the 14th richest professional sports league in the WORLD by revenue. Not bad for a sport that Americans fought hard to hate.
Ball, well, Ball had a good Summer League.
When Ball first laced up the sneakers in Vegas he played pretty poorly. In his first Summer League game he only scored five points with five assists and four rebounds in 32 minutes. He looked like a rookie, a nervous rookie. To his credit though, he played better in every subsequent game ultimately earning Summer League MVP honors.
So, maybe he is a slow starter. Maybe his eerily similar line of five points with eight assists and seven rebounds in his first preseason game was a good thing. It seemed like a good hypothesis at the time, until Game 2. In that game he regressed to eight points, four assists and two rebounds. In his defense he only played 21 minutes after getting some extended rest after rolling an ankle.
A lot has been written and proclaimed about Ball’s upside, most of it coming from his father. We have heard that he is better than Stephen Curry, that he will lead the Lakers to the playoffs, that he will win NBA Rookie of the Year and of course, that he will be a better point guard than Magic Johnson. While it is understandable and even admirable for a father to think positively about his child, it’s hard to know if he means all this or did it more to attract attention. If it was meant to do the latter, then mission accomplished!
On the other hand though, what if the Summer League is the best we see out of Ball?
I know it’s not a popular stance and certainly not one I want to see happen, but what if. What if instead of Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry, the Lakers have the second coming of Ricky Rubio? It’s sad to think of that as a failure. I mean, most teams would love a point guard with career averages of 11ppg and 9apg. Rubio, like Ball, is a great passer; he earned NBA All-Rookie first team honors in 2012 and is a solid, reliable NBA player. By all accounts his accomplishments would be goals most rookie guards playing in the Association would aspire too.
A Rubio career for Lonzo Ball however would be deemed a failure, and that’s too bad.
Ball is supposed to bring back Showtime. He is supposed to usher the Lakers to the playoffs. He was meant to bring the buzz back. He might do all that and more, but what if he does it looking more like Rubio than Curry or Johnson.
Is that really such a bad thing?