How Good Can Lonzo Ball Be in the NBA?


Barring something completely unforeseen in the next six weeks, Lonzo Ball will be one of the first two prospects selected in the 2017 NBA draft. This is hardly a revelatory statement; neither is the suggestion that a layer of uncertainty shrouds Ball’s pro basketball future.

Such is the case for all draftees, though a player almost universally tabbed for a top-two selection seems more likely destined for greatness than, say, the No. 60 pick.

Lonzo Ball is unique, however, in that his potential’s been lauded dating back early into his high-school career. Comparisons to Jason Kidd have persisted for a few years now. I oftentimes tune out hyperbole surrounding prep players, but Lonzo Ball won me over the first time I saw him run UCLA’s offense up close.

Indeed, seeing Ball operate invoked memories of Kidd operating at Cal: the uncanny floor vision, the ability to squeeze passes through impossibly tight windows and at geometry-defying angles. Like Kidd at Cal, Lonzo Ball improved the play of his UCLA teammates tenfold.

One noteworthy difference? Kidd didn’t shoot in the 40s from 3-point range at Cal, as Ball did for UCLA this past season. The former was notorious for his shaky jump shot until the late stages of his NBA career. By the time he was leading the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back Eastern Conference championships, Kidd developed a consistent stroke. The best passer in the NBA at the time became an all-timer with that added element in his repertoire.

None of the preceding is to suggest Ball will enter the NBA and immediately perform at Kidd’s level. Kidd ranks among the very best point guards of all-time, and was instantaneously an NBA sensation, sharing Rookie of the Year with Grant Hill in 1995. To illustrate just how remarkable of an accomplishment that was, consider Hill elicited Next Jordan? conversation his first year with the Detroit Pistons, and it didn’t feel all that outlandish.

But in those lofty comparisons for Grant Hill lies another conversation surrounding Lonzo Ball’s future. Much of the fun in the lead-up to the NBA draft stems from comparing prospects to recognizable names, but those comparisons often set us up for let-down.

Ball has a high ceiling, sure. But he also has issues to address — issues independent of the wholly unique dynamic his father, LaVar Ball, brings to a TV set and clickbait website. I turn The Open Man floor over to @_2XL_ on Twitter, who offered an excellent analogy for the Lonzo Ball hype train: