Things went so well for Lonzo Ball in his team’s weekend home win over Houston that even though he didn’t play basketball Monday, he was still credited that day with two assists and a triple-double. Thanks to stat-keeping corrections by the NBA from Sunday’s Rockets-Pelicans game, Ball went from seven assists to 10 dimes, adding to his previous (presumably final) game tallies of 27 points and 10 rebounds. As a result, Ball – who notched three triple-doubles with the Lakers – achieved the rare feat for the first time with New Orleans (11-23).
The 22-year-old’s stellar evening in a 15-point win highlighted a stretch in which Ball returned to the Pelicans’ starting lineup, which coincides with a four-game winning streak. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and a steal during that span, providing perhaps the biggest X-factor for New Orleans in its recent turnaround. Ball was already showing signs of progress beforehand, now reaching double-digit points in six of the last seven games and snaring five steals Dec. 20 at Golden State, the team’s last defeat.
Ball was off to an inconsistent start to 2019-20 and sidelined for eight of his team’s first 19 games, due to injury and illness. Coming off a ’18-19 in which an ankle injury ended his season in January, Ball didn’t have a normal offseason of preparation, but seems to be getting closer to 100 percent physically lately. He’s shooting 37.5 percent on three-pointers in December, following a career-best 7/9 night against the Rockets.
“I think he’s playing exactly how we anticipated him playing and wanted him to play now,” Pelicans fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said of Ball’s recent uptick. “Obviously making seven threes is a huge bonus, but the pace he’s been playing, the attack mode (are beneficial). I think this is the Lonzo we thought (would be here). And the bottom line is he’s finally healthy. He’s had these nagging things that had bothered him, but he’s healthy, and because he’s healthy, he’s been much more aggressive.”
“My legs are coming back to me,” Ball said of feeling stronger on the court. “Defensively, I can get into the ball more, play passing lanes more, push the pace more.”
“The last time I’ve seen him this confident was when he was fully healthy,” said Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, a three-year teammate of Ball. “His (practice) routine has been really, really good and he has a good attitude coming in every day. That’s when I see him the most confident, when he’s good and healthy on the basketball floor.”
As evidenced by his four career triple-doubles and career averages of 6.0 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.5 steals, Ball doesn’t always need to score to help his team, but improving his jumper was a top objective entering his third NBA season. He has reshaped his shooting form, with the help of Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson, and has seen positive results. For Ball to be a more effective offensive player, he needed to improve upon the 31.5 percent he shot from three-point range in two Lakers seasons; he’s at 36.1 percent through 26 games for the Pelicans, while increasing his volume (6.1 attempts per game, compared to 4.9 last season).
“It’s exciting to see the work pay off,” Ingram said of that improvement. “Just everything he does, his routine, his repetition.”
Ball is focused on continuing to show more consistency from beyond the arc, realizing that he won’t shoot 7/9 every night, but he also connected on four three-pointers in December in games vs. Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Indiana. His 4/8 outing vs. the Pacers made him 11/20 from distance in back-to-back home wins.
“I’m just trying to improve every night,” Ball said. “It’s a new shot for me. I knew it wasn’t going to happen (perfectly) the first few games (of the season). I had a couple up-and-down nights, but hopefully I can get consistent.”