Lonzo Ball Makes Pelicans Intriguing Divisional Bet

The third-year point guard should benefit from a fresh start

Lonzo Ball’s stint as a Los Angeles Laker has already come to an end. The lanky point guard played in 47 games last season before rolling his ankle in the worst way in a January contest against the Houston Rockets. The injury looked awful and teammates thought he may have broken it. It turned out to be a grade-three strain and a torn ligament, ending Ball’s season.

The point guard struggled to find his niche on a Lakers squad that featured a very critical and ball-dominant LeBron James and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo. The 21-year-old was walking on eggshells during the 2018-19 season in Los Angeles, unable to assert himself alongside his new teammates.

Then, rumors started to swirl that James was attempting to propel a trade that would send off Ball and some of the young pups for star Anthony Davis. This only made things worse, but Ball did very well by keeping quiet and to himself (unlike his father) and let whatever was going to happen, happen.

Ball is still incredibly young and has plenty of room to grow (physically and mentally). He shot better from the floor than his rookie season last year, but playing for the Lakers was clearly stunting his growth. It’s hard to have the opportunity to extend yourself as a point guard when you’re constantly having to defer to James. 

Ball’s stat line sat at 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game last season. His assists regressed from his rookie season, but he lost nearly four minutes of playing time per game. Fortunately, the Lakers eventually moved him in the Davis deal the offseason. Ball should grow much more with the New Orleans Pelicans than he ever could in the purple and gold.

DraftKings Sportsbook lists the Pelicans at +1600 to win the Southwest Division with the Rockets (-225), San Antonio Spurs (+280), Dallas Mavericks (+1200) listed ahead of them and the Memphis Grizzlies (+23000) a distant longshot. 

Ball’s production might mean more to his team’s chances than any other player, including Jrue Holiday or No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. 

What’s To Come For Lonzo

As noted earlier, Ball averaged 5.4 assists per game last season. That figure receded from 7.2 assists in his rookie season. He averaged 30.3 minutes per game and should see an uptick in playing time with his new squad. Ball averaged 6.5 assists per 36 minutes last season and could thrive in an up-tempo offensive system. 

During Ball’s introductory press conference with the Pelicans, he mentioned that “it was tough being a young guy, especially in LA”, per Jacob Rude of USA Today LonzoWire. Watching the ridiculous show that James, general manager Magic Johnson, team executive Rob Pelinka, and controlling owner Jeanie Buss put on would have anyone’s head spinning.

Ball is excited to be in New Orleans and is ready to embrace a leadership role, stating that he “definitely can help the young guys”, per Christian Rivas of USA Today LonzoWire. There’s a lot of youth to go around with the Pelicans, including fellow teammates that were traded with him (Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart) and Williamson.

We are left pondering when Ball will be ready to play next season, but team officials have indicated that he is close and is still working with physical therapists to strengthen his ankle. We should gain more clarity on the situation as we near October.

Success To Come In New Orleans

The youth of the supporting cast surrounding Ball should lead to many fast-break points, including fullcourt passes from the point guard to the likes of Williamson, Holiday, Hart, and Ingram. Playing with such a young team that will be trying to run opponents out of the gym will increase his assist totals and allow him to play downhill, the style in which he’s at his best. The Pelicans ranked second in offensive pace last season (103.89), which should benefit Ball tremendously.

J.J. Redick was an incredible signing by the Pelicans that almost no one saw coming. The 35-year-old veteran has easily been one of the best catch-and-shoot sharpshooters in the league over the last decade and could easily add to Zo’s assist total with some designed plays off screens. Derrick Favors and Jrue Holiday are competent scorers as well, leaving Ball as one of the main creators of the offensive scheme.

Holiday acted as the starting point guard in New Orleans despite spending much of his career as a two-guard. He averaged 35.9 minutes, 7.7 assists, and a usage rate of 25.4 percent last season. The usage rate equals an 8.5 percent increase from Ball’s pathetic rate last season, so Holiday’s usage might be a sign of what’s to come for Ball in New Orleans.

We are on track to witness Lonzo’s breakout party as a professional point guard. There are no more superstars holding him back in Los Angeles. Expect him to perform like the number two overall pick that he once was. He will be granted the freedom to play without constraint in an offense that’s a pure open concept. 

Note: All statistics above were found on Basketball-Reference.com. The advice above represents the writer's personal view and does not reflect or represent BetQL's stance or interest in any way.