On the second of the Los Angeles Lakers back-to-back games, starting point guard Lonzo Ball notched a game-high five steals against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on Friday.
The Lakers got out to a slow start shooting 0-7 from the three-point line in the first quarter while the Mavericks made their first five three-point attempts. Midway through the second quarter, Ball sparked a 10-0 run that slashed the once 15-point deficit down to five points, 45-40.
“There’s a unique basketball player where him putting the basket in the hole doesn’t define what he does out on the floor and the impact that he makes,” reflected Lakers star forward LeBron James.
Lonzo earned his fifth steal of the game that translated into his own dunk in the third quarter. Over the course of the season, he has been tasked with guarding some of the fiercest competitors in the League. Against the Mavericks, his assignment was rookie standout Luka Doncic, who he held to 2-13 shooting for six points on the night.
Though Ball has never been characterized as a prolific scoring point guard, his all-around effort and ability to make plays that lead to offense are a major part of how he impacts the game.
“If you’re able to make an impact in the game and you’re not scoring the ball, then you’re a complete basketball player and that he is,” James stated. “He’s still getting guys the ball, still rebounding, he’s still getting his steals and he’s engaged in what’s going on on the floor.”
The consistency in making defensive plays on the ball came as a shock to the coaching staff when Ball joined the team after being drafted by the Lakers second overall last year.
“When you come straight to the NBA from college, defense is one of the last things you do when you are a high draft pick,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We saw [that] his defensive instincts were way more advanced than we thought [they] were on that side of the floor. He’s been doing a really nice job of that lately.”
“A lot of people label me as not a defender for some reason,” shrugged Ball, who finished with 10 points along with four assists and five steals. “I don’t know why.”
The month of November was a drastic improvement for the Lakers defensively. During that time, they had a Defensive Rating of 103.5, which ranked third-best in the League. The signing of 18-year veteran Tyson Chandler marked a turning point for the Lakers on the defensive side of the ball.
“Great defensive players, that’s what we’re trying to be,” remarked JaVale McGee, who is currently second in the league in blocks averaging 2.74 per game. “We’re trying to stop the ball and what we’re harping on also is one thing that people usually don’t do in transition, not just giving up and saying ‘Okay it’s an easy bucket’.”
The defensive identity of Los Angeles is starting to take form as players who have traditionally struggled on that end, like Kyle Kuzma, are buying in to improve.