Lonzo Ball is a Force in Transition

When Lonzo starts running coast-to-coast, throw the analytics out the window and trust your eyes.
December 7, 2018, 2:00pm
Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball.
Photo by Rhona Wise/EPA-EFE

The below has been excerpted from this week's Outlet Pass, to get caught up on everything else you need to know in the NBA this week read the rest of the column here.

Lonzo Ball currently exists as the most intriguing Eye Test vs. Analytics conversation in the NBA. You see this in microcosm whenever he attacks in transition. Watch him speed dribble up the floor, turn back-pedaling defenders into traffic cones, and finish with a layup.

Plays like this shouldn’t happen in an NBA game. They are the basketball equivalent of a bank robber attempting to crack a vault right after he sends the local FBI office a text that says “watch me rob this vault.” But with Ball, the defense almost doesn’t believe he’s able or committed enough to pull it off. They anticipate a kick-out/lob or convince themselves he won’t drive 1-on-3 and screw up L.A.’s floor balance going the other way. That miscalculation usually costs the defense two points.

According to the eye test, Ball is antsy enough to make it work more times than not. It feels like the plays seen above happen once or twice every game, which doesn’t sound like a lot but provide L.A. with an easy basket they don’t really need to work for; teammates on the bench stand and applaud even when he misses. But numbers (this year and last) tell a different story. Even though the Lakers as a whole are more efficient and aggressive in transition when Ball is on the court, Synergy Sports ranks him in the 4th percentile as a ball handler in transition (largely thanks to turnovers), with a pitiful 31.6 field goal percentage. That’s very terrible.

Watch the film, though, and these possessions include ill-advised stepbacks and quick ups at the rim that don’t fall but get tipped in or rebounded by a teammate. In other words: the opportunity cost is pretty low when Ball gets all the way to the rim, as he increasingly looks to do. Score one for the eye test, for now.