The passing fancy of Lonzo Ball

Added by lucky smith on December 22 2017, at 6:14 am
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  • This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 25 NBA Christmas Issue. Subscribe today! THE DAY AFTER the Lakers take Lonzo Ball with the second pick of June's Eddie Lacy Womens Jersey draft, Lakers president Magic Johnson is holding court. It's the usual news conference introducing a new prospect, but this one projects a different tone. This is Johnson's first occasion as the czar of the Lakers' next golden age. Majestic Dave Parker Authentic Throwback Men's Jersey - MLB Pittsburgh Pirates #39 White Flexbase Cooperstown The event takes place on the practice court at the team's old training facility, the last relic of the Kobe Bryant era. And it's here that Johnson tells Lonzo, "I'm going to put a little pressure on you right now." Magic points to the back of the gym, where the uniforms of Lakers legends -- his among them -- hang on the wall. "We expect a Ball jersey hanging up there one day, all right?" Looking one part hostage, one part valedictorian, Ball sits between Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka -- who just the night before had declared Lonzo a "transcendent talent." Ball, having T. J. Leaf Jersey forgone the traditional pressed suit in lieu of a black zip-up Big Baller Brand hoodie, crosses his arms on the dais as he receives these compliments dispassionately but respectfully, as if he's in an HR session. Johnson is here to introduce Ball. But what Magic, never a man to traffic in understatement, has truly introduced are the Lakers' expectations: Lonzo Ball will become a superstar, part of the Lakers' lineage of Hall of Fame talents. He will be a proper heir to Kobe Bryant -- which Johnson implicitly conveys D'Angelo Russell was not. Around the NBA, there is an almost affectionate esteem for Ball's approach to basketball; he is a 20-year-old whose primary motivation in life is to find chances for teammates to score. But when insiders are asked whether Ball can meet the Lakers' expectations, their praise pivots to a series of disclaimers. Should Ball never evolve into a prolific scorer, he would have to transform into a species that's nearly extinct -- the score-last All-Star who relies on vision over pyrotechnics. Ball isn't a pure shooter, nor is he the type of explosive pick-and-roll point guard that's ascendant in today's NBA. Admirable as Ball's generosity might be, he carries deficiencies that, although once tolerated in point guards, are now often 
disqualifiers. TO GAIN A true sense of Lonzo Ball's skill set, what you'd have to do is this: Stand on the court during a live NBA game, preferably right under the basket; envelop yourself in a 360-degree view of the action in real time -- and ideally avoid being struck by the 20 arms and legs whirling around you. This is my experience on a Sunday night in November as the Lakers take on the Grizzlies at Staples Center -- or at least it virtually is. There's a VR headset strapped to my head. It's ungodly heavy, as if a second skull has engulfed my first. But the effect is profound, even though I never move more than 6 inches from my position in the NextVR truck parked outside the arena. With this headset on, I'm every bit as present on the floor as Brook Lopez or Mike Conley. Turn my head to the right and Luke Walton is a foot away, barking at official James Andrew McCutchen Jersey Capers. Turn it back and Marc Gasol is headed my way as if I'm about to enter his sanctum inside the lane. In truth, the intruder on the court is Lonzo Ball, whose eyes are like searchlights, surveying the expanse, watching for subtle movements by opponents that might open a seam. Everyone exists in Lonzo's field of vision. Grizzlies center Brandan Wright does. He backpedals as Lonzo comes off a pick by Julius Randle in the first quarter. So do the Grizzlies' pair of help-side defenders, stunting and lurching at Lonzo as he weaves through traffic. Somehow, Lonzo appears to be watching all three before spinning clockwise as he elevates and slings a sidearm two-handed pass across his body. The pass hits Randle in the hands for a dunk. This is Ball's vision in heightened effect, where every trip down the court is an optical marvel. And to live inside it for a few hours is to gain a firsthand appreciation for how tantalizing the package is, the sight lines no person with binocular vision should rightly have. He is, in a phrase, a passing savant. But here's the thing about passers: You're only as good as your finishers. IT'S THE FIRST week of practice in August 2016 at UCLA, and Ball is about to endanger his Bruins teammates. In the old men's gym where John Wooden once coached, and where the NBA's elite furtively play pickup all summer, the Bruins run through one of their first drills of the season, a basic pick-and-roll action, with Ball at the point receiving a screen from hulking 7-foot center Thomas Welsh. The returnees have heard about Ball -- who hasn't? -- and his playmaking exploits. He's gonna make the game so easy for you, they've been told ad nauseam. But this drill marks the first time Ball's teammates will witness whether Ball the Player conforms to Ball the Mythology.