What a couple of days for Lonzo Ball.
On Thursday, he started his first NBA game, a member of his hometown Lakers and hyped up to be the proud franchise’s savior. He started slow, he finished slow, and he was berated by an All-NBA defender who had kept his eye on this matchup months in advance.
On Friday, Ball started his first NBA road game, eviscerating the Phoenix Suns and leading his Lakers to their first win in the Lonzo Ball Era.
And make no mistake, Ball led them. For all the hyperbole about Ball’s skillful passing diffusing throughout the roster like a willful disease, it’s hard not to buy into the culture change. Except it’s not Ball’s passing that is contagious and affecting the Lakers on- and off-the-court. Nor is it his shooting from deep, his pick-and-roll play, or his stellar marketing power.
It’s the quiet confidence with which Lonzo plays, the composure to take a loss for what it is but never lose sight of the present or the future. On Thursday, Ball had every reason to quit or pout, his debut overshadowed by a blowout loss and a gritty defender in his grill the entire game.
But he kept his cool and played better than his stat line or the final score would indicate. Finishing the game with only two turnovers against Patrick Beverley and managing to affect the game as significantly as possible in such a poor team showing was all Lakers fans could hope for in such a disappointing start to the season.
Fast forward to Friday night, the second game of a back-to-back, where Lonzo Ball, playing on an injured ankle, had as great of an outing as a rookie has ever had. Piece-by-piece, Ball put it all together from the scoring to the passing, falling just one assist short of a triple-double in just his second game in the NBA.
You can point to the 27 shots and relative inefficiency to get 29 points. You can point to the four turnovers marring the nine assists he dished to his teammates. You can point to the Suns playing a brand of basketball even worse than this Lakers team. It’s clear that Lonzo isn’t a finished product and that he has plenty to work on before he reaches the ceiling that the Lakers are desperate for him to hit.
But if these two games have shown us anything about the rookie point guard, it’s that his mentality will never be a problem. He didn’t feel the pressure when his father placed a target on his back. He didn’t feel the pressure when Beverley locked him up and called him a “weak ass m—– f—–.” And he didn’t feel the pressure while playing 37 minutes despite all the talk about his ankle and conditioning, finishing the game with clutch play after clutch play to eke out a 132-130 win.
Lonzo is going to struggle this season. He’s a 19-year-old rookie playing the most talented position in the NBA. Games like Friday against the Suns should not be expected of him no matter how bullish you are on his prospects of becoming a transcendent player in this league.
For every struggle, however, Lonzo is going to keep his cool, keep his confidence, and keep his composure. Nothing can phase this kid now that he’s seen the spectrum of games he will have this season in just two games.
The Lakers go as Lonzo goes. And he knows it.