The biggest question facing Lonzo Ball at UCLA was how he would assimilate into an environment he couldn’t always bend to his will. Ball was in complete control during a legendary high school career in California at Chino Hills, where he teamed with his two younger brothers for an undefeated season powered by full-court outlet passes and deep threes. It was a style that helped Ball average a triple-double but had little footing in how the game is traditionally played.
Could the Lonzo Ball Show go on within the structured confines of college basketball?
Only seven games into his career, that question has already been put to rest. UCLA is undefeated and Ball is leading the way by infusing a little bit of Chino Hills into the Bruins. Ball isn’t adjusting to the college game as much as he’s making it adjust to him.
Ball was excellent in winning MVP honors at the Wooden Legacy this weekend, showing the next-level passing instincts, athleticism, and shooting touch that makes him a special player. In a victory over a tough Texas A&M team in the final on Sunday, Ball still finished with 16 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, and three blocks on a night he didn’t have his A-game. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the country.
Lonzo Ball hits the go-ahead 3 to keep UCLA undefeated this season (7-0). pic.twitter.com/RzmlQQkQ17— Derrek Li (@DerrekLi) November 28, 2016
Ball's side-winding release on his jumper has been a point of contention for scouts since he rose to prominence on the recruiting trail, but he's proving the shooting stroke works for him. Ball went 11 for 21 from three during UCLA's three-game run at the Wooden Legacy and he's now shooting 48.6 percent from deep on the year.
When Ball is making threes, he has the complete package of skills to take over a game. He has elite size for a point guard at 6'6 and has no problem finishing plays above the rim. How many college point guards are capable of throwing down three alley-oops in the same game?
For Ball, alley-oop finishes and long threes only serve as a complement to a brilliant basketball mind. Ball is a savant with the ball in his hands and it has UCLA humming. The Bruins are No. 7 in offensive efficiency and No. 12 in tempo out of 351 D1 teams, per KenPom, with Ball leading America in assists at 9.1 per game. He's seeing plays develop before they happen.
It's fitting that Ball is only UCLA's fourth-leading scorer even while putting up 16 points per game. With Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, and Aaron Holiday, UCLA has a loaded perimeter that can all shoot, pass, and dribble. Hamilton has hit 14 threes over his last four games, while Alford hit a dagger late against Texas A&M.
UCLA's leading scorer is another five-star freshman in TJ Leaf. Leaf is a classic stretch four who is showing a bit of a post game, too. Having junior center Thomas Welsh next to him has kept the Bruins strong on the inside. There aren't a lot of holes in Steve Alford's roster and Ball is the type of star who can elevate the level of everyone else around him.
NBA scouts are taking notice. Ball began the season projected at No. 14 in DraftExpress' mock draft, but the way he's playing should shoot him up the board. Right now, he and Washington's Markelle Fultz are the two most electrifying freshmen in the country. Nothing is off the table in terms of his future prospects.
Lonzo Ball looks every bit of a Top 5 pick and could go as high as #2 IMO. Elite tools, feel and instincts on both ends. Touch from deep.— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) November 28, 2016
College was always going to be a layover year for Ball, but UCLA is happy he's spending it in Westwood. The Pac-12 is right there for the taking, with Arizona short-handed because of injuries and suspensions, and Oregon already losing twice as star Dillon Brooks works his way back from foot surgery. The Bruins are the most watchable team in the country and they might be one of the best, too. The question for UCLA will be its defense, but even that might not matter if it continues to score at its current blistering pace.
It's clear now that the system at Chino Hills didn't make Lonzo Ball, he made the system. Ball isn't changing for UCLA. The Bruins are thrilled to change for him.