Lonzo Ball came to the NBA with all the tools to become a superstar, except one. He’s a potentially elite playmaker, one of the better rebounding guards in the entire league, and an impressive defender. It’s that funky jump shot that’s held him back.
Ball is trying to become an elite shooter in this league. In each season since his rookie year, he’s changed his shot form ever so slightly, and now, in Year 3, it’s most noticeable. He’s needed drastic change. In his first two years, he made a disgraceful 44 percent of his free throws. He shot well below average from three-point range too, hitting 31 percent his rookie year and 33 percent his second year. Defenders were gladly sagging below screens and daring him to fire.
The 2019-20 season has started off differently for Lonzo, though. He’s taking a career-best six threes per game, and has drained 38 percent of them. He looks confident letting the ball fly in a new offense with tempered expectations.
Even more shockingly, Ball is shooting 41 percent (12-of-30) on catch-and-shoot three-point shots. In his two previous seasons, he’s shot 31 and 32 percent. His new form is working to some degree as he’s made a healthy clip of his shots to start the year.
He’s still fired up ugly-looking misses, especially on pull-ups. He’s made just 4-of-12 of those. Ball’s no Steph Curry just yet. But his jump shot looks undeniably better.
There is no perfect way to shoot a jump shot
Before we dig into Ball’s shot mechanics, remember that despite our dream for it, there is no perfect formula for shooting a basketball. A tweet from Jay Williams irked me. He instructed that Russell Westbrook shoot with his eyes on the basket instead of on the ball when it leaves his fingertips. While that might’ve worked for him, it doesn’t for others. Curry follows the ball just like Westbrook, for example.
Same goes for other shooting strategies. Some players shoot from a higher pocket, some thumb the ball with their guide hand, some shoot from the left side of their face, some shoot above their head, some shoot with their feet pointed towards the sidelines. There is no perfect one-size-fits-all rhythm, because every player’s body is a different size, speed and shape. What works for Curry isn’t what makes Klay Thompson his greatest sidekick and won’t make Rudy Gobert a splash brother.
With that said, there are wrong ways to shoot a ball. There are bad tendencies and crap forms that will be exploited at the professional level. That brings us to Ball.
Ball’s rookie year form was wonky as hell. Here’s why.
In his first year as a Laker, Ball shot 45 percent from the free throw line and 36 percent from the field. He was a wholeass brick, and his magic touch from college — where he made 41 percent of his triples — was gone. Some of that had to do with the fact that he often played through injury, but more had to do with his jump shot.
Without defenders, it’s easier to look at form, so here’s footage of Lonzo shooting in practice in 2017:
The most noticeable thing about Ball’s shot is where he loads from. Despite being a right-handed shooter, Ball swings the rock from his middle, to the left side of his body.
Here he is taking a free throw:
From there, he brings the ball up to the left side of his face. His wrist is then given the daunting task to snap the ball towards his center and re-direct it towards the hoop. (Notice the angle in which Ball’s shooting hand has to bend before release. We’ll get to that later.)
Shooting from the opposite side of your face isn’t recommended, but him doing it isn’t the biggest problem with his shot. Plenty of the league’s best shooters swing the ball from their non-dominant side.
See Damian Lillard:
And Devin Booker:
Theirs just aren’t nearly as drastic. Booker and Lillard loading from a much more central pocket.
One of the most important parts of a player’s jump shot is how easily it can be replicated. Curry’s shot has become the poster for perfection in part because of where he loads it from. Curry’s alignment is nearly dead-center, meaning he can dribble in any direction and be able to launch just as quick.
Lonzo’s load point being so far to his left makes dribbling with his right side that much more difficult. If he wants to pull up into a jump shot, the ball has to move across his body, and that’s an eternity in NBA time. His form limits where he can shoot from, and defenders know this.
Aside from Lonzo’s load point slowing down his shot, it also makes his rhythm really hard to pull off over and over again. Let’s go back to that frame of his shooting elbow:
Every single time Lonzo shoots the ball, his right hand over-corrects everything happening on the left side of his body in fractions of a second. He has to re-center the ball, then flick his wrist with enough force to send the ball in proper alignment with his shoulders and hips to the hoop. A lot can go wrong in that time!
Loading so far to his left also messes with the timing of Ball’s shot. His form requires three motions rather than the quick two a player like Curry can get up. Curry can go right from the catch to jump into his release.
Ball has to catch and load to the right, then dip his knees, and then launch into his motion.
Ball’s shot worked in college. He shot 41 percent from behind the arc on five tries per game, which is significant. It was probably enough for him to believe it’d work at the pro level. But his 67 percent free-throw shooting at UCLA hinted that this high accuracy shooting might’ve been a fluke. And the NBA proved it.
This year, Ball’s changed his mechanics
Here’s video of Ball shooting in practice this year as a Pelican:
In practice, Ball’s loading place has moved more central than in year’s past. That’s a good adjustment that should quicken his release time, and makes his shot a simpler motion. Because of that adjustment, Lonzo’s right arm doesn’t have to work as hard, and his guide hand can thumb the ball towards the hoop, too.
His shot could look better. He could bend his knees before the catch and turn his shot into a two-motion machine rather than a slower three. But this shot looks replicable. That’s the most important thing.
Ball’s shot looks so much cleaner
Ball’s in a better situation for his shooting abilities in New Orleans because he doesn’t always have to bring up the ball. Jrue Holiday, Frank Jackson, (and soon enough, Zion Williamson,) are giving Ball more catch-and-shoot situations from distance. The past two season he’s shot slightly more than three, and he’s shooting more than four this year. Catch-and-shoot looks are the most efficient jumpers in basketball for obvious reasons. It’s a pure matter of shooting mechanics.
And Ball’s mechanics looking good in these moments. His pocket is centered, the ball is released more towards the middle of his face, his body is squared, and he looks like an NBA scorer.
Off the catch, Ball’s shooting wrist isn’t working as strenuously, and his form is replicable. These motions are natural, and don’t call for massive overcorrecting or exhaustion. It looks clean!
When given space, Ball’s even been able to shoot off dribbles to his right side.
There is a but in all this improvement. When Ball uses his new form, things are great. Off-the-dribble, that’s never a given, though. You can even notice it in the clip above with Ball shooting to his right, as his shooting pocket dips back towards the left again.
This happens on occasion, showing Ball isn’t fully adjusted to his new rhythm yet, and that his shot is still a work in progress.
We’re only seven games into Lonzo Ball’s third season, and his numbers will fluctuate. Jump shots take years and years and years to fully change, and Ball will ride his ups and downs as he adjusts to a very different rotation with the ball. He’s just 10 free throws and 44 triples into this next phase.
We’ll continue to monitor his free throw form and how he handles shots off-the-dribble, but the Pelicans and their fans have to be pleased with what they’re seeing. Changing a shooting rhythm that’s worked at the next-highest levels for so long isn’t so easy from a mental standpoint, before a physical one. But Ball is committed, and he’s finally starting to see results.