Lonzo Ball certainly didn’t envision his collegiate basketball career would end in the Sweet 16, but after UCLA lost to Kentucky 86-75, Ball confirmed he would be entering his name in the 2017 NBA Draft before even taking his jersey off.
With the eyes of most of the nation on him (including Lakers general manager Magic Johnson), Ball was overshadowed by his point guard counterpart, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox. Fox exploded for a remarkable 39 points on 13-20 shooting, and went 13-15 from the line. He obliterated Ball (and the rest of UCLA’s paltry defense) in the pick and roll, and wasn’t even using his explosive speed to do it. Fox did a good job of keeping his dribble and picking his spots to get off relatively easy shots, but the UCLA guards lack of ball pressure (and Ball in particular) made it too easy for him to get into the paint and score.
Ball finished the game with a pedestrian 10 points on 4-10 shooting (1-8 from three), but did have eight assists. While it wasn’t necessarily a storybook ending for the 19-year-old, he’s certainly an elite talent that deserves to be selected in the top five, at the very latest. He’s not known for his athleticism, but Ball certainly isn’t a bad athlete; his size and length give him the tools to be a quality defender. In Fox’s expose on Friday evening, the most notable takeaway for me was that Ball’s minimal pick and roll knowledge had more impact than his athleticism. Obviously Ball’s lack of understanding in that department will only add to his learning curve at the next level, but I think it’s still safe to believe he can pick it up over time, allowing him to better defend top athletes like Fox. Offensively, we already know how much damage he can do as a facilitator and three-point shooter, and that should almost certainly translate to the NBA.
Who knows if the Sixers will have the opportunity to select Ball with their first round pick, but he’s arguably the second best talent behind Washington’s Markelle Fultz. If he’s on the board, general manager Bryan Colangelo shouldn’t have too many reservations about drafting him.