The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night in a bogged down isolation-fest of a game that was far from the freewheeling, fast-paced style that the team ideally wants to play at. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the Lakers’ second-straight game without Lonzo Ball.
After the loss, the team made it cleear his absence was felt. “We miss Lonzo for a multitude of reasons. He’s just that type of player, affects the game in a lot of different ways,” said Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr.
One of those ways is by keeping the ball moving. The Lakers had a season-low 14 assists against Memphis, something that head coach Luke Walton diagnosed as a side-effect of missing the beating heart of their offense, and one the team has to adjust for.
“Now that he’s not out there with us, we need to make sure that we make it a point that it’s still how we’re going to play. We’re not going to turn into an iso team. That’s not our strength. We don’t have guys that are just ready to go one-on-one,” Walton said.
“The way for us to win and be at our best is to play for each other, share the ball and make the extra pass.”
Sharing the ball isn’t the only thing Ball makes easier. The Lakers also play at the fastest pace in the league, averaging 104.08 possessions per game, and they play even faster when Ball is on the floor, averaging 105.17 possessions as compared to a team-low 102.03 when he sits.
L.A. was even slower than that against Memphis, trudging through the mud to the tune of 95.84 possessions.
“Lonzo does a great job of speeding the pace up. He’s a great point guard, so we’re definitely missing him,” Kyle Kuzma said. “He sets the table for a lot of us, pushes the tempo for us. We start with him as the point guard.”
Some were content to ignore or laugh off those non-shooting qualities that Ball brought when he was in the middle of a historically awful shooting slump to start his NBA career, but those skills are why the Lakers were never concerned about Ball struggling to find his jumper.
“This is why I think if you asked anyone in our organization all year about Lonzo’s shooting struggles, we’d tell you he would be fine,” Walton explained.
“We know how important he is to us, with the way he plays and the way that we want to play. The way he pushes the ball, the way just hits whoever is open every time, that’s contagious.”