LOS ANGELES — Imagine if Lonzo Ball could actually shoot.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers won for the third time in their past four games with a 107-102 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Now 5-5 on the season, the Lakers are winning despite Ball shooting just 29.9 percent on the year.
Ball is a difficult rookie to evaluate. Should his impact on the Lakers be measured by his individual efficiency or team record?
"He's doing everything else. That's not a concern of ours," Lakers center Brook Lopez said. "Just the way he facilitates, he brings everyone up to a whole 'nother level. He instigates the break, he instigates our offense. It's irreplaceable."
Ball has shown individual flashes, such as when he scored 29 points in his second regular-season game with a dominant performance against the Phoenix Suns. But against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, he took just two shot attempts in the Lakers' 113-110 loss.
Naturally, his father has a strong opinion.
"You've got to shoot the ball," LaVar Ball told Bleacher Report after the Lakers' 124-112 win over the Nets on Friday. "You're not going to make it if you don't take it."
The senior Ball also has some concerns about head coach Luke Walton's rotation with his son.
"Let him play the whole fourth quarter and bet you'll always win. He'll get into a better flow," Ball said. "The in and out, sitting out six to 10 minutes? He's not going to take no shots because he's not in the flow. He don't want to hurt the team by shooting."
🔥 Can't-Miss Plays from Around the NBA 🔥
We Owe the Indiana Pacers an Apology
B/R Looks Back on Tracy McGrady Scoring 13 Points in 35 Seconds in 2004
Tracy McGrady Scored the Most Impressive 13 Points of His Career in 35 Seconds
Butler Is the NBA's Biggest Country Music Fan
On This Day in 2012, Kobe Joined Elite NBA Club
NBA Handshake Fails
Is It Officially Panic Time in OKC?
Simmons Finally Faces 'Big Brother' LeBron
Leave Lonzo Alone, He's Only 20
The Boston Celtics Are on Top of the NBA
Gregg Popovich Has the San Antonio Spurs Rolling at Home
It's Early, but Stevens Is the Coach of the Year
Shaq and Chuck Used to Get into It on the Court
LeBron Isn't Worried, but Maybe He Should Be
NBA Superstars Are Cruising by Scoring Milestones
This Lakers Rookie Is Ready to Take Over the NBA
LeBron James Jr. Is More Than Just His Famous Name
Growing Up: Damian Lillard Tells Us How He Improved His Jump Shot as a Kid
Growing Up: the Game That Showed Isaiah Thomas He Could Be an NBA Star
Growing Up: How Kyrie Irving Became One of the League’s Most Lethal Scorers
Walton understands it's an adjustment for rookies as they find their way in the NBA. "It's not even really the minutes, as much as just being the best player on your team," Walton said. "When you're the guy that everything goes through, you find rhythms throughout the game. You get to this level and...you start as more of a role player and you work your way up. It takes time to get used to."
But the Lakers coach has nothing but praise for his point guard, who has the ultimate green light.
"I don't think he can ever be too aggressive," Walton said. "Get into that paint, learn what it's like to take on that contact and finish, and make those reads doing downhill. Whether he makes or misses shots, right now I don't care. He'll figure that out. He's that good of a player."
Ball's teammates love playing with him. They know if they're hot, he's going to get them the ball.
"He's running our offense. He's our leader," second-year swingman Brandon Ingram said. "He's leading us with passes, making it easier for other guys to score the basketball, and he's doing a good job on the defensive end. He's doing great."
"He's just playing hard at his own pace, that's what we need for him," Lakers 2-guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. "He's making the right play. Sometimes he takes a bad shot. That's cool, we all take bad shots. Him being as young as he is at the point guard, that's a lot of pressure, but he's handled it pretty well."
Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was impressed by the Lakers' duo of Ball and Ingram.
"Those two young guys, they are a handful," Fizdale said. "I think as their shooting becomes more consistent, they are going to become a problem. Everybody is looking at their body of work right now, but these kids [will] get better, and they got a heck of a staff down there that I know is going to develop them."
That is exactly Walton's focus. It isn't necessarily how Ball and Ingram play in a game this season, but instead over the course of their career.
"I think [Ball's] scoring opens up more passing lanes," Walton said. "He still positively affects our game just by being on the court, but to be great—to be the player he's going to be—he needs to shoot. It's not just about that game at that moment. As he grows as a player, we need him to continue to do those things to develop his ability and skill."
The Lakers aren't looking to change Ball's unique shooting form during the season, but he needs to improve his footwork and timing. Fundamentally, he has a long way to go to be a consistent scorer, but he's adjusted quickly to the NBA defensively and is helping the team win games as he learns.
Last year's squad won 10 of its first 20 before it quickly bottomed out to win just 26. Walton is confident this team is better suited to sustain its on-court success.
"We're better defensively," Walton said. "Last year, we were shooting the lights out to start the season. We just didn't have the rest of the foundation set well enough to sustain that. ... Because of the group's willingness to buy in and compete on defense, we're going to be in every game."
Ball is an integral part of why Los Angeles is a .500 team. As he improves, so too will the Lakers.
His poor shooting percentage will drop him behind others in the race for Rookie of the Year. Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers appears to be the early favorite.
But this season isn't about individual awards or even winning basketball games. It's about making sure Ball is on the path to become the player the Lakers believe one day will be a transcendent point guard.
Today, Ball needs to find the balance between his own shot and finding his teammates, and then converting his attempts into baskets.
Ball acknowledged it's an adjustment to look for his own offense over playmaking.
"My life, I've been pretty much passing. [To] my brother, [at] UCLA we had great shooters on the floor," Ball said. "It's a little bit new for me, but I'll get used to it. Everyone is playing me for the pass. I can get into the lanes, I just have to take advantage."