Who Will Be an All-Star First for Lakers, Lonzo Ball or Kyle Kuzma?

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 7:  Kyle Kuzma #0 and Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers stand on the court for the National Anthem before the game against the Atlanta Hawks on January 7, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — On Thursday, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers rookies were not voted in as All-Star starters. That makes sense, as neither player has reached the heights of Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins or Anthony Davis.

All-star recognition is too much to ask of two rookies. Curry is a two-time champion and NBA MVP. Ball and Kuzma are babies in the league, but both have the potential to be All-Stars throughout their careers. So who will hear his name called first?

Ball has the advantage over Kuzma with his celebrity. Credit his father, LaVar Ball, for some of that popularity. Ball received 607,961 All-Star backcourt votes, good for sixth among Western Conference smalls. Kuzma has an active supporter in his mother, Karri Kuzma, an entertaining follow on Twitter, but it's hard to match the reach of the Ball family.

Still, Kuzma did well with 524,927 frontcourt votes, 10th in fan voting among West bigs.

Lakers fans are numerous, but the fans have just a 50 percent say in who starts. The balance is split evenly between the player and media votes. Ball received nine votes from fellow players, while Kuzma had 16. Neither received any media votes.

NBA coaches will fill out the team with seven additional players per conference, but the competition is too great for Ball with guards like Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard and Lou Williams more likely to be picked. The frontcourt is loaded as well, with LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Carmelo Anthony and Karl-Anthony Towns.

It's going to take some time for the Lakers duo to make their marks in the league, but they've already made real progress, despite their team's 15-29 record.

When will it be enough for Ball and Kuzma to be All-Stars, and which of the two will be first to represent the Lakers?

Looking at last year's team, the 25 players selected (including Kevin Love, who missed the game with an injury) averaged 23.4 points a night.

Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan stand out with their 10.2 and 12.7 points per game, respectively. Green also contributed 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists nightly for the Golden State Warriors. Jordan gave the Los Angeles Clippers 13.8 boards a game while leading the league with a field-goal percentage of 71.4.

Over a four-year span with the Boston Celtics (2010-2013), point guard Rajon Rondo was an All-Star while averaging just 12.4 points with 10.8 assists and 2.1 steals a game.

Typically, though, it's the scorers who are honored as All-Stars.

It also helps to be a part of a winning team. Last season, 21 All-Stars made the playoffs. The exceptions were Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans, Cousins (who was soon traded from the Sacramento Kings to New Orleans), Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets and Anthony, formerly of the New York Knicks.

Anthony was more of a legacy selection by Commissioner Adam Silver, replacing Love. Davis and Cousins put up undeniable numbers. Walker, like Anthony, benefitted from a relative lack of competition in the Eastern Conference.

Both Ball and Kuzma have yet to put up All-Star numbers.

Ball may never be an elite scorer like Curry or Harden, but he's already made a significant impact on the Lakers as a 20-year-old true point guard. In the eight games Ball has sat out with minor injuries (shoulder, knee, etc.), the Lakers are winless. The team is clearly a work in progress this season, but its 15-21 record with Ball is significantly better than the donut without his services.

Meanwhile, Kuzma is third in scoring among rookies at 16.5 points per game, behind Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (19.3) and Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (16.6). Kuzma was widely overlooked—the Lakers took him 27th overall—yet he's a near lock to make the NBA's All-Rookie Team. In a redraft, Kuzma would be all but guaranteed to go top-five. 

Ball doesn't have Kuzma's scoring prowess. But even at 10.2 points per game on 35.6 percent shooting, he is the more valuable piece to the Lakers. Ball's exact impact is harder to quantify by simple stats. His averages of 7.1 assists and 7.1 rebounds per night hint at his versatility. An unselfish point guard makes his teammates better, and that's exactly how Ball plays.

And despite scouting reports to the contrary before the draft, he is actually playing good defense. Without Ball, the team's defensive rating drops by 6.7 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.

When Lonzo Ball doesn't play, the Lakers are winless this season.
When Lonzo Ball doesn't play, the Lakers are winless this season.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The Lakers offense is actually slightly better when he sits (100.9 vs. 101.2 points per 100 possessions), but that's a negligible difference, especially considering his defensive impact.

Ball could follow Rondo's path to multiple All-Stars without scoring dominance, but then, Rondo was a crucial part of a Boston Celtics team that was competing for NBA titles. The Lakers will need to improve significantly for Ball to be recognized if he's well below 20 points a game.

Kuzma has shown a true knack for scoring and an array of moves and counters. He's leading the Lakers at 16.5 points per game in 31.2 minutes (fourth on the squad). Ball's greatness is working with others, and Kuzma's skills are a great fit alongside him.

If Kuzma can raise his average by at least four points (which won't happen this season), he'll garner consideration. Still, unless he's on a winning team, Kuzma may be subject to a snubbing similar to Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who averaged 27.0 points per game last season.

Lillard's teammate C.J. McCollum (23.0) was also left off the All-Star team, along with Andrew Wiggins (23.6) of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Devin Booker (22.1) of the Phoenix Suns, both on losing franchises. The Blazers ultimately rallied and eventually made the playoffs, but team record can play a significant part in All-Star selection.

Both Ball and Kuzma will improve over time as they gain experience. As the Lakers roster make strides and the team becomes truly competitive once again, the massive fanbase will eventually give the rookies an edge over their counterparts in smaller markets.

Given the popularity of the Ball family, Lonzo is more likely than Kuzma to win the fan vote as a starter, but will he be able to surpass the likes of Curry, Harden or Westbrook anytime soon?

Probably not, but Ball will be an All-Star ahead of Kuzma because of how thoroughly he impacts the game. Almost every team in the NBA has a big-time scorer, even the bad ones (like Booker in Phoenix). Kuzma will prove to be a valuable piece for the Lakers moving forward, but Ball is a franchise cornerstone.

Ball makes a significant difference on both sides of the floor. The Lakers are far, far worse without him. Scorers come and go, but Los Angeles has a potential longtime All-Star and game-changer in Lonzo Ball. 

                

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats provided by NBA.com. Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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