LOS ANGELES — How much of Lonzo Ball's celebrity is hype, and how much is substance?
The Los Angeles Lakers' 2-2 start to the season is a positive sign for Ball, but remember: Last year's 26-win squad won 10 of its first 20 games before a combination of injuries and inexperience did it in.
Behind Ball is a marketing machine in his father, LaVar, who has a tremendous knack for generating buzz surrounding his son. Wednesday's marquee matchup at Staples Center between Ball's Lakers and John Wall's Washington Wizards is a prime example, starting with a claim from LaVar that the Lakers would not lose again this week. Wizards center Marcin Gortat took exception and called out the Ball patriarch with a boast that included Wall "torturing" Ball on the court for 48 minutes.
"You see Gortat, he put [Wall] in trouble like that. Don't put no pressure on your point guard like that," LaVar told Bleacher Report after the Lakers' 102-99 overtime victory over Washington. "He's not me. Lonzo, I've been telling him since he's been a baby. It's easy to him."
"I already knew what was going to happen. Like I tried to tell you all, he won't be losing two games," LaVar said. "Even if I'm wrong or right, you know what I'm going to do? Go get me some donuts and go back to sleep."
🔥 Top Videos from Around B/R 🔥
Lonzo's performance Tuesday was a mixed bag. He dished 10 assists with only one turnover and collected eight rebounds, but he scored just six points on 2-of-11 shooting.
The matchup with Wall proved to be more of a subplot. Lakers head coach Luke Walton used Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the primary defender on Wall, while Ball mostly shadowed Wizards forward Kelly Oubre. However, Ball did match up on Wall for the Wizards' final game-tying attempt in overtime.
"They needed a three to win, so I was going to ride him," Ball said. "He's right-handed, so I doubted he was going to shoot it with his left. So, I just stayed on his right hand and just [made] sure when we got to the three, don't foul him."
Wall's shot was rushed, and even if he had made it, a review would have revealed his foot was on the line. Ball helped seal the Lakers' victory with the defensive stop.
That's just one example of how Ball has helped the Lakers compete in three of their four games this season. Since Ball is primarily a facilitator, individual scoring isn't the best way to judge the rookie point guard.
On opening night, the narrative seemed to be that Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley shut Ball down. The Clippers thumped the Lakers, 108-92, while Ball scored just three points on 1-of-6 shooting and had four assists.
Beverley is one of the NBA's top defensive point guards, but Ball is not a dribble-heavy floor general. If he's overplayed, he'll make the pass. While Beverley got the best of Ball on a play or two, a closer look at the game shows Ball setting up his teammates time and again for layups and open shots that they bricked left and right.
It was not a stellar debut, but Ball got where he wanted on the court most of the night. His colleagues just struggled to play through opening-night jitters.
Ball gave a glimpse of his upside in his second regular-season outing against the Phoenix Suns, delivering a masterful 29-point, 11-rebound, nine-assist performance in which he shot 12-of-27 (44.4 percent).
If fans are expecting that nightly from Ball, they're going to be disappointed. The Suns were on the verge of firing their now-former head coach, Earl Watson, and they played almost zero defense. Ball put up impressive numbers against a dysfunctional team, but could he duplicate that against higher-quality competition?
His third game Sunday was also a mixed bag. Ball dished a career-high 13 assists in a 119-112 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, but he also turned the ball over five times and finished with a team-worst plus/minus of minus-24.
On Wednesday, Ball looked more settled against the Wizards, but he continued to struggle with his shot against teams not about to fire their coach.
"Down the stretch, he made some really nice plays," Walton said of Ball on Wednesday. "Even when he's missing his shot, he still impacts the game in such a positive way."
LaVar isn't worried about his son's struggle to hit open shots and finish at the rim.
"Go get that W," the Ball patriarch said. "Now the good thing about Zo is, [we] don't worry about no stats. I told him, 'Hey, they got you for one reason, close these games [out].'"
Lonzo, who is shooting just 31.6 percent from the field this season, said he knows accuracy will come in time. Until then, he'll find other ways to help his team compete.
"It'd be a lot easier to win if I make some shots," he said. "But I'm going to rebound. I'm going to try to defend every time I can, and I'm going to find the open man."
Suggesting Ball will be a nightly triple-double threat is not hype. He can play at a high level in the NBA, but so far, he can't shoot.
Until he adds that component to his game, defenders are going to go under screens. They're going to play him for the pass and dare him to score.
That's going to take some time, but the Lakers can afford to be patient.
In the meantime, LaVar will continue to speak the gospel on his son's behalf.
"It's a team game," he said. "That's how you're going to beat someone. If you go one-on-one, you're never going to win. "If you keep taking it personal, trying to go one-on-one with my son, you're going to lose every time."
"You're not going to just walk in here and think you're going to get a win," he continued. "It's all fun and games, but they ain't Disneyland. It's Lakerland, next to Big Baller Brand."