Luke Walton says the Lakers targeted Lonzo Ball for one of his most unique skills, and it’s already having an effect on the team

lonzo ballEthan Miller/Getty

After a rocky debut at Summer League, Lonzo Ball has impressed the NBA world in the Las Vegas exhibitions with his court vision and leadership.

Of particular note has been Ball’s passing, his most highly praised skill coming out of college.

While there were questions about Ball’s athleticism and shooting form, many believed his ability to see the court, make on-target passes, and find open teammates would make him, at the least, a rotation-worthy guard.

None of that has changed in Summer League. While it’s easy to get carried away by good performances in meaningless games against lesser competition, Ball has looked like a generational passer, the kind of player who sees a play happening before anyone else and catches defenses off guard with his looks.

Even in just a handful of games, Ball’s passing seems to have become contagious among his teammates. On ESPN’s podcast “The Lowe Post,” hosted by Zach Lowe, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton said Ball’s unselfishness had already improved the offense.

“The way he passes the ball, the way he plays the game, is contagious,” Walton said. “Other guys on the team are starting to play like that. You can see the team taking joy in making the extra pass now, and that’s how we wanna play.”

Several times in Summer League, Ball has wowed crowds with quick, full-court outlet passes to a teammate streaking down the court for an easy basket. While Ball makes the passes look effortless, they are not easy — few players in the league can scan the court so quickly, see the defense relaxing, then fire a pinpoint heave to an open teammate.

Walton told Lowe that this skill was something the Lakers targeted during the pre-draft process and that it was one of the deciding factors in drafting Ball.

“That was a major thing we talked about in the [draft] rooms,” Walton said. “And it’s a simple thing, but like you said, when you’re a wing player or a big man and you know if you run the floor that ball is gonna hit you — and he does it 100% of the time. If you watch him as he’s getting the ball out of bounds, his head is already surveying what’s going on in front of him. And if a defender’s not looking, he’s throwing it.

“It could be risky, but for now, I don’t give a damn. Throw the ball every time. Because we want our wings, we preach to our wings and our bigs to sprint that lane, sprint that lane. But when the ball is actually getting thrown to them, now they’re more likely and they want to get out there. Because those are free points, free layups for them.”

Additionally, Walton said he had already received texts from Lakers veterans saying they can’t wait to run fast breaks with Ball.

“I saw Jordan Clarkson here, he was already really excited about how hard he’s gonna run the lanes next year, he was telling me,” Walton said. “Larry Nance texted me on the phone, same idea. So that’s kind of what we were hoping.”

While excelling in Summer League and playing well in actual NBA games are much different, the encouraging aspect of Ball’s performances is that his court vision won’t go anywhere. As Walton said, some of his passes may get picked off in the NBA against better, headier defenders. But Ball’s unselfishness should encourage teammates to run the court and share the ball, and that should have a huge effect on what looks like an exciting, young Lakers team.

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