The Los Angeles Lakers had several options at the No. 2 spot in the 2017 NBA draft, including trading the pick for an established player or taking a promising prospect like Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox or Kansas wing Josh Jackson. In the end, though, they made the choice most expected — to select UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, a local product from Chino Hills with the talent and star appeal to lead the Lakers into a new era.
The pick makes sense for the Lakers on several levels. Ball has been widely labeled as the second-best prospect in this draft behind top pick and new Philadelphia 76ers point guard Markelle Fultz. In his lone season at UCLA, Ball impressed with his combination of size at 6-foot-6, playmaking skill, outside shooting (despite a bizarre form that has scared off some scouts), and high steal numbers. He was vastly outplayed by Fox in the Wildcats’ Sweet Sixteen win over the Bruins, but the mix of Ball’s talent and hometown appeal was simply too much for the Lakers to turn down.
As most basketball fans know by now, Ball comes loaded with the considerable baggage of his father, budding sports apparel impresario LaVar Ball. The elder Ball’s brash character and penchant for boasting about his own abilities has worried some analysts and inspired plenty of conversation, but Lonzo himself has always come across as a steady and smart young man. The hope is that, once he appears on an NBA court, the content industry surrounding LaVar recedes into the background and Lonzo’s game becomes the show.
The Lakers are betting a great deal on Ball’s future. This week’s trade of 2015 No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets cleared the way for Ball to take over the bulk of the team’s playmaking duties, so he’ll have the opportunity to prove himself early. Executives Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka also made that move to clear cap space to add a star via trade or free agency, but Ball will be asked to do a great deal regardless of who plays alongside him.
The pressure will be considerable. It’s up to Ball to prove he can live up to the hype drummed up by Lakers fans, the press, and his own father.
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More NBA draft coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Process pays off: Sixers take Fultz No. 1 overall
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• Troubling new report about Phil Jackson, Knicks
• The mocking draft: Ranking picks by quirks
• Knicks owner to spend draft … playing the blues
• The Vertical’s team-by-team NBA draft guide