The Los Angeles Lakers are in danger of missing the playoffs once again, and the absence of point guard Lonzo Ball is a big reason why.
There are plenty of factors why the Purple and Gold found themselves in a precarious situation after going as high as the fourth seed in the loaded Western Conference. Superstar forward LeBron James suffered a groin injury on Christmas and missed a significant amount of time; not to mention the trade rumors that undoubtedly affected the team’s chemistry.
Luke Walton’s rotation is also suspect, especially in games that should have been winnable for the Lakers.
However, amid all the issues and the finger-pointing that happened (or that’s happening), one thing has been magnified more than any other: Los Angeles is sorely missing Lonzo on both ends of the floor.
Not the same offense
A quick look at the numbers easily shows how big a blow to the Lakers was Lonzo’s injury. For starters, in the past 17 games that he missed since sustaining a grade 3 ankle sprain, LA has gone 5-12.
Just to compare, LeBron also missed 17 consecutive matches after his Christmas injury. Over that period, the Lakers were 6-11 — though parts of it saw James and Ball sidelined at the same time.
Lonzo’s stats don’t look gaudy. In fact, his season averages of 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals won’t even turn heads. However, as a pass-first point guard, his ability to push the pace and get the Lakers to offense quickly is something that the team is severely lacking.
Of course, Rajon Rondo is still there, but he isn’t as effective as Lonzo when it comes to playing off LeBron and Brandon Ingram. There’s a reason why James has taken the role of point-forward more often than not even with the presence of Rondo.
No Z, No D
If there’s one area where Los Angeles took the biggest dip after Ball went down with injury, it was on the defensive end. Put simply, no other Laker was capable of replicating the little things that Lonzo do on that end of the floor.
Rondo is a solid offensive player, but Ball is way better than him defensively.
As Lonzo remained sidelined, Luke Walton failed to find someone who can read offenses, cut passing lanes, make steals and guard multiple positions as great as the 21-year-old playmaker.
The eye test shows that and the stats back it up.
Before Jan. 21 —when the Lakers announced that Lonzo would be sidelined for four to six weeks —the team has the seventh-best defensive rating at 106.3. Since then though, they have been the third-worst squad defensively (116.1), only slightly better than the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks.
As further proof, earlier in February and right before the All-Star break, the Lakers gave up 136 and 143 points to the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.
Lonzo’s height and physical tools make him the perfect guard to effectively do switches on defense, and without him, the team was left with a huge hole to fill. After all, he’s by far the Lakers’ best defensive player, particularly on the perimeter.
What now for the Lakers?
Lonzo is only one, albeit huge, part of the equation. There are still plenty of issues that the Lakers need to address while they compete for a playoff spot.
Ball is nowhere near to returning, and it might even be safe to say that there will be little time for Los Angeles to stage a comeback when the UCLA product determines he’s ready to play basketball again.
Team president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka could choose to completely shut down Ball with the regular season entering the final stretch; but, fans will certainly hope not as it would symbolize LA is throwing in the towel.