Pelicans star Lonzo Ball betting on breakthrough 2020-21 NBA season

By Vincent Frank
August 6, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; New Orleans Pelicans Lonzo Ball (2) controls the ball against Sacramento Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovic (8) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at HP Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball displayed flashes of brilliance during his first season with the team after being acquired in the Anthony Davis blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lonzo Ball has always had the talent. It’s what made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft in the first place. However, the Southern California native failed to put it all together in two full seasons with his hometown Lakers. Now entering his fourth season in the NBA, Lonzo Ball is betting on himself.

Ball, 23, failed to come to terms on a contract extension with the Pelicans ahead of Monday’s deadline. This means the stud young point guard will hit the restricted free agent market next summer. It also means that the 2020-21 NBA season will be make-or-break for Lonzo Ball.

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Pelicans’ Lonzo Ball betting on himself for 2020-21 NBA season

Lonzo Ball, 2020-21 NBA season
Aug 9, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; New Orleans Pelicans’ Lonzo Ball (left) drives around San Antonio Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan during the second half of an NBA basketball game at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
  • Ball could have agreed to something similar to the three-year, $50 million extension Markelle Fultz signed with the Orlando Magic earlier this week. That would have enabled the guard to opt out of said deal after two seasons and hit free agency while he’s still entering his prime.
  • We have no idea how the negotiations went behind the scenes between Lonzo Ball and his Pelicans. We don’t even know if New Orleans offered the guard a competitive-market contract extension. That’s a major thing to look at when discussing this situation.
  • Ball was not necessarily the centerpiece that headed to New Orleans in the Anthony Davis trade. Rather, it was Brandon Ingram. He earned an All-Star appearance last season and appears to be one of the faces of the Pelicans franchise with Zion Williamson moving forward. In fact, there were rumors that Lonzo Ball was on the trade block this past offseason.

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Lonzo Ball is a different player with Zion Williamson

  • There’s another big backdrop to all of this. Ball is betting that a full season playing with last year’s No. 1 overall pick will up his value on the restricted free-agent market next summer. He’s not necessarily wrong in banking on this.

Lonzo Ball stats with and without Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball
Jan 22, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) and guard Lonzo Ball (2) talk during the third quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
  • Without Williamson: 12.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 39% shooting, 36% three-point range
  • After Williamson returned: 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 47% shooting, 40% three-point range

As you can tell with the above splits, Lonzo Ball was much more efficient shooting the ball once Williamson made his debut with the Pelicans. He also averaged more rebounds, assists and steals per game while shooting a stellar 40% from distance.

Ball did not need to score. That’s not necessarily what makes him a high-upside talent. Rather, it’s his ability to rebound from the point, distribute the ball, run the offense, shoot from distance and play elite-level defense.

Whether this will equate to a tremendous all-around performance from Lonzo Ball during the 2020-21 NBA season remains to be seen. But all the indications are that he’ll be the dynamic player the Lakers got when they selected him No. 2 overall a few years ago.

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Lonzo Ball and the Pelicans’ future

We focused above on the Pelicans not necessarily viewing Ball as the centerpiece in the Anthony Davis trade. However, New Orleans’ decision to move off Jrue Holiday in a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks this past fall might change things in this regard.

As of right now, the Pelicans plan on playing Lonzo Ball and recently-acquired Eric Bledsoe together in the backcourt. With that said, the acquisition of Bledsoe in the Holiday trade was more a means to an end. He needed to be brought aboard to make the salaries work. There’s a chance Bledsoe and his salary will end up being moved for more draft-pick assets.

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Where does that leave Lonzo Ball and his future with the Pelicans? It’s all about his performance this coming season. If the young guard proves invaluable, a max-level rookie contract could be in the cards. If not, the Pelicans could opt to let another team sign him to a huge offer sheet on the restricted free-agent market and then decide what to do from there.

Yeah, Lonzo Ball is banking on himself for the 2020-21 NBA season. We’ll see how it goes with the Pelicans season starting Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors.

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