Sunday night provided the latest example of Lonzo Ball’s progression in the NBA, specifically with his jump shot. While Ball had success in high school and at UCLA as a 3-point shooter – he shot 41.2% on over five attempts per game his one year in college – his unorthodox jumper let to much more erratic results in his first two years in the NBA.
His reworked jumper has been oft-discussed and he and Fred Vinson have spent much of the last two seasons reworking and fine-tuning Ball’s jumper. The results have been seen throughout this season as Ball is shooting 39.2% from the 3-point line, a career-best mark, culminating most recently in his single-game career-high eight 3-pointers against Houston on Sunday.
“You have to give him a ton of credit,” head coach Stan Van Gundy said on Sunday. “It’s hard for guys to make those kinds of changes anyway, but when you’ve had as much success playing basketball in your life as Lonzo Ball has, to be the No. 2 pick in the draft and to have the humility to say I need to change something, I need to get better and then to come in and do the work he does with (assistant coach) Fred (Vinson) and put in that time and effort, that’s something to really be admired.
“This is my job,” Ball said on whether he takes pride in his reworked jumper. “We’re paid to be in the gym. I came in, my shot wasn’t working. Pretty much all the credit goes to Fred. He got me when I first came here, the first week, and we’ve just been grinding ever since and you can see the work paying off.”
Van Gundy has only been around Ball one season in New Orleans but has watched from afar either on the sidelines in Detroit or as an analyst for TNT and has marveled at the transformation Ball’s shot has undergone. He also has been equally impressed by Ball’s willingness to drastically change his game.
“I think people, players especially, don’t understand sometimes the meaning of humility,” he said. “It’s not modesty. Humility isn’t saying ‘Oh I’m really not that good’ and not getting into an ego thing. Humility is being able to sit back and realistically look at ‘What do I have to do to get better?” That’s a tough thing for a lot of guys. I think what Lonzo’s done over the last two years to improve his shooting is one of the best stories in the league.
“He made a total overhaul of his shot from the way he shot the ball coming up through high school, college and his first couple of years in the NBA. Now, he’s just a great shooter and now he’s going to the line and making free throws. All the credit in the world to him and even then, he’ll give the credit to Fred which Fred deserves a lot of credit but no coach gets anywhere with a player without the player’s work ethic and humility and desire to learn.”
Outside of the simple raw numbers, Ball’s 3-point attempt rate – or the percentage of his field goal attempts that are threes – has dramatically risen with his shooting percentages from range. Per Synergy, Ball ranks in the 85th percentile in spot-up possessions and is in the 84th percentile in catch-and-shoot opportunities. Comparatively, last season he ranked in the 52nd percentile as a spot-up shooter and 77th percentile in catch-and-shoots
Not satisfied with his improvements, Ball has already begun taking the next steps in his improvements as a shooter as well in becoming more adept at knocking down shots off screens.
“That’s kind of been the next phase,” Ball said. “That’s what we’ve been working on recently, trying to come off pin downs, floppy screens, stuff like that just to get up a couple of extra threes and they were falling tonight.”
It’s not an aspect of his game that has been evident this season as he’s had just 10 possessions coming off screens. If he’s able to develop his game in those areas though, given Zion Williamson’s development as an on-ball player this year, it could make that combination even more dangerous moving forward.