Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who is from Lansing, Mich., experienced the greatest days of Showtime with the Los Angeles Lakers in the company of a center from New York City and a power forward from Gastonia, N.C.
The cast for the team that went to the NBA Finals seven times in the span of nine seasons and won five championships came from all over the country, with Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy at its core. I’ll have to give you Byron Scott, who grew up in Inglewood in the very shadow of the Forum, but otherwise it was a melting pot that made the talented stew.
That’s part of the reason it didn’t make sense to assume Johnson would factor in a hometown edge for UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball when the Lakers make their decision with the second pick in the June 22 NBA draft. If the logic is that getting a local kid will create more excitement and buzz among the fan base, let me assure you that Magic Johnson does not ascribe to that way of thinking. Winning is what creates buzz and excitement, even if the draft pick is from, say, Lower Merion High School. It’s the player, not the place.
Long before the recent rumors that the Lakers had not come to a consensus on their selection, if the Celtics do indeed take Markelle Fultz at No. 1, there was a lot about Ball, and the other candidates for the second spot, that should have thrown doubt on what was being considered a foregone conclusion.
For one thing, the Lakers very recently invested the second pick in the draft on point guard D’Angelo Russell and it might be a little soon to select his replacement. Russell had some injury issues last season, his second in the league, and is still adjusting to the NBA game, but he’s too valuable a piece to render redundant as the Lakers build. As you look at their roster, with Russell at the point, Julius Randle at power forward and Brandon Ingram at small forward, sliding a guy like Josh Jackson of Kansas into a swing position makes a lot more sense than taking on another ball-dominant point guard. In fact, that’s exactly what I expect to happen.
If that is the case, the question remains what will the 76ers do at No. 3? I’m on record as preferring Malik Monk for the Sixers, even though everyone in the world considers that too high a spot to select him. He can do what they need most, and that is shoot the basketball from range, regardless of the artificial rankings placed on the top prospects by “experts.” Put it this way: If you went back and arranged the top end of previous drafts by which players became the most productive, the rankings would never reflect where the players were actually taken.
That said, Bryan Colangelo is more likely to hew to accepted logic than to listen to me. And if so, then the Sixers better grab Lonzo Ball if he is there. Getting him would provide outside shooting in the halfcourt, a wonderful transition player, and excellent insurance in the event that putting Ben Simmons at the point is an experiment that blows up the lab. Ball is going to be a starter in the NBA for 10 years and it might as well be with the Sixers.
There are a couple of things that make people flinch about drafting Ball, and there is some reason for concern. Let’s take a look at those.
His shot is way weird
No denying that. Ball loads up for his jumper by taking the ball down to his waist, then bringing it up behind his left ear before releasing it with a quick snap. That wouldn’t be extremely weird except he’s right-handed. It’s easy to look at his shot and think that it won’t work in the NBA, but here’s the thing: It goes in.
UCLA coach Steve Alford calls Ball a “competitive shooter,” which means that he finds the basket when he needs to. Ball shot 55 percent from the field, including 41.2 percent on three-point attempts in his one season with the Bruins. In the NCAA tournament, getting back to that “competitive” thing, he made 63 percent from the field and 44 percent of his three-pointers.
The guy can really run, although he’s a little slight at 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds, can really pass, and has a great handle. The shooting will be there. No made basket is weird.
His old man is a wackadoo
LaVar Ball does appear to have the possibility of being a bit of a meddler. He’s turned Lonzo into a cottage industry, starting the Big Baller Brand of clothing and equipment that features the $495 ZO2 shoe. He has not been timid in expressing his views concerning where his son will be drafted and the expectation is that he will have similar opinions on how Lonzo is being used at the next level.
Well, so what? That doesn’t mean it will affect either Lonzo Ball or the team that selects him. Go back some years and read what people were saying about the mother of LeBron James before the draft. She was also considered something of a loose cannon. Take a refresher course in the history of the Flyers with Carl and Bonnie Lindros, who liked to call general manager Bobby Clarke with their complaints. (He eventually got Caller ID.) It turned out that James, straight out of high school, handled his family situation perfectly, and that Eric Lindros had a very good, if not great, career that was only cut short by concussions.
Any organization that worries it can’t handle a player’s parent needs to reassess itself. The scouting report on Lonzo Ball’s character is that he’s very grounded, mature for his age and ultra-competitive. He’ll be fine.
With a week to go until the draft, the feeling here is that he would be exceptionally fine in a Sixers uniform. If the team stays in the box rather than thinking outside it, and if Ball is still inside, he has to be the pick.