The Bulls' best shooter so far in preseason: Lonzo Ball

It's only been two preseason games, but Ball has shot 64% from downtown during exhibition play
by Sam Smith
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There's quite a bit unusual about Lonzo Ball, the Bulls new point guard.

Most elite draft picks sign contracts with sneaker companies. Ball's family started a sneaker company. Ball and his two brothers, LaMelo and LiAngelo, fine examples of appellation alliteration, are the rare sibling troika of professional basketball players. And Lonzo may have been the only NBA player to block his own shot.

Coaches instructing defense always counsel their players to get a hand in the face. Perhaps Ball misunderstood because when he shot he moved the ball to the left side of his head with his right arm and got a hand—or part of an arm—in HIS face.

But as the Bulls Sunday prepare this time on the road to play the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time in a week, Ball not only is giving the Bulls the proverbial shot in the arm with his daring and aggressive lead guard play, but he's been the best three-point shooter on the team.

Sure it's just two preseason games. But it's really a remarkable story of perseverance and commitment that even in a small sample on a team with snipers like Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan that Ball has shot the ball so impressively.

"Lonzo is a great guy, tremendous worker," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "He knows how to play the game, very, very high basketball IQ, plays instinctive basketball and shares and moves the ball. It's pretty impressive what he's done pretty early in his carer where he shot the ball and to where he is now. It's a testament to the work he's put in; no question a really, really good worker."

And perhaps an inspiration as well too many around the NBA like Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Russell Westbrook. Yes, you too can learn how to shoot.

Ball is shooting 64 percent, seven of 11, on threes in the two games, the best among the Bulls starters and best of the five players with at least nine attempts. Alex Caruso is shooting 80 percent, but attempting only about two per game. As a team, the Bulls are shooting an impressive 39 percent on threes.

Lonzo Ball has been the Bulls' best three-pointer shooter through two preseason games.

Lonzo Ball has been the Bulls' best three-pointer shooter through two preseason games.

LaVine is a predictable six of 13, though Nikola Vucevic has missed all 10 of his attempts. He shrugged it off as his typical start since he shot 40 percent on threes last season. Vucevic is a noted humanist, so perhaps it was a charitable effort since the Bulls won both games by 36 points. And that was after leading by more than 40 in both. Imagine if he actually made some threes.

So there's been much impressive about the Bulls play, and little to say about the quality of the opposition. But shooting is shooting. Either you can or you can't.

Lonzo always could, though it was hardly reliable the way he brought the ball horizontally across his face to the left side to release. It certainly limited his shooting off the dribble. And while his percentages as a spot up shooter were adequate during his season at UCLA, his free throws were poor for a point guard, below 70 percent. And then they got worse his first two years in the NBA with the Lakers, shooting below 50 percent from the free throw line. Which, like Simmons and the 76ers experienced, questions whether you can have your point guard on the floor at the end of the game.

So Ball, to his credit, was willing to adjust. Which not only isn't easy, but not something many in his position accept. After all, Ball led the nation in assists and broke the UCLA record and was the second overall pick in the NBA draft. Magic Johnson said as is he would be the next face of the Lakers.

But after being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in the Anthony Davis deal before the 2919-20 season, Ball went to work with assistant coach Fred Vinson. Ball credits Vinson for the changes and improvement. But it's also the special player who'll work that hard to be different—and admit he needs improvement—when he's already making millions of dollars and being celebrated.

And there were the shoes.

In his first season with the Pelicans, Ball improved his free throw shooting from 42 percent to 57 percent. But he made the real breakthrough last season when he shot 78 percent on free throws. That enables you to finish. Ball also shot 38 percent on threes last season with more than eight per game, though the Pelicans began skewing toward Zion Williamson and playing Ball more as a shooting guard. As a rookie, Ball shot 30 percent on threes.

Lonzo Ball after nailing one of his five three-pointers against the Pelicans in preseason action on Friday night.

Lonzo Ball after nailing one of his five three-pointers against the Pelicans in preseason action on Friday night.

"He's an extremely hard worker," credited LaVine. "People expect somebody to come into the NBA at 18, 19 years old and be the best player they are going to be when they are 25, 26. You have to work on something when you come in the league. Obviously, he's worked on his shot and he's one hell of a shooter. He's overall a great player.

"He was shooting above 40 when he hurt himself at the end of last year," LaVine pointed out. "That's a part of his game teams are going to have to respect. Or they are going to get their head cracked like they did (Friday against the Pelicans)."

Ball doesn't elaborate much.

"We have a lot of different options and a lot of different guys who can put the ball in the basket," he said after the New Orleans game when he had 19 points in 25 minutes with five of six threes. "So it's just about finding the best shot and staying true to the team."

Heck, maybe his glass slipper out there could be leading the NBA in three-point shooting

"I don't see why not," Lonzo said evenly.

Better keep our eyes on this Ball.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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