As Lonzo Ball walked off the court after providing 35 minutes of nonstop energy, LeBron James was the first man to embrace the 21-year-old.
The sophomore guard had just dropped his first triple-double of the season — 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Charlotte — as he and James became the first teammates in 11 years to record triple-doubles in the same game.
It’s fitting that James and Ball were the players to do it, given how Lonzo grew up modeling his game after LeBron’s.
And James sees the similarities, claiming that both are unselfish passers, strong positional rebounders and capable scorers.
“We just try to be aggressive and attack the rim [and] make shots from the outside when guys disrespect us,” James said, “and we showed all of that tonight.”
Ball had one of his best scoring nights of the season, shooting 7-of-11 from the field. He got to the rim thrice on fast-breaks and added two spot-up 3-pointers.
But his most impressive bucket of the game came off his own dribble in the half-court, as he split two defenders before rising up to hammer down a dunk.
“We always want Zo to be ultra-aggressive,” James said. “With his speed, size and athleticism, he can put the defense at bay and put the pressure on the defense.”
Ball is also capable of being aggressive and unselfish at the same time.
Much of his playmaking stemmed from him finding his way inside before dishing to an open shooter or cutter.
Notice how he drives into Kyle Kuzma’s defender, essentially setting a pseudo-screen to give his teammate a wide-open look.
And while triple-doubles are mostly offensive accomplishments by nature, Ball nonetheless found the energy to also make an enormous defensive impact in the 28-point win over the Hornets.
When power forward Marvin Williams slipped a screen, he likely thought he was en route to an easy layup. He certainly didn’t imagine that a point guard would be the one rotating over for a block in the restricted area.
And that’s only the beginning of the defensive impact provided by Ball, who had the Lakers’ first triple-double with five steals since Magic Johnson on Jan. 24, 1989.
“It starts with Zo,” LeBron said. “Zo is the main [point of] attack when it comes to our defense.”
Ball’s quick hands helped him turn defense into offense, as his steals often led to fast-break chances for himself and teammates.
While blocks and steals might make for a good highlight tape, his man-to-man defense was most important to the Lakers handing Charlotte its worst loss of the year.
Ball’s target, Kemba Walker, entered the matchup ninth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 25.6 points a game.
“He’s one of the best guards in the league,” Ball said. “He can shoot, score from all levels, and he’s very fast. So I was just trying to make his job as hard as I can.”
Ball did more than that, as Walker finished the night with a season-low four points on 2-of-13 shooting with three turnovers.
“He’s been hounding people, fighting over screens,” coach Luke Walton said. “There’s nothing we did different. But Zo has really good size to him and he’s got good feet and a good feel for the game.”
Walker leads the league in scoring as the pick-and-roll ball handler, but Lonzo was the perfect antidote, using his improved frame to crash through screens and remain locked onto his mark.
“A big part of defense in this league is being able to hit those screens and fight through them,” Walton said. “You come in as a rookie, a lot of times those screens will cripple you as you try to fight. But he did a nice job of getting in the weight room this summer, understanding coverages more.”