2017 NBA Draft
Family affair: Lakers grab Lonzo Ball with 2nd overall pick
LaVar Ball predicts playoffs, Lakers coach Luke Walton tempers expectation
Greg Beacham | The Associated Press
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Lonzo Ball and his dad are staying home with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers selected Ball with the second overall pick in the NBA draft Thursday night, staking a big portion of their future on the UCLA playmaker with an attention-grabbing father.
After the worst four-year stretch in franchise history, the 16-time NBA champion Lakers are rebuilding with the point guard who led the nation with 7.7 assists per game last season for the Bruins. With preternatural court vision, a solid scoring touch and a desire to become a leader, the Los Angeles-area native had everything that his hometown team wanted.
“Guys are going to naturally gravitate towards someone who wants to make them better,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “To me, he’s the type of player that, when he’s on the floor, all four guys that are out there with him become better instantly. And that’s a quality and a trait that not many people have. The great ones all have it, and we hope that by the way he plays, everyone else on our team becomes better.”
The Lakers don’t appear worried about attaching themselves to LaVar Ball, the voluble family patriarch with aspirations of building a global sports empire around his three talented sons, one $495 pair of sneakers at a time.
LaVar Ball has vowed that oldest son Lonzo would end up with the Lakers for two years, believing he could speak his dream into existence. Moments after it became a reality at the draft in New York, LaVar pulled on a purple-and-gold hat featuring the logo of his Big Baller Brand company – and then declared Lonzo will lead the Lakers back to the playoffs next season as a rookie.
“I’m a very optimistic person, but I don’t look that far into the future,” Walton said. “Right now, I’m hoping (Lonzo) leads us to a couple of summer league victories, and we’ll take it from there.”
Lonzo Ball usually grins or sighs when his father gets on the microphone, but he openly acknowledged he also wanted to land with the Lakers, who needed a fortunate showing in the draft lottery just to end up with the second pick. After that bit of serendipity, the Lakers made their plans for Ball well-known earlier this week when they agreed to trade point guard D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets.
Lonzo has acknowledged the extra degree of difficulty created in his career by LaVar’s public presence, saying it makes him an easy target for abuse from fans and attention from opponents.
Walton gets it: After all, he is the son of Hall of Famer Bill Walton, the genial basketball blowhard.
“That will make it more challenging a little bit, but I think that every top draft pick that comes in has a target on their back,” Walton said. “The best players in this league want to set the tone with these young players early, to let them know what it’s like here. I know when I was a young player, I had a target on my back from my own teammates because of things my dad said, but it ended up working out.
“What’s incredible is that according to Zo, his dad has been great. He’s always been there for him. He has supported him. He obviously loves him, and that’s what you want out of a father, so I’m not overly concerned with that.”
LaVar Ball raised his family in Chino Hills, a Los Angeles suburb 35 miles east of Staples Center. Lonzo Ball has never attended a Lakers home game, but he rooted for Kobe Bryant on television and modeled his game after Magic Johnson, who took over the Lakers’ basketball operations in February.
Ball receives comparisons to Jason Kidd for his offensive abilities. His cool playmaking turned UCLA into the highest-scoring team in Division I, and he scored 14.6 points per game despite an unorthodox shot.
Ball was named the Pac-12’s freshman of the year, beating out No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz from Washington. He was the conference’s first player to average 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists per game since Kidd did it at California.
“I’m sure he’ll fit into our culture,” Walton said. “He’ll help improve our culture with the way he plays, the way he passes, his selfless nature, and that’s why we took him.”