Lonzo Ball with children at Westbank Boys & Girls Club

Lonzo Ball: Pelicans ‘have a lot of talent, all the pieces’ to compete

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Lonzo Ball already has 20 double-digit assist games in his brief NBA career, so it was no surprise that the point guard spent much of his Tuesday appearance at the Westbank Boys & Girls Club lending a helping hand to youngsters, dishing passes to them and grabbing rebounds. Ball – the rare NBA player with career averages of six-plus rebounds and six-plus assists –  has only been a member of the New Orleans Pelicans for three months, but he already sounds comfortable in the Crescent City.

Asked about his adjustment to a new NBA city, the first time in his life he’s resided outside California, Ball responded, “It’s been pretty easy. The coaches are great, my teammates are cool and the people in town, they love us. So I’m here just trying to do my part.”

On the court, Ball has been encouraged by what he’s seen over multiple weeks at New Orleans’ voluntary workouts, which have been regularly attended by 15-plus players.

“I think we have a chance (to be good). We have a lot of talent. We have a new team, where people have got to get to know each other, so we’ve got to start a little earlier,” Ball said, referring to one reason Pelicans players were motivated to participate.

Ball missed 35 games last season due to injury, but said Tuesday of his health, “I’m good. Doing everything, 5-on-5, full-contact. I’m good.”

The 21-year-old is recognized as one of the NBA’s rising talents, including being ranked 68th by ESPN.com on its Top 100 players list, despite battling injuries, appearing in 99 of a possible 164 games so far. Asked Tuesday whether that bad luck has prevented some around the NBA from fully appreciating his ability, Ball responded, “Definitely. It’s tough when you can’t play as many games as you want to play, but hopefully this year I can stay healthy and do what I need to do throughout the season.”

The UCLA product hopes to be on the floor for significant minutes with a fellow Southern California native and former Bruins guard, Jrue Holiday. The pairing could prove to be one of the NBA’s stingiest defensive backcourt, a potential key to New Orleans’ needed improvements at that end of the floor. The Pelicans ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency in 2018-19.

“It’s great,” Ball said of getting to play with Holiday during voluntary workouts. “You can tell the game comes easy to him. I like to play defense; he does as well. We can switch off (on opposing guards) and try to lock people up.

“(As a team) we can do a lot of switching. We’ve got height, strength and speed. We’ve got everything you need to be a good defensive team. Now we’ve just got to put in effort. We have all the pieces we need. We’ve got shooters, bigs, people who can push the pace. I’m looking forward to this year.”

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