- With Lavar absent and LeBron James courtside, Lonzo Ball shined in the Lakers 103-102 comeback win over the Sixers in NBA Summer League.
LAS VEGAS – There was no Big Baller Brand sideshow surrounding the Lakers Wednesday night, and none was needed. The Lonzo Ball show more than sufficed.
With LeBron James watching from a courtside seat and with purple Kobe Bryant Nike sneakers on his feet, the Lakers rookie delivered a breakthrough Summer League performance, scoring a game-high 36 points, dishing 11 assists and grabbing eight rebounds in LA’s 103-102 win over Philadelphia.
The second overall pick posted a triple-double earlier this week, but this was easily his most complete performance: he opened with two gorgeous touchdown passes, he repeatedly attacked the basket for the first time all week, and he hit a tough go-ahead and-one lay-up in the final minute to help complete the comeback victory. And he did it all without the usual ostentatious support of his father, as LaVar Ball wasn’t in the same courtside box he had sat in for LA’s first two games.
“We just needed a little bit more today so I had to carry the load on offense,” said Ball, who shot 12-22 from the field and 3-10 from deep. “My [outside] shot is obviously not going in. It helps going to the basket, getting some easy ones. … I just stayed in the flow. Stayed the course. Played my game.
Ball showed no limitations after sitting out a Monday night showdown against Sacramento and fellow lottery pick De’Aaron Fox, easily gliding through traffic and repeatedly pushing the tempo. As James and Philadelphia’s 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons watched, Ball showed why his passing and vision drew pre-draft comparisons to Jason Kidd, causing his Summer League coach Jud Buechler to gush unapologetically.
“His passing stands out. He’s already one of the best passers I’ve seen at this level,” Buechler said. “Those are big words, but he can really pass the ball. He’s proven that. … He was special tonight. It was his best performance so far. You’re seeing him mature as a player in front of our eyes.”
After two losses in which his play was panned by his father, Ball was at his most functional and most comfortable against Philadelphia. On Friday, LaVar declared that his son played his “worst game ever” in a loss. On Saturday, the Big Baller Brand’s patriarch declared that Lonzo’s 11-11-11 triple-double “don’t mean nothing” because it came in a loss to the Celtics. But the focus stayed mostly on the court Wednesday, as Ball mixed assertive off-the-dribble play with active defense that produced five steals and two blocks.
There was, however, more than a sliver of intrigue over Ball’s footwear selection, as he ditched his own signature Big Baller Brand “Zo2” signature sneakers for Bryant’s Nike model. James further stoked the discussion by posting a photo of the sneakers on Instagram with the Swoosh-approved caption: “Just. Do. It.”
Ball played down the switch-up afterwards, citing his freedom as a self-endorsed athlete while wearing a Big Baller Brand jacket.
“Mamba mentality, just thought I’d switch it up,” Ball said, referencing Bryant’s well-known nickname and slogan. “Wore them tonight. It’s good when you can wear whatever you want. … You can wear whatever you want when you play for Big Baller Brand.”
While the Internet mulls Ball’s flirtation with Nike—and James’ reciprocation on social media—this much became abundantly clear on Wednesday: Less LaVar is more for Lonzo and the Lakers. Ball, the prospect, is more than ready to generate plenty of hype by himself.