Zion Williamson’s Gravity Can Launch Lonzo Ball’s Career

By Matt Esposito

It’s a shame that those two player’s aren’t on the Rockets because then my astrophysics theme would have been complete. We can still get a little nerdy, however, and discuss Zion’s impact on Lonzo Ball’s game.

Lonzo’s 2019-2020 season can be broken down into two segments: Before-Zion (10/22-1/22) and With-Zion (1/22-present.) More specifically, the game log feature on basketball-reference.com was used to pinpoint Lonzo’s stats during these two timelines.

Before-Zion, ball was averaging a statline of 12.1/6.3/5.8 and 1.3 steals per game. He did this hitting a meager 39 percent of his field goals and only 35.5. percent of his triples. During-Zion he put up 11.5/7.9/6.5 and 1.6 steals while raising hit shooting numbers to 42.3 percent from the floor and 40.2 percent from deep, respectively.

Despite Lonzo’s lackluster bubble play, both the Pelicans as a team and Ball as an individual obviously benefited from Zion’s arrival, but how? Conventional wisdom may suggest that Ball’s passing would compliment Zion’s otherworldly athletic profile. Yet, Williamson may be augmenting Ball’s game just as much.

Gravity

At the rate I reference him in my articles, data scientist and hoops lover Andrew Patton may think I have a slight obsession with him. I don’t. But, I am surely head over heels for the way he analyzes the game. In particular, his work on determining player gravity is commendable.

Patton chucked some numbers into coding system and poof, this appeared. Although Giannis has a season long lead in rim gravity rankings, Zion is atop the board when it for a per game basis. In simpler terms, he applies more pressure on the rim than anyone else, consistently drawing the focus of the defense to that specific court location.

To get even more numbersy, Bball-Index.com reported that Zion grades out in the “elite” category for roll gravity by landing in the 90.2 percentile. He also is in the 96th percentile for offensive rebounding and 99th percentile for post play, which demonstrates how he forces defenders to pay attention the the paint. So, how does this boost Lonzo’s game?

Kickout 3s

Like most players, Ball’s shooting percentages from beyond the arc increase the more open he becomes, culminating with him converting 39.5 percent of his shots when a defender is six or more feet away. To boot, he takes three of those shot attempts per game.

Zion is the major factor that explains these wide open shot attempts. He constantly demands help defenders, as can be seen below. Additionally, he possesses the vision to spot open teammates.

During the time of his draft, there were reasonable questions about Lonzo’s jumpshot. His form has been modified, however and Ball is now a reliable catch and shoot player. Still, he can do more than provide wing spacing.

Fastbreak Buckets

Ball’s field goal percentage jumped about four points after Zion became a regular fixture in the lineup. Getting easy scoring chances in transition certainly helps. Both Ball and Zion are turnover creators and New Orleans loves to run whenever they get the chance. Plus, a new head coach hire could make the fastbreak even deadlier.

Zion’s gravity during run-outs is one of the funnest parts of today’s game. You may never see another player command such attention from both twitter heads competing to be the first to upload the highlight video and his opposing defenders. Players wittingly abandon other open Pelicans to double Zion due to is dangerous athleticism. Watch this play out in the two plays identified below.

Not sold on the potency of Zion’s springiness? Oh, you are and don’t require a reminder? Well I wanted to include this Ball-to-Zion lob because I love it and it happens to perfectly represent the ideas I am trying to articulate.

Driving Opportunities

Want to prove how basketball woke you are? Toss out an, “Actually, Maxi Kleber is Dallas’ best rim protector” quip to your buddies. Just don’t direct them to the upcoming video.

After a rejected Zion-Lonzo pick and roll, Kleber is forced into a lose-lose decision. He can stick to Zion and prevent a thunderous lob or contest Ball’s shot but leave Zion open for a jam. The way he leaves the lane open for Ball is a testament to Williamson’s gravity.

Although he misses the layup in the following clip, Lonzo’s path to a bucket is made possible by Zion. Kyle Kuzma doesn’t even look away from Zion because he is still a threat despite standing in the inopportune dunker spot!

To-Do List

As New Orleans mixes in more Zion-Ball pick and rolls, smart teams are going to opt into dropback coverage. In layman’s terms, the man guarding Zion will literally move back towards the hoop as Zion rolls. This should likely give Ball plenty of open midrange looks.

He can do one of two things. Firstly, Ball can continue his attack towards the hoop and force the dropper into a tough decision (ala that previous Kleber example.) Or, Ball can pull up for a midrange jumper. He hits only 26 percent of his midrange attempts, making that shot an important one to develop.

Regardless, Ball has seen a major uptick in play while running alongside Zion. Hopefully, his poor performance in the bubble can be chalked up to immatury; something that can be outgrown with time. Still, the game has truly opened up for him. In fact, the entire Pelicans team has benefited from how Zion alters defensive schemes. Monitor this offseason and trade rumors to determine how New Orleans feels about a long term pairing of Zion and Ball.

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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