Lonzo Ball = Best Defender In The League?

With all the talk of overpriced sneakers, bottled water and relocations to Lithuania, it’s easy for people to get swept up in media hype around the Ball Family and judge Lonzo Ball on off the court matters rather than his performance on it.

Since being drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, Ball has naturally made mistakes, as expected of any rookie adapting to the NBA, however he has also shown flashes of star potential. Last Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs; Lonzo came up huge for his team, hitting three clutch three-pointers in the final few minutes of the game, and finished with a stat-line of 18 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds.

Since his return from injury, the rookie point guard has been averaging 11.6 points, 7.1 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game, whilst shooting 45.2% from the field and 44.1% from downtown. With only 40 professional games under his belt it’s not a far cry to say that Zo isn’t far from averaging a triple double on a nightly basis at some point in the future.

Whilst it may be the flashy passes that make it to the highlight reel, the former UCLA star has been flying under the radar and impressing on the defensive end too, so much so that I was scrolling down my timeline and I saw this tweet which promted me to dig further into the numbers, to see if Lonzo Ball really is the best defender in the league at his position.

Coming out of college, Lonzo wasn’t expected to be anywhere close to having this sort of impact, before the draft scouts said this about his defence:

On the defensive side of the court, Ball is adept at forcing turnovers, but he DOES NOT HAVE THE OVERALL IMPACT that his physical tools would suggest ... Ball STRUGGLES at times containing dribble penetration against quicker guards, which was particularly EXPOSED against De’Aaron Fox, who exploded for 39 points against him in the NCAA Tournament ... Ball also does not have great awareness when being screened, and he also could show MORE CONSISTENT EFFORT to fight through screens and recover.
— NBAdraft.net

Taking a look at the numbers, Lonzo is up there with the best of them. Thanks to his active hands and long arms, he’s averaging 2.7 defelctions per game, slightly behind notoriously great defenders such as Marcus Smart (2.8) and Draymond Green (2.9). When we dive deeper into more advanced statistics amongst point guards who are averaging 20+ points per game we can see that Lonzo holds his own in these categories.

Defensive win shares: A metric that estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team due to his defensive ability. This number is generally calculated using full-season statistics.

1)    Marcus Smart 0.055

2)    Ben simmons 0.053

3)    Lonzo Ball 0.052

4)    Damian Lillard 0.047

5)    Russell Westbrook 0.046

DRPM: defensive real plus minus = Player's estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions (min. 20mins per game)

1)    Ben Simmons 2.16

2)    Chris Paul 2.04

3)    Lonzo Ball 1.98

4)    Marcus Smart 1.09

5)    Terry Rozier 0.83

A team’s defensive rating is the number of points allowed per 100 possessions by a team. When the Lakers have Lonzo on the floor, their DEFRTG is 102.0 yet when he’s sat on the bench it rises to 108.1. This means that when Lonzo is on the court, the Lakers are the second highest ranked defensive team after the Celtics, but without him they’re ranked the same as the Brooklyn Nets (23rd).

Whilst statistics are all well and good, let’s take a look at what Zo does technically to stop opponents from scoring.

 

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