By Michael Bennett
Drafts have consequences.
Especially in the NBA, where the Sixers plucked future superstars Joel Embiid in 2014 and Ben Simmons in 2016.
While the Los Angeles Lakers took UCLA’s Lonzo Ball in 2017.
How’s that working out?!
We’ll find out more tonight at the Wells when the Sixers and Lakers renew what had been a world-class rivalry.
While Embiid and Simmons have become must-see TV, the Lakers are still awaiting the same kind of consistent promise from the most important piece of their own lottery-built core, Ball.
“He’s probably where most rookies are,” coach Luke Walton said this week. “You have great games, you have some subpar games. And you have just some average games.”
During the Lakers’ current five-game losing streak, Ball has shot 34.1 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range – both improvements from his season long numbers.
In Sunday’s loss to the Rockets, he tallied just three assists and one rebound in 22 minutes.
On Tuesday, Ball acknowledged part of his preparation includes “mentally just trying to stay positive and figure out a way to turn things around.”
Walton gave Ball a pass, saying he is enduring similar struggles to other 20-year-old rookie point guards over the last decade. Aside, of course, from the news-making antics of his family.
“He’s got a lot of off-the-court stuff that most rookies don’t have to worry about,” Walton said.
This week that included father LaVar’s decision to pull Lonzo’s 19-year-old brother LiAngelo out of UCLA, and the subsequent media tour that followed.
Walton has said throughout Ball’s hyped rookie season that he will regularly check in with the young star to ensure he is handling all of his obligations and distractions.
“We’re here for Zo when he needs us,” Walton said. “I think he knows that. Part of that is us building the trust with him. I would expect if he wanted to talk about something he’d feel comfortable talking to us.”
Has Ball ever taken his coach up on that offer?
“No,” Walton said.
The focus within the Lakers (8-15) remains entirely on the court, with Thursday’s matchup with the Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.
In the team’s previous matchup, center Joel Embiid erupted for a career-high 46 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 blocked shots.
“That’s the No. 1 task,” rookie forward Kyle Kuzma said, “definitely him, because I bet he’s ready to play us again too.”
Simmons, technically a second-year rookie, has shown the poise of a seasoned star, averaging 18 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists. Ball, in contrast, has been tentative.
Rather than the individual matchup with Simmons, Ball said the Lakers are taking a broader view to start their four-game trip.
“Just going and playing defense first and let things go from there,” he said. “All the games that we won, we played good defense.”