Lonzo Ball is going through one of the biggest medical ordeals in the recent history of the NBA. Last week, the Bulls announced that the Californian guard would undergo a third procedure (in a period of fourteen months) on his left knee to try and heal the injury that has kept him off the court since January of 2020.
Initially, Ball’s injury was classified as a minor tear in his meniscus that would rule him out for a maximum of two months, but, as time passed, the healing process of the 2017 second overall pick has became a mess.
For the past year, the indications as to when the Chino Hills-raised guard would return have been pretty much non-existent. Despite being expected to come back in time for the end of the present season, the few times his health status has been discussed publicly have only led to delays on the process or some really uninspiring statements.
Ball himself stated that he could not run or jump in late September, while, in December, his coach, Billy Donovan confirmed that the progress on his recovery has been “really slow”.
Since then, the news on the oldest of the Ball’s had practically evaporated up until a few days ago, when silence was broken: it was reported that the Bulls starting point guard would undergo a cartilage transplant that would rule him out for the remainder of the season and, most likely, all of the following one.
Lonzo Ball and his journey: a bumpy road:
If we look back in time, Lonzo Ball’s career has been quite a busy ride: trades, injuries and the pressure applied by the media (who have chased him for the duration of his career) have hindered what could have been a fast and simple adaptation to the league for one of the most exciting prospects (in his time) since LeBron James.
While in high school, Lonzo would become one of the world’s most famous teenagers thanks to the fast paced basketball exhibitions he would put together with his brothers, which granted him the chance to sign with UCLA and the consideration as the fourth best player in his draft class. From a young age, he displayed extraordinary playmaking skills that set him apart as well as good athletic capabilities, great maturity for his age and a lethal long-range jumper.
Once he made it to college, the media began talking about the Bruins’ superstar. Ball led his “alma mater” continuing his great play, averaging close to 15 points and 8 assists a game along with solid efficiency numbers. Although he could not win a championship like the state crown he earned in Chino Hills, he left a mark in a program like UCLA’s that has produced players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Right after his stint in the NCAA, Zo would declare for the 2017 NBA draft, in which he would be selected by the team he supported growing up, the Los Angeles Lakers, with the second overall pick. Despite that, his time with the Lakers would leave a lot to be desired. Contrary to what his dad Lavar Ball promoted, and the great Earvin “Magic” Johnson hoped for, it does not seem like the jersey of the young guard will be retired in the rafters of the Crypto.com Arena (an honor recently granted to Pau Gasol).
Two seasons with the Lakers allowed him to show glimpses of greatness (especially on defense and playmaking duties). However, the constant bashing of his unorthodox shooting form, a more than apparent loss of his confidence and the urgency to win caused by the arrival of LeBron James led to him being traded to the Pelicans as a part of the package sent to acquire Anthony Davis.
After the trade, it seemed like things could not have turned out any better for Ball. In New Orleans, he would share the locker room with Zion Williamson and reunite with Brandon Ingram, both capable scorers that would benefit directly from a Lonzo Ball-led offense. To make things even better, Zo was leaving the flashes and media back in Hollywood to surround himself by a small market atmosphere, the ideal stage to gain back his confidence.
Unfortunately for the Californian, things did not come as easy as it seemed they would. In his first year in Louisiana, Ball struggled to play due to health problems the same way that Williamson did. They shared the court for close to no time and, despite working well together, they never solidified themselves as a bonified duo.
During the offseason spent in NOLA, Lonzo made massive progress on his shooting mechanics, becoming a threat from the perimeter in the process. That way, he was able to survive for the following year in Stan Van Gundy’s system, that used him as a secondary ball handler and catch and shoot specialist. It was also in through the course of this season that he became one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.
Despite his clear improvement and regaining his confidence, it was clear that the Pelicans tactics did not fit Lonzo, whose qualities would not shine as a solid role player. His averages of 15 points and 6 assists were not enough for the Louisiana-based team to resign him, leading to Ball signing with the Chicago Bulls in free agency.
For the umpteenth time, and now with more arguments than ever, it seemed like it was Lonzo Ball’s time to shine with Zach Lavine and DeMar Derozan alongside him to catch his brilliant passes. And once again, everything shattered into pieces: 35 games into his first season with the Bulls, Ball would fall injured at his best since entering the NBA.
Since, he has not got up and the constant relapses do not lead to optimistic thoughts. It would be a real shame if a player with potential to become the next great pass-first point guard (a figure that has become increasingly rare in today’s NBA) was lost to injuries.
Many years after the hype, Ball is not expected to have a career like Steve Nash (even though he was a late bloomer) or Jason Kidd, but one can only dream that he might reach a fraction of the potential attributed to him not too long ago.
It is his return to the court that is strongly awaited and will most certainly arrive late. It will most definitely be his last shot at proving he can be something special in the league. We will see if, at the age of 25, his ability to stay healthy allows him to pick up were he left off or shows that he can no longer become anything better than a complementary piece. If he can stay healthy, be sure that Lonzo Ball will be talked about.
Translated by Nuño Alonso.
Main image: @chicagobulls.