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The Great Lonzo Ball Debate: Should he return to a starting role or continue to come off the bench for Pelicans?

The point guard’s future has not be written.

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Should Alvin Gentry permanently tie Lonzo Ball to the bench or when should the head coach seek to re-insert the point guard back into the starting lineup, thereby moving JJ Redick back into a sixth man role?


I still believe in Lonzo, but the numbers aren’t lying at the moment. He’s been a plus/minus booby trap so far. He isn’t attacking the paint with intent to score, which in the few drives he makes per game rarely causes the defense to collapse and enable him to create well for others. Until these things begin to adjust accordingly, he should run the second unit — though optimally he regains some confidence in his drives and grabs that starting role.


Any “permanent” rotation decisions, especially this early in the season, would be a disservice to the depth that the healthy version of this roster provides. With that said, the injuries to Derrick Favors and Josh Hart have robbed the Pelicans of their ability to lock down opponents for long stretches of time, so the best immediate short-term option may be to just keep Redick and Ingram on the court for as long as possible and hope to win a shootout.

However, in a healthy lineup, Ball should be given ample opportunity to refine his game. The start of his Pelicans career has been marred by the combination of injury, inconsistent defense and an inability to consistently knock down shots from within the arc. It’s not a pretty combination, but aesthetics aside, the present and future iterations of this team cannot afford to have the player acquired to be a future franchise cornerstone less than six months ago relegated to the bench. Even in his brief time as a Laker, his defensive prowess alone was enough to make him a positive asset on the floor. Room to fail as he adapts to new teammates and a new offense for the 22-year-old is essential, and allowing him to do so alongside Zion Williamson for as many minutes as possible will be essential.


This isn’t an indictment of him as a player, but Lonzo Ball has been a disaster in New Orleans.

Several different key factors have contributed to his poor showings, but the fact remains what it is. Perhaps the most troubling, Ball currently grades in the 23rd percentile as a defender after rating in the 82nd and 87th percentile during his first two seasons, respectively.

The defensive side of the floor isn’t the only place he’s struggled. Ball remains a 38 percent shooter from the field and makes the team 3.9 points worse on the offensive side of the ball per 100 possessions. While his three-point shot has become more respectable, it still falls far below league average and he’s taking far too many of them (6.4 per game, second on the team). He’s also paired poorly with both Jrue Holiday (-13.0 per 100 possessions) and JJ Redick (-14.1 per 100 possessions).

It’s true that Ball needs a longer leash due to the small sample size in which we’ve had to measure as well as the investment that comes with a former two overall pick but at the very least, the Pelicans should be bringing him off the bench for the foreseeable future.


Player development was always the main priority heading into this season, but with the Pelicans off to a rough 6-12 start, there should be no doubt as to the game plan now of fully evaluating the young talent. Unlike Nickeil Alexander-Walker or Jaxson Hayes though, Lonzo Ball requires no coddling as a third year professional. He does, however, need to spend most of his minutes against the best competition in the world — against fellow NBA starters.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Look, I know what lineup statistics say: Ball has a frightening plus/minus, possessing a positive +/- with only four different teammates in 2-man groups. However, did you know that Jrue Holiday sits in the same crowd or that Brandon Ingram is registering a net positive with only Kenrich Williams and Jaxson Hayes thus far??

In other words, don’t trust these numbers at this stage because the Pelicans have slogged through many more poorly performing consequential minutes than the preferred alternative. Also important: don’t write Ball off yet from proving himself a valuable starter.

With good size and a developing skill set (which includes eye-raising catch-and-shoot improvement from three-point range), he has the chance to play any position on the perimeter. The hope is he’ll grow significantly and solidify the Pelicans point guard position, but if he doesn’t, I don’t see any reason why he cannot become an unusual but interesting 3-and-D wing alongside potent slashers like Holiday, Ingram, and likely, Zion Williamson.

Lonzo Ball has appeared in but 110 games in his NBA career and injury has further reduced the value of that small sample size. We have no idea of what size wings Ball will grow; however, the worst mistake would be to not give him a chance to fully develop. I say you start him as soon as he’s recovered from his stomach virus.


It seems quite a large portion of the Pelicans’ community is out on Lonzo Ball. I’m in the opposite camp, on the frontier of optimism.

The main issues with Ball come with him taking on too heavy of a creation role offensively. He can’t score, which makes him unappealing to watch and ineffective as a volume creator. As an off-ball point guard next to good creators (Jrue, Ingram, and eventually Zion), I believe his elite playmaking will shine. Bolstering his case as a theoretically successful off-ball wing is his shooting. Yes, shooting.

Ball is knocking down 37.1% of his catch and shoot threes and 36.5% overall from deep, two significant career highs. His three-point attempt rate is also at a career high. Most importantly, he’s making free throws at 60%, which is not good, but a gargantuan improvement from his previous two seasons, up almost 20% from last year. This improvement is a pretty good sign his three-point improvement is somewhat real, even if the efficiency regresses some. His efficiency from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet are also career highs by quite a bit.

Aside from this shooting jump, his excellent team defense has gone nowhere. All of this adds up to quite a bit of Lonzo optimism. He’s a good NBA player and has a role on the Pelicans, especially when they’re healthy. My answer to this one is a bit of a cop-out, but he should play with creators and off of the ball, whether that is as a starter or off of the bench. At this point, the bench is probably best for him.