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Lonzo Ball’s improvement last season coincides perfectly with ESPN elevating his NBA player ranking

The New Orleans Pelicans guard deserves to move up a few spots

There’s few better growing traditions in basketball than seeing where Lonzo Ball lines up among his peers in preseason and then reading some of the reactions that follow.

ESPN released their #100-51 NBA player rankings list for the 2020-21 season yesterday, which positioned Ball 54th, and one could say that it stirred the hornet’s nest on Twitter.

Such vitriol, but are there plenty of good reasons to be upset?

Lonzo Ball ranked 68th one year ago on ESPN’s 2019-20 list, and 62nd the year before that, so this new placement of 54th doesn’t represent some ridiculous leap. In fact, Ball was projected to finish last season with 2.0 RPM Wins, but he wound up posting a much higher figure of 5.71 RPM Wins (36th).

It must be mentioned that Ball’s latest ESPN player ranking coincides well with his +1.64 RPM (60th) on their 2019-20 Real Plus-Minus list. He is coming off the best season of his professional career (11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.3 threes and 51.7 TS%), and having turned just 23 years of age, more improvement can be expected.

According to, Ball grades out well in a lot of categories, with A’s in playmaking and defensive rebounding, A-’s in perimeter shooting and interior defense, and a B- in perimeter defense. In their index of players who managed a minimum of an A- in playmaking, defensive rebounding and perimeter shooting plus at least a C in perimeter defense are six names:

  • LeBron James
  • Luka Doncic
  • Kawhi Leonard
  • Pascal Siakam
  • Khris Middleton
  • Lonzo Ball

Ball sits in some fantastic company, and if the improved shooting remains, he’s likely to find himself among the elite again this upcoming season.

Brandon Ingram pointed out last week to Pelicans media that Lonzo is motivated and coming off a healthy offseason, but Ball has already sat on the record since September about wanting to win the 2021 Most Improved Player Award.

When I asked him about potentially following in BI’s footsteps, Ball didn’t flinch, showing a belief that his raw ability is going to shine through this upcoming season.

“Just go out there and do the things that I know I can do on the court at the end of the day. I believe I’m a triple-double threat every night and that’s what I’m going to go out there and try and do.”

Lonzo Ball has proven to be one of the most divisive players among fans in his short career, but no one should deny that he displayed nice progress last season prior to the Orlando restart in the bubble. Is it really the difficult to fathom why ESPN decided to elevate him 14 slots on their NBA rankings list?

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.