Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson should undoubtedly be considered cornerstones, but do you think Lonzo Ball has shown the New Orleans Pelicans enough this season of being included in any and all future plans?
Kevin Barrios: Yes
Lonzo Ball is certainly a cornerstone the Pelicans need to build around. I’m not going to say that he’s a max player, but he does have that potential. Ball still has holes in his game and one of them is the lack of a consistent attack mentality. I’m not sure that is something that can be developed at his age, but towards the end of the season he showed a much greater willingness to do so. Outside of that, he’s been a great playmaker, decision-maker, a much improved shooter, a solid defender and a good rebounder.
It can not be overlooked that he and Zion have also developed strong chemistry in a very short period of time, making him a key piece in Williamson’s development. NBA contract’s often don’t reflect a professional’s actual level of talent. Most teams have a player on a max contract, several have multiple. When I think max contract, I think top 15, top 20 player, repeat All-Star, All NBA; however, that’s not how contracts work in this league.
Based purely off his game, I think Lonzo should be paid the Caris LeVert contract, but I do believe he has the negotiating power to get himself a max deal when he hits free agency. I won’t be mad when he’s signed to one, but I still think he’s a little outside of the top 20 in the league — though he has the potential to get there.
Chris Conner: Yes
Zo checks his ego at the door, sacrificing self-interest for the betterment of the team. He’s flashed the potential to fulfill a large role, but it feels like he wouldn’t take much issue with being a glue guy. It’ll be interesting to watch how his contract negotiations unfold when it’s time for NOLA and Ball to discuss a new deal.
Either way, you can’t teach what Lonzo possesses. His teammates speak glowingly of him, his coaches often mention his work ethic, and most importantly through his time with Fred Vinson, he has shown an ability to quickly apply learned lessons on display.
Ball is intelligent, tall, long, and highly underrated as an athlete. Defensively, he can run into some issues laterally, but he should be considered a good defender who keeps improving incrementally. We know his skills as a passer, but he was putting together a stretch of elite shooting right before the NBA season was suspended.
Unless he signs an extension before the start of the 2020-21 regular season, Ball will hit restricted free agency. The exact figures are already being speculated, and you have to think the subject has already been broached with Roc Nation, his new representation. With Lonzo’s improvement, the questions will no longer straddle around whether NOLA should keep him, but his market worth.
Truth is, the Pelicans with Ball should be a fun playoff staple for years to come with a chance to be dominant. Also, there is no better situation for him away from the charters of a larger market and the makeup of this roster. New Orleans and Lonzo are great for each other — a good deal should get done soon.
Jamile Dunn: Yes
At this point I think Lonzo Ball has shown enough promise to be considered a cornerstone piece for the Pelicans. I’m not saying he can’t be moved for the right player, but unless the Pelicans are able to acquire a clear upgrade, moving forward with Ball is the best course of action in my opinion.
Ball’s improved three-point shooting clearly demonstrates that the young point guard is willing to put in the work to be a great player. However, the clincher for me is his insane chemistry with rookie forward Zion Williamson.
Some players just seem like they were made to play together. Even in the preseason the two young players seemed to jell immediately. Zion is the spark to Ball’s creative passing genius, giving the guard opportunities to make passes that only a few people in this galaxy can finish. For Williamson, Ball fully unlocks Zion’s off-ball game of constant movement and cutting.
Given enough time, Ball & Williamson could take their place among previous all-time great combinations like Stockton and Malone, Shaq & Kobe, or LeBron and Omri Casspi — yes, the last pairing is meant to be a joke.
Preston Ellis: Yes
If you trace Lonzo’s effectiveness to his health, you’ll see the player we all saw over the second-half of the season is the real Slim-Shady. Focusing on long-term health should be Aaron Nelson and Fred Vinson’s chief offseason concern beyond Ball’s shooting and play in the paint.
While honing those skills is critical in its own right, we’ve seen just how effective Ball can be when healthy. His 13/8/8 splits with minimal usage from December 18th on were eclipsed by just LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Ben Simmons. He shot far better from three-point range (40.7% on 6.8 attempts) than the rest of that group during that period. If Lonzo can continue perfecting his versatility, he’ll be more valuable than just a complementary piece to the rest of the Pelicans lineup.
Charlie Gonzalez: Yes
As stated in previous articles, I think Lonzo is an essential piece going forward with Ingram and Zion. He elevates both of their games, and his much improved shooting has become a downright lethal weapon on offense. His ability to orchestrate, cut and react sits in the top tier for point guards and his size gives him the versatility defensively to allow for mismatches at various positions. As far as I’m concerned, the point guard, small forward and power forward positions should be set in stone for the next 5+ years with good health.
David Grubb: Yes
Lonzo Ball may end up being a bigger cornerstone than Brandon Ingram. Once he got healthy, we saw a completely different player than the one who started the season. He set career-highs in games played, minutes, FG%, 3P%, assists, and scoring average. Among players taking six or more three-pointers per game, Lonzo finished ahead of Zach Lavine, Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and James Harden.
After the 18th of December, the Pelicans’ Net Rating decreased by 9.2 points with Lonzo on the bench; the difference was only 4.1 for Ingram. This is not to discredit the value of Brandon Ingram. He’s an All-Star. But Zion Williamson is the franchise player, and my belief is that Lonzo Ball is the key to unlocking Zion’s potential. The timing and connection between the two of them was apparent on Zion’s first preseason basket and it should only get better over the years.
We thought having Lonzo being an adequate shooter would be good enough, but he was approaching 40 percent from deep. His ability to create easy shots for others and affect the game defensively could make Lonzo both an All-Star and an All-Defensive Team regular. Keeping Lonzo is a must.
Oleh Kosel: Yes
Brandon Ingram enjoyed a breakout campaign and he’ll be in the running for the 2020 Most Improved Player of the Year Award, but there wasn’t another player in the league who made bigger strides in his game during the course of the season than Lonzo Ball.
During the second week of December, Ball forced Alvin Gentry’s hand for a demotion and he was removed from the starting lineup for sporadic play and poor results. Over his final five appearances, he was averaging 20.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 4.4 threes and 2.2 steals.
Those numbers suggest Ball could be in line for multiple All-Star teams and possibly an All-NBA Team bid too, but even if he fails to live up to that kind of ceiling, Ball should already be viewed as a Pelicans’ cornerstone. I went into great depth about his valuable contributions back in February, and that production isn’t going to change provided he continues to enjoy good health.
This one’s easy so don’t overthink things. The massive turnaround witnessed in Ball’s confidence and effectiveness levels was so complete that his place alongside two dynamic scoring forwards in Ingram and Williamson should now be considered secure for the long-term.
Ben Pfeifer: Maybe
If we’re defining cornerstone piece as someone who deserves a max contract and is generally not someone they’re looking to trade, I wouldn’t say Lonzo is there yet. Yes, he made significant strides offensively this season, but I’d personally want to see more consistency from him before calling him a true cornerstone piece like Zion.