Los Angeles — In last summer’s draft, the Pistons obviously didn’t have a chance to select guard Lonzo Ball, who went to the Lakers with the No. 2 overall pick. That didn’t stop Pistons president Stan Van Gundy from marveling at the skill set that Ball brings to the NBA.
Van Gundy will get his first glimpse of Ball in the Pistons’ first meeting tonight at Staples Center. Ball has brought excitement to the talent-hungry Lakers and has posting some good numbers in his first six games: 10 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists.
Although Ball hasn’t found his shooting touch yet — 31 percent on field goals and 28 percent on 3-pointers — he looks to be all that was advertised in terms of his other skills as a point guard.
“That guy’s court vision and passing are incredible — truly, truly special,” Van Gundy said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround at Staples Center.
“One of the points (assistant coach) Tim Hardaway made on film is you have to be back for real. If you think you’re back and your guy is one step behind you, it’ll be a dunk. He’ll throw that thing 85 feet.
The Lakers are 2-4 with Ball at the helm and at age 20, he has the hopes and dreams of one of the league’s storied franchises on his shoulders. So far, he’s handled it well, with both ups and downs. In his second game, he fell just short of a triple-double, posting 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine rebounds.
It’s the only game that he’s scored in double figures and when the Lakers’ young players get adjusted to their roles and having Ball pushing the pace, things could get interesting. While there was so much attention in a hyped matchup between the Washington Wizards and All-Star guard John Wall and Ball, he didn’t shrink from the spotlight.
The Lakers got a big win and Wall was left answering questions about why he didn’t dominate more.
Ball’s first season is going to be filled with adjustments and tinkering with his game. Van Gundy noticed some areas where Ball could improve in his shooting, but there are far more parts to his game that are completely solid, especially at this point in his development.
“Going left, he can shoot the ball. It’s harder for him to shoot the ball going right with his form. Going left, he’s got deep range,” Van Gundy said. “He’s going to be a special player; he’s already a really special passer. He puts a lot of pressure on your transition defense because he’s going to make you pay for any mistake and makes great plays out of pick-and-roll. He makes those other guys a lot better.”
Along with Ball, Van Gundy had plenty of complimentary words about his father, LaVar Ball, who has been a controversial figure because of his dealings with his sons. It’s been a national story, but Van Gundy chooses to see through the noise and find the positive side.
Van Gundy agreed with Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who lauded Ball.
“Scott Brooks’ perspective was really outstanding: the guy may be over the top at times, but I would have given anything to have a dad like that,” Van Gundy said. “He’s around his kids all the time and he’s encouraging. Scott said, ‘My dad left me when I was two years old.’ Is this guy the worst guy in the world? You can argue he’s over the top at times, but his life is his kids and he clearly cares about them.”
Van Gundy said everything he heard about Ball before and after the draft process has been positive and he’s an ideal teammate. As for LaVar Ball, there’s not much to do but go with the flow and not be consumed by the noise.
“The guy has managed to be in the news more than any parent of any athlete ever — even Venus and Serena’s dad or (Todd) Marinovich’s dad. They weren’t in the news like this,” he said. “For him, it’s a marketing thing. I don’t really pay attention to a lot of what he says but I certainly don’t pay attention to a lot of the criticism of him. … With the parenting problems we have in a lot of America today — really, is that the worst it gets?”
Along with Ball, the Pistons will also get their first look at a familiar face: former teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who signed with the Lakers when the Pistons didn’t renew his contract last summer.
“I appreciate everything he did in the three years. I loved coaching him; he’s a great guy who plays hard and with great energy. He’s somebody I really liked personally too,” Van Gundy said. “Any time you get in those situations, whether we make the decision in a trade or the player makes a decision in free agency, whether it’s KCP, Marcus (Morris), Aron Baynes, you get to respect what these guys bring to your team and you get to like them as people and it’s not easy.
“Other than tonight and one game when they come back, I wish him the best.”
Caldwell-Pope is averaging 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists in four games, after serving a two-game suspension for his alcohol-related driving arrest late last season.