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Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball made his anxiously awaited return for the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night after having missed five games with a shoulder injury. The Lakers struggled as a team, losing 108-94 at home to the Charlotte Hornets, but Ball quickly got back to showing why the Lakers made him the second overall pick last June. Ball posted 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting with five assists, four rebounds, two steals, and just one turnover, adding some of his signature highlight passes along the way.
The Lakers entered the 2017-18 season hoping that they could surprise the NBA by pushing for a spot in the playoffs. With additions like Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Brook Lopez, it seemed like they had an outside chance at squeezing into the postseason, but that won't happen. With a record of 11-27, the Lakers are dead last in the Western Conference and eight and a half games behind the eighth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans. It has become clear that Ball won't immediately get this team back to its former glory.
What the Lakers can take solace in, however, is that Ball has been as advertised, moving the ball smoothly and giving the offense rhythm. With the right players and some more experience around him, Ball looks like the type of player who could facilitate an extremely efficient offense.
For how poorly the Lakers have played with Ball on the court, they were even worse during his five-game absence. The rookie has managed 11 wins in the 33 games he's played, which is nothing to write home about, but the team lost all five games that Ball missed, with four of those losses coming by double digits.
Ball has drawn criticism for some facets of his game. He is shooting just 35.2 percent from the field and chucking up 5.2 threes per game at a 30.2-percent clip. But when it comes down to it, the Lakers are clearly a better team with Ball on the court. First of all, there's the fact that when Ball plays, the Lakers actually win games sometimes. Beyond that, you can simply watch the difference in ball movement and rhythm when Ball is on the court. In a league with plenty of ball-stopping stars, it's refreshing to see a high-profile player looking to keep the ball moving at a frenetic pace.
Ball may have his flaws, but he now ranks seventh among rookies in points per game (10.1), third in rebounds (6.8), and first in assists (7.0). He's also chipping in on the defensive end with 1.4 steals and a block per contest. He is looking like the Jason Kidd-type player that many expected him to be, and if the Lakers can continue to develop their young talent while adding a few more pieces, Ball could be the centerpiece of an exciting team at some point over the next few seasons.