Bulls’ Two-Way Star ‘Stands Out Above the Trend’

Lonzo Ball, Chicago Bulls

Getty Lonzo Ball #2 of the Chicago Bulls takes the court

The Chicago Bulls might be rostering the perfect support for their top stars, or, at least he’s pretty close to it, in starting point guard Lonzo Ball. His claim to fame separates him from the majority of the NBA.

It puts him in a class that includes LeBron James.

After seeing how the Bulls played without him in the lineup and hearing what players and coaches have said about him, that top spot might be his after all.


Topping the Charts

The folks at the advanced statistics website, The Basketball Index, often share graphs on Twitter to show off the power of its database. Their selection on July 20 highlighted the NBA’s “best quick decision makers”.

This graph shows players’ on-ball percentage relative to their quick decision percentage.

Point guards are the majority of the high-percentage on-ball players while centers make up the bulk of the quickest decision makers.

Some users in the comments pointed to Boston Celtics’ Robert Williams as the obvious choice for “who stands out” in the graphic. But Basketball Index had an answer for that – being primarily a rebounder and lob finisher on offense typically results in little time on the ball.

That might make what Ball did even more impressive at a ball-dominant position. But Ball plays alongside two elite scorers in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. He often has to operate off-ball.

He shot 42.3% on threes on a team-high 7.4 three-point attempts per game to make up for lost touches.

Last season, 39 players shot 42% or better from deep, per NBA.com. Another 37 players averaged at least 7.0 threes per game. Ball was the only player to do both last season with a lower usage rate than all but four other starting point guards. That includes teammate Ayo Dosunmu who started 40 games.

The biggest takeaway is Ball’s impact while not being the ball-dominant lead guard we typically see around the NBA.

Some of the league’s best point guards are in that bottom left-hand corner.

On July 19, NBA University used Basketball Index to generate a graph of the “best 3-and-D” players during the regular season.

NBA University is clear that this does not specify the “best defender”. It does show who tackled the toughest matchups. The Bulls missed Ball’s ability to cut off driving lanes and pick-and-rolls down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Their need for two-way players could be summed up as needing more players like Ball or even just him getting healthy.


Heard it All Before

At this point, Ball’s health is the Bulls’ biggest remaining question mark this offseason. Some have criticized their approach to the offseason. But it has been their state plan at least since the season ended.

We have also heard reports of plans that didn’t succeed like their pursuit of Rudy Gobert via trade.

They were also interested in either Danilo Gallinari or Kevon Looney in free agency.

The Bulls signed Goran Dragic to solidify their need for a backup playmaker. But if Ball’s knee injury continues to be an issue too deep into the season, Chicago might be sunk again. DeRozan told NBC Sports Chicago’s Rob Schaefer just how much Ball means.

“He brings a different type of swagger to us when he plays… From his passing, his IQ, his capability to knock down shots… The whole dynamic of the game changes with ‘Zo out there.”


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The message from Bulls brass has been one of hope.

Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas, general manager Marc Eversley, and head coach Billy Donovan all said their hope is Ball will be ready for training camp. They also acknowledge that, though it has not been at the pace they would like, Ball is progressing.

But he appeared in 35 games last season and has only once reached the 60-plus game barrier.

When Ball can return to action, the Bulls will be adding arguably the perfect support for the team’s stars to a roster that held first place in the Eastern Conference after he went down.


Notable Cameos

Ball is not the only Bulls player to appear high on either chart. Forward Javonte Green appears in the thick of the league’s quickest decision-makers. Guard Alex Caruso is also present. But his appearance mostly shows he spends most of his time off-ball. He is also more deliberate with it than Ball.

In a bit of a surprise, LaVine was league-average as a 3-and-D player last season.

He was also far more deliberate than Caruso. LaVine also spent far more time on the ball than his defensive-minded teammate.

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