Challenging a player’s toughness is about the most insulting thing anyone can do, but that’s what ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith did to new Chicago Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball. During a recent episode of First Take, Smith downplayed many of the Bulls’ recent offseason moves and went in specifically on Ball.
Stephen A. Smith on Lonzo Ball: “I Can See Him Not Being That Guy”
As usual, no punches were pulled as Smith downgraded Ball’s potential to positively impact the Bulls, and to push him past his hometown New York Knicks.
Here is what Smith said:
Let me say this last thing about Lonzo Ball. I’m a say it to y’all again. Yes, he averaged 14 points this year; Yes, he shot 37% from three-point range this year. All of that is true, but I’m telling you right now, I still see a dude that’s incremental, he ain’t going south, he’s going up; and I give him props for that. I like him, and I like his family, y’all know that. All I’m saying to you is that, that level of aggression that a lot of people are attaching to Lonzo Ball thinking he’s going to be this…I think that’s in you, you either got that or you don’t. And I can see him not being that guy. Yeah, he’s going to be what he is, but I’m telling you right now, I think the Knicks are going to have a better season than Chicago.
Take a look at the entire segment:
There is a lot to unpack. Smith couldn’t have been much more insulting to Chicago’s moves. Many believe the Bulls have had one of the more successful offseasons.
Michael Pina of Sports Illustrated had a different take. Pina wrote:
Lonzo Ball entered free agency as the most desirable restricted free agent who could presumably be had. The Chicago Bulls wasted no time acquiring him via a sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and a second-round pick. Ball’s new contract will pay him $85 million over the next four seasons, an acceptable number that could even be a steal if his outside shooting continues to improve. (He made 37.8% of the 8.3 threes launched per game last year.) Complementing LaVine-Vooch pick-and-rolls is key for everyone on Chicago’s roster, and Ball will absolutely need to hit open shots, drive closeouts and find different ways to keep his defender glued to the perimeter. Asking him to veer outside his line as a high-usage ball-handler probably won’t work. But Ball can still carry different forms of offensive responsibility, be it leading Chicago’s second unit (Coby White may be an OK fit beside Ball in those groups) or helping speed up one of last season’s slowest transition teams.
Clearly, Smith doesn’t agree with Pina.
Are There Still Misconceptions About Lonzo Ball’s Game?
If you’ve followed Ball’s career, you’ve heard some of these critiques before. “Lonzo can’t shoot,” “Lonzo can’t create off the dribble,” or “Lonzo doesn’t have that dog in him.”
It appears Smith is leaning on the latter considering, as he pointed out, Ball has improved in the shooting category. If you take a listen to Ball’s introduction to the media on Friday, you can hear he was a little dissatisfied with the way the New Orleans Pelicans took the ball out of his hands.
Many, including myself, believe that could happen again in 2021 as DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine may well be the more primary creators and facilitators. It doesn’t sound as if that’s what Ball is expecting.
It will take a few games before we know for sure what kind of point guard Ball will be with the Bulls. After the team has a training camp, and practice sessions, perhaps Ball will be in a position to prove his doubters wrong.