Bulls Insider Sends Strong Message on Lonzo Ball’s Potential Return

Lonzo Ball Bulls-Pacers

Getty Injured point guard Lonzo Ball looks on during a game between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers.

Just when one thinks the Chicago Bulls are veering toward lost season territory, the team up and gut-punches a pair of East rivals with legitimate title hopes. Sure, they dropped a game to OKC on Friday, but wins over the Celtics and Bucks (Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference, respectively) earlier in the week nonetheless speak volumes about the team’s potential.

However, Chicago’s ability to win games on a consistent basis and make a real playoff push probably still hinges on starting point-man Lonzo Ball’s ability to get back on the court.

With that in mind, one fan went to longtime Bulls insider and beat writer Sam Smith looking for answers on when/if the team could see the former No. 2 overall pick in the lineup and contributing.

In Smith’s latest mailbag feature for Bulls.com, the noted hoops scribe was asked to weigh in on the possibility that Ball could come back before the turn of the calendar. And while he confessed that he doesn’t have any top-secret info on the topic, his answer wasn’t overly optimistic on the veteran guard’s timeline.

Smith Gives His Take on the Lonzo Situation

On whether or not he could reveal anything Lonzo-related that would leave fans “looking forward to Christmas,” Smith essentially dashed any lingering hopes of a sooner-than-expected hardwood return.

“Christmas miracle? I’d hold off on that,” Smith wrote in his latest column. “…The general word around the Bulls is he might be able to play in January, maybe by the All-Star break.”

That timeline jibes with statements made recently by Billy Donovan. After weeks of radio silence on the PR front, the Bulls coach reported recently that Ball was “still not running,” adding that “until he’s running, jumping or cutting,” there’s no real way of knowing when he can play again.

Smith also cautioned that all the back-channel chatter and fan speculation about the status of Ball’s knee was starting to mirror an infamous chapter in team history.

“I worry about the Derrick Rose syndrome,” Smith wrote. “For those who recall, the season after Derrick was injured in the 2012 playoffs, the media and fans became obsessed with Rose’s return to the point he was blamed for not returning, and before long the media and the community turned on him with the belief he didn’t want to play. Which was as erroneous as could be…”

Ball’s Absence Is Clearly Being Felt

Make no mistake, the Bulls are faring about as well as could reasonably be hoped for amid Ball’s extended absence. For his part, free-agent signee and former All-Star Goran Dragic has been a revelation as the backup point. And second-year man Ayo Dosunmu continues to put up numbers as the first-team stand-in.

But they don’t come close to matching Ball’s positive impact on games.

Last season, Chicago was 5.1 points per 100 possessions better when Ball was on the floor, and his defensive rating of 107.0 was the No. 2 mark team-wide among rotation regulars. And while Dragic’s 2022-23 net swing of 11.6 is bigger than Ball’s, he’s only playing 18.1 MPG, most of which comes against other backups.

Also: any positive impact Dragic is having has been negated by Dosunmu, whose net rating checks in at minus-16.7.

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