LA Dribbles: Lonzo, Lakers, Clippers

Lonzo Ball and the Lakers have a long, long way to go.

Random dribbles following the Los Angeles Clippers’ 108-92 hammer job of the host Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

1. Lonzo Ball looks like he has a nice, long, strong career ahead of him. But I’m not willing to go beyond that after seeing Ball look mostly like a rookie in the opener.

2. That’s not to say I wasn’t occasionally impressed with Ball. There were times why he showed reasons for all the buzz. But to call the kid the best thing to happen to the Lakers since Magic Johnson … sorry, that’s just a media/fan creation.

3. Yes, it’s also the result of Ball’s father, who has turned himself into a celebrity with the over-hyping of his kids’ games and signature shoe brand. Whether or not you like LaVar Ball, you have to give him credit for being smart enough to play off everyone else’s stupidity. And he has turned his son into the most talked about rookie since LeBron James debuted back in 2003.

4. Either way, there are clearly things to like about Lonzo. He has a good head on his shoulders, he’s highly intelligent, he battles under the basket, and despite his even demeanor, he doesn’t back down. Ball, of course, is also an exceptional passer. He finished with three points, four assists and a whopping nine rebounds.

5. The negatives? Well, for one, his shot mechanics aren’t very good. (OK, they’re downright ugly.) His defense leaves a lot to be desired. His strength is so-so. The good news? All of those things are fixable. Once he gets more comfortable in the NBA, his shot will start dropping.

6. So the early bottom line on Ball? No, I don’t see the reason for all the hype, and it seems unlikely that he and he alone can be a franchise savior. But yes, I also see a guy who reminds me of a young Jason Kidd and has regular All-Star potential.

7. Are the Lakers a playoff team? That question created some debate among Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal on TNT’s Inside the NBA. Actually, it wasn’t much debate. Barkley proclaimed the Lakers have “ZERO chance.” Smith agreed. Shaq just sort of smiled and said, “I believe in Magic.”

8. Anyway, I wouldn’t say it’s a zero percent chance, because I think the bottom of the West is fairly wide open. But the Lakers are young, unproven, still have no chemistry and let the wheels come off too easily. I love Larry Nance Jr. and like Julius Randle. But I’m considerably less sold on Brandon Ingram. But those are all younger guys. Not making the playoffs this season is hardly reason to feel depressed.

9. Moving on … the Clippers are now undoubtedly Blake Griffin’s team, and they will go as far as he can carry them. He was remarkable and relaxed in his first game of the post-Chris Paul era, finishing with 29 points and 12 rebounds.

10. Griffin to TNT on the Clippers: “We’re just trying to move the ball around, create spacing. We now have three or four guys on the court at a time who can create.”

11. Other than Griffin, the Clippers are an interesting bunch. From the laid-back Danilo Gallinari to the feisty Patrick Beverly to the high-flying DeAndre Jordan. They won’t be winning the title, but they could make some higher seeds miserable and play more cohesively than last season.

12. I don’t know that Beverly, Milos Teodosic and Austin Rivers can come close to making up for the loss of Paul. I’m not saying I’m sure that they collectively can’t. I’m just saying I need to see more.

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