Lonzo Ball’s Absence Significantly Hurts the Lakers’ Playoff Hopes

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball has missed 13 games with an ankle injury and doesn’t appear to be returning any time soon as head coach Luke Walton said there is no timetable for Ball’s return, revealing that even the initial 4-6 week diagnosis for Ball might be optimistic.

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The Lakers are fighting for playoff position at the bottom of the Western Conference, which has as many as six teams vying for the final two spots. Los Angeles is largely in this position due to LeBron James missing 18 games this season, but don’t underestimate the impact that Ball’s absence has had on Los Angeles on the court, especially on defense.

LA has been 3.7 points worse per 100 possessions on that end of the floor with Ball off the court. Ball is also one of the best on the team at recording steals which creates easy transition opportunities on the offensive end for the Lakers.

Because of his build, Ball can also check multiple positions and create versatility for the Lakers defensively.

In the 13 games Ball has missed, the Lakers have given up 121.2 points per game. That’s dead last in the NBA during that stretch. It’s nearly 10 more points per game (111.4) than the team was giving up before Ball’s injury.

The advanced data is even worse.

Lakers’ Defensive Splits (via NBA.com) Defensive Rating Net Rating Opponent’s 3-pt. %
With Lonzo Ball (47 games) 106.3 1.1 34.7
Without Lonzo Ball (13 games) 115.7 -9.2 37.1

 

The Lakers have dropped off tremendously defensively, leading to a complete reversal in net rating — for reference, the 12-50 Phoenix Suns have a -9.6 net rating on the season.

Some of Los Angeles’ defensive struggles come from players being tasked with picking up Ball’s production.

Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson were brought on during the summer partly due to their defensive prowess. Here’s a look at their track records on that end of the floor over the last three seasons, before the start of the 2018-19 campaign, via NBA.com.

Season Rajon Rondo’s Defensive Rating Lance Stephenson’s Defensive Rating
2015-16 107.3 105.4
2016-17 106.5 100.3
2017-18 105.8 108.8

 

This season, Rondo is sporting a 110.2 defensive rating while Stephenson is at 108.3.

Those are league-average marks at best, but nowhere near what we would classify as “good” defenders.

In the last 13 games (all without Ball), Rondo and Stephenson have a 116.3 and a 114.6 defensive rating, respectively. The duo isn’t stopping anything, which creates additional pressure on the players, like James and Brandon Ingram, who are largely responsible for keeping LA relevant offensively.

While Ball’s offensive numbers have dipped this season due to the presence of James, don’t overlook the impact he has on defense.

The fact remains that the Lakers have gone 4-9 since Ball went down and can’t afford any more underwhelming losses as they make their playoff push.

Los Angeles must fix its defensive issues and while better effort would definitely help in that department, a good amount of the team’s success on that side of the floor depends on Ball returning soon.

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