Heading into the 2017 NBA Draft, the Lakers were faced with a difficult decision with the second overall pick. After moving on from former first-round pick D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers were in need of a franchise point guard. The guards that were available for them were Kentucky star De’Aaron Fox and hometown kid and UCLA star Lonzo Ball. As we all know the new regime of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka decided to take Ball. Did they make the right decision though?
First Reason: Fox owned Ball in head-to-head match-ups in college
It was no secret that Ball drew a lot of the attention in the 2016-2017 NCAA season. Coming into the season Ball was the number four overall high school prospect while Fox was two spots behind him at sixth. Fox was joined at Kentucky by the number five overall prospect Bam Adebayo, the ninth overall prospect Malik Monk, and the 14th overall prospect in Wenyen Gabriel. Ball’s running mates would be the number 13 overall prospect T.J. Leaf, the 60th overall prospect Ike Anigbogu, and the 88th overall prospect from the 2015 high school class Aaron Holiday.
The first meeting between Fox and Ball would take place at Rupp Arena on December 3rd. Both UCLA and Kentucky came into the game undefeated with the Bruins at 8-0 and the Wildcats at 7-0. Ball would get the win but it would be Fox who would put up the better stat line with 20 points, two rebounds, and nine assists. For Ball, he would achieve 14 points, 6 rebounds, and seven assists, but would turn the ball over six times.
These two guards would meet again in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. This time it was Fox’s Wildcats who would emerge victoriously. All that Fox would do is lead all scorers and put up a career-high with 39 points as UCLA had no answers for him on defense. The UCLA star would struggle as he would only put up 10 points, three rebounds, and eight assists.
Between the two games against each other in college, the stat line leans more favorably towards Fox.
Fox – 2 GP, 35 MPPG, 29.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.5 TO’s, 52.5 FG%, 20 3PT%, 80 FT%
Ball – 2 GP, 38 MPPG, 12 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 5 TO’s, 40.9 FG%, 21.4 3PT%, 75 FT%
Despite having the advantage in the head-to-head contests, Ball would achieve more accolades than Fox. Earning All-American First-team honors as well as the USBWA National Freshman of the Year honors. Fox was not listed amongst any All-American teams.
The Pre-draft process
Building on the rivalry that the players had exhibited on the court, it would extend beyond that. We all know the mouth of Ball’s father, Lavar, but it was Fox’s father Aaron who chimed in on who was the better prospect coming out of college.
“My son already ate his ass up twice,” Aaron Fox said about Lonzo, according to Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams. “[LaVar] can say what he wants to say. I just tell him to go back and watch the film. That’s it.”
The Lakers would bring in Fox for a workout during the draft process and there was reported interest between the two sides. Especially on the part of Fox who had this to say to FOX SPORTS.
“The workout was pretty good. They try to really wear you out. You’re the only person on the court. You don’t get too many breaks. But I feel like the workout went well, I shot it well. Showed them I could put passes on the money, work well out of the pick-and-roll. Nothing is going to be the same as a live game. They try to simulate as much as you want, but it won’t be the same. I enjoyed it a lot, got to talk to the Buss family, all the owners. Magic [Johnson] liked it. I enjoyed being around there.” – De’Aaron Fox
Questions surfaced about Ball’s conditioning before the draft but that was not enough of a concern to scare the Lakers and Magic Johnson from taking him with the number two overall pick. The belief was that by taking Ball, his basketball IQ mixed with his athleticism and playmaking ability would spark the franchise into becoming the modern-day ‘Showtime’ Lakers.
Second Reason: A Better Rookie Season
The two rookies would meet for the first time in the NBA on November 22nd in Sacramento. Fox would get the team victory but Ball would put together a stronger performance with 11 points, seven rebounds, and 11 assists. In the second match-up at Staples Center between these two Ball would score five points but would have 11 rebounds and 11 assists with five steals while Fox would achieve 15 points with one rebound, three assists, and four steals.
The last two games between the Kings-Lakers, Ball would be sidelined with a knee injury. When the season concluded, much like college, Fox would get snubbed with post-season honors while Ball would get rewarded with a spot on the All-Rookie second team. But did Fox deserve that spot over Ball?
In their rookie seasons Ball would only play in 52 games and achieve 10.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, shot 36.0% from the field, 30.5% from three, and an abysmal percentage from a guard at the free-throw line going 45.1%. Fox, meanwhile, he would play in 73 games and would score 11.6 PPG and add 2.8 RPG, 4.4 APG, and would shoot the ball rather effectively going 41.2% from the field, 30.7% from three, and 72.3% from the free-throw line. Fox would achieve these better scoring numbers and higher percentages than Ball with more shots per game from the field as well as the charity stripe.
Third Reason: Better Sophomore Season and Roster Fit
In the second season for both Fox and Ball, they have only faced each other once on November 10th. In that game, Ball would only score 4 points with three rebounds, and four assists in only 19 minutes of action. Fox would play 38 minutes and would add 21 points, seven rebounds, and two assists.
On the year Fox is achieving a high level of success with 18.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 7.4 APG, a 48.1 FG%, 39.8 3PT%, and a similar 72.3 FT%. On the other end, Ball has produced 9.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, 40.1 FG%, 32.4 3PT%, and a 51.9 FT%. So of these categories this year, the only category that Ball has the advantage in rebounds.
Heading into the second season, the roster for the Lakers would drastically change with the addition of LeBron James and other veterans like Rajon Rondo Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, and JaVale McGee.
De’Aaron Fox is NOT playing around this year. pic.twitter.com/GnT7BvaXzb
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) December 15, 2018
I understand that Ball is not asked to score and be more of the playmaker, but do the Lakers really need that? I do not believe they do, with LeBron and Rondo on the roster you essentially have two of the best playmakers in the game. Given the fact that Fox has seen an uptick in his scoring as well as his assist numbers, there is nothing stating that Fox can’t add that element of becoming a playmaker.
Lakers fans love the fast-paced offense and getting out in transition and wouldn’t it make sense to have an even faster guard running the break? I think so.
Fourth Reason: Better with LeBron
In the prolific career of LeBron, his success has been aided by point guards who have the ability to score the ball. It is no secret that LeBron had no help at the guard position throughout his first seven years in Cleveland (sorry Delonte West). It also is no surprise that when he got help at the guard position in Miami with Dwyane Wade he won two NBA championships. Fast forward to his return to the Cavaliers and his pairing with Kyrie Irving he then was able to achieve another NBA championship.
The one common trait that Wade and Irving possessed was that they knew how to score the ball. Not saying that Ball doesn’t know how to score, but Fox is lightyears beyond Ball in terms of putting the ball in the net and doing so in a much more efficient manner. Assuming that the decision for LeBron to come over to the Lakers would not have hindered on whether or not the Lakers had Ball or Fox, the fit between Fox and James makes logical sense.
LeBron also loves his shooters as well, and with Fox’s 39.3 three-point percentage this year, LeBron would feel more at ease with Fox on the perimeter more than Ball who is shooting the deep ball at 32.4% this season.
Despite appearing more popular due to the accolades that Ball achieved in the pros as well as in college, in the head to head match-ups Fox continues to prove his scoring ability which is something that the Lakers are missing out on with Ball.
Ball is definitely a game-changer with his length and high basketball IQ on both the offensive and defensive ends, but so is Fox. While the direction of the Lakers seems to be pointing towards bringing in another superstar to place them atop the totem pole in the NBA, sharing the ball is something that must be done to achieve that success. The career assist numbers are almost balancing out between Fox and Ball, with Fox sitting at 5.2 APG and Ball at 6.4 APG. However, there will come a time when those stars look to the facilitator to score and that is where the obvious separation between Ball and Fox lie.