Lonzo ball has struggled so far in his NBA career, shooting 31% from the field and 23% from three. Given the sheer oddity of his shooting form, we can all see why there are concerns with his jump shot. However, at 6”6’ with decent hops and length, why has he struggled so much at the rim? He’s 26/62 on layups so far and has had serious struggles against NBA rim protectors; I don’t have the numbers, but most people feel he’s been blocked as much as anyone in the league. Lonzo almost looks as if he panics at times, throwing up a rushed attempt so that it’s not sent straight back at him.
When he has evaded rim protection, he’s shown quality footwork and his touch with both hands is quite advanced – particularly with his off hand. In fact, of the 13 makes I was able to chart, nine of them were with the left hand – although a large factor was that Lonzo uses crossovers or reverse finishes to beat rim protectors before getting to the rim. Nine of those makes also come against no, or poor help defense, and it has only been in recent games (twice against the Bucks) that Lonzo has showcased an ability to score over rim protection.
As the primary ball handler, either in isolation or in the PnR, I counted 18 misses at the rim, with only 5 makes. On 4 of those 5 makes, Lonzo was able to get a better look at the rim because the help defender was drawn from the rim because of Lopez’s ability to stretch the floor. Not being able to beat or score over the help defender is a huge factor for Lonzo. He was 4/21 overall on layups contested at the rim. This was mostly centres, but Marcus Smart, Bradley Beal, John Wall and some wings also caused misses or blocked Lonzo’s shot.
NBA.com/stats has Lonzo as 1.7/5.2 a game in PnR as the ball handler – 32.4% – showing almost a complete inability to generate shots from himself at the rim, particularly off the dribble. Of those shots he has created, most have come with his left hand; Lonzo has a nice right to left crossover, but perhaps he needs to develop a left to right cross, or an in-and-out dribble to allow him to attack the rim with his strong hand more often.
In general, Lonzo has been much more effective attacking on the catch, as opposed to against a set defense. Eight of Lonzo’s 13 makes were either off of cuts, dribble handoffs or after attacking closeouts. He looks like two different people when there’s good help as opposed to bad help. When he attacks closeouts and can go at a rotating help defender he has showcased the fluidity and body control to evade them nicely.
However, when going straight at a guy, he looks more like this:
Lonzo has a skinny frame and lacks lower body strength, which is one of the reasons why he has struggled so far. Lonzo only has a free throw rate of .143, which works to showcase his hesitancy to make contact his friend. Lonzo should be going at the body more, utilizing the Manu body bump (shown below) to keep defenders grounded. Another point mentioned towards the end of this Bball breakdown video, is that Lonzo jumps broadly and not high, which leaves him off balance by the time he gets to the rim. He tries to jump early and evade the contest, as opposed to going into the contact and rising up over the contester.
On a positive note, Lonzo has shot 10/18 inside 10 feet in his last 4 games – perhaps showcasing that he is making the right adjustments. In his last game against the Suns, it’s clear that he was trying to utilize his body, dropping the shoulder into his defender before going up. This may be a change to his play style, but it might also be because he felt more comfortable with the massive size advantage he had on Tyler Ulis. It’s hard to tell, but the only way to know for sure is to keep an eye on this. Lonzo has shot 50% on 6.2 drives over his last five games and 60% in his last three, which are massive improvements on his 36% for the season.
I’ve seen enough finesse from Lonzo to think that his shooting at the rim can continue to rise. His footwork and touch are both okay, and he has enough bounce and length that his size shouldn’t limit him at the rim. If he can continue to build his core strength and play with a little more aggressiveness, then hopefully he can develop as a scorer (not factoring the work he needs on his jumper). The rest of his floor game, including his defense and rebounding have looked great. He understands the nuances of the game, which can’t be taught. If he can improve his scoring, Lonzo will be capable of impacting the game on so many levels, so let’s not be too quick to rule him a bust.