Nerdnumbers avatar

Lonzo Ball: Worst Scorer of All Time and Better Rookie than LeBron?

Lonzo Ball was our favorite player in the 2017 NBA draft. His college numbers had him head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Of course, his chance at Rookie of the Year is pretty much out the window. Ben Simmons (our favorite player from the 2016 NBA draft) is playing like a young Magic Johnson. Even if Ben Simmons were removed from contention via the "Blake Griffin, not a rookie because they spent a year on the bench" rule -- seriously, I believe a voter didn't vote him for this reason, Jayson Tatum would be in the lead. And even if we removed Tatum -- Kyle Kuzma, Ball's teammate, would win "Lakers Rookie of the Year" if the race ended today!

Some fun links:

Rookies for 2017-2018 sorted by Wins Produced here at Boxscore Geeks!

Player Comparison of Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, and Kyle Kuzma here at Boxscore Geeks!

That said, Lonzo Ball isn't that horrible as a rookie. Sure, he's a below-average NBA player. His Points over Par per 48 (how much Ball and an average team would be expected to beat an average team in a regulation game) is -1.0. But rookies, on the whole, are below average NBA players. Here are some fun comparisons.

Future five-time MVP and three-time Finals MVP LeBron James rookie PoP48: -1.2

Future MVP and two-time Finals MVP Kobe Bryant rookie PoP48: -2.0

Future MVP and Finals MVP Kevin Durant rookie PoP48: -3.4!

It's hard to know which players will turn into great NBA talents. And it turns out the NCAA may not be the best teaching environment, despite what random sports pundits say. So I'm not saying Lonzo will turn into an MVP, but it's worth noting other MVPs had rough starts too. And even for those that will defend LeBron and Durant as "they won rookie of the year!" First, Kevin Durant's Rookie of the Year award was so wrong. His scoring efficiency was atrocious! Second, no one would be fooled into thinking LeBron and Durant played even close to their peak level as rookies. Both LeBron and Kobe entered right out of high school, which is a valid point. Of course, as a sophomore NBA player, Kobe's production was very similar to Lonzo's. LeBron took precisely one season to turn into a star because he's LeBron James!

Now, the truly impressive part of Lonzo being a decent rookie though is he is on pace to be the worst scorer in the history of the NBA, full stop.

Here's a fun Basketball Reference Query:

Players with over 30 minutes a game, over 10 shots a game, and true shooting below 40%

Only Jack McMahon in 1958 had a worse True Shooting percentage! For reference, the NBA's average True Shooting in 1958 was 44.9%, a full 10% worse than the current NBA's! (55.2% as of this writing). Even Emmanuel Mudiay, who arguably has the worst full scoring season in the NBA (his rookie year. We'll have to wait on Lonzo Ball to finish to see if he beats it), cracked 40% True Shooting. 

So the final story? If Lonzo Ball can fix his shot (or alternatively, stop shooting so much), he can be a very productive NBA player. He's young, so it'll take a while to see how he pans out. Still, I found it amusing that Lonzo is currently both a better rookie than LeBron James was, and a worse scorer than Emmanuel Mudiay was as a rookie.