Is Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball the player who shot 1-of-9 from the field in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, missing all six of his 3-point attempts, or the player who had a triple-double (11 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists) four nights later in a blowout win over the Denver Nuggets?
The answer is both, of course, and while Ball’s inconsistency is hardly unusual for a 20-year-old rookie point guard, the all-or-nothing nature of his present skill set makes him an atypically challenging player to evaluate. Are Ball’s strengths currently outweighing his weaknesses? Let’s take a look.
The bad: Historic inefficiency
Unfortunately for Ball, there have been too many bad shooting nights so far this season. He’s making just 31.3 percent of his shot attempts, and while that doesn’t account for the fact that more than two-fifths of Ball’s shots have come from beyond the arc, his 35.9 percent effective field goal percentage (counting 3s as 1.5 field goals to account for their additional value) remains dreadful.
Because Ball is attempting just 1.5 free throws per game and has made them at a 46.2 percent clip — perhaps even more concerning from a long-term perspective than his 22.8 percent 3-point shooting — his true shooting percentage (.368) isn’t much better. No player who has seen more than 250 minutes of action this season has been as inefficient as Ball, whose true shooting percentage is actually slightly worse than what No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz posted (.372) in four games before being shut down with soreness in his right shoulder.
Naturally, comparing Ball’s scoring efficiency with entire seasons is unfair, because he will likely improve as his numbers regress to the mean. Still, doing so helps us understand the negative impact of Ball’s poor shooting thus far.
Few players have scored so inefficiently over a full season: Just 12 players since the advent of the 3-point line in 1979-80 have posted a true shooting percentage worse than Ball’s .368 mark in at least 500 minutes.
Naturally, none of these players have rated better than replacement level by my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric; in fact, none has even been within one WARP of replacement level. The least efficient player to rate better than replacement level in at least 500 minutes of action was New Jersey Nets center Chris Dudley in 1992-93, when he posted a .390 true shooting percentage yet was still rated worth 0.6 WARP, because of his strong…