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Lonzo Ball, Wade Baldwin and Funky Shot Mechanics in the NBA

Wade Baldwin, Lonzo Ball and Funky Shot Mechanics in the NBA

This piece is about Lonzo Ball.  Specifically it’s about what Wade Baldwin might have to teach us about Lonzo Ball. So before we get Mr. Ball, let’s take a look at Wade Baldwin.  Specifically, let’s take a look at Wade Baldwin’s jump shot.

As Derek Bodner of DraftExpress writes about Wade Baldwin:

“Baldwin was much less comfortable as a shooter off the dribble, despite yielding 0.829 points per shot on such attempts, a better-than-average figure. When watching him in-game situations, the results off the dribble were pretty inconsistent, with pronounced hot and cold spells which made it a tough facet of his game to rely on. Baldwin doesn’t get a lot of elevation on his jump shots and has a low release point that’s almost out in front of his body, which makes his shot a little bit easier to contest, and thus requires more time and space to get it off, factors which could impact his effectiveness pulling up off the dribble, and creating shots overall for himself and others, at the next level.”

[underlining, my own]

And here is some video of Baldwin shooting at Vanderbilt, beginning at around 4:00.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mDMcyVhDps&w=560&h=315]

We see on video that the shot does often begin quite low.  And yes, often without a lot of elevation. (Which can be a benefit and mitigate concerns of a release being low because it can speed up the shot on a whole. Steph Curry is an example of this off the dribble.  But even consider the benefits of not getting much elevation also for a player like Kyle Korver, who has textbook mechanics.)

Now, about a month ago, this is what Baldwin’s shot looks like:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmK6qyscZno&w=560&h=315]

I haven’t seen a lot of Baldwin this year, so please take this with the grain of salt its worth.  Given that caveat, I’m going to guess that Memphis has toyed with Baldwin’s release.

In this video, for instance, we three occasions where Baldwin shoots off the dribble.  In every one of them Baldwin’s hands are higher than in the college examples.

Of course, this may be a fluke.  There was an example in one of the games vs. Florida last year in which Baldwin gets a defender on his hip and his shot looks not all that dissimilar from this one.  I’m know I’ve seen it other times as well.  And so it may be that Baldwin’s release varies to some degree based on situation.

Yet, there’s another reason I’m going to make this guess. Baldwin’s overall struggles from distance.  That is, Baldwin’s shot only 12% on only 17 NBA attempts.  He’s been no better in the NBADL (25% on only 8 attempts).  Small sample size.  Of course.  But even if Baldwin’s a semi-streaky shooter, 4 of 25 from distance would probably be one of the worst shooting stretches he’s had.

So while, it’s not wholly safe to assume the Grizzlies asked Baldwin to make adjustments. Given what little evidence we have, let’s say it’s probable.

Plus, it’s not just threes.  Baldwin’s been equally bad from just about everywhere.  (per Basketball-Reference.)

Lonzo Ball and Wade Baldwin

Having not really seen him, I could clearly be wrong.

Yet the point is not even that there’s perhaps a real reason that Baldwin is struggling right now.  Besides of course that basketball is difficult.  There may be.  There may not be.  The point is that when a guy comes into the league with a non-textbook jumper, often regardless of results, his team will attempt to “fix” it.  To change the player’s form.

Now sometimes this can pay dividends.  (Kawhi Leonard for example.  Who wasn’t very good at shooting in college.)  Other times it can wreck a player’s confidence and derail his career.  There’s no way to know which outcome ahead of time.  Only that the more wack a guy’s jumper looks, the more likely this tinkering is to happen.

As For Lonzo Ball

Now Lonzo Ball’s shot is accurate from distance and with good rotation.  He’s even decent off-the-dribble.

43% from three.  78% unassisted.  7 unassisted makes out of 32 total.  Now, that’s not as good as Damian Lillard was in college.  It’s not as good as D’Angelo Russell.  Both players had much easier times getting their shots off.  Regardless, for a freshman, these are pretty exceptional numbers from deep.

And yet, Lonzo Ball gets those results with a shot that looks wack.  As Jonathan Tjarks points out:

“Lonzo has a bizarre sidewinder shooting motion where he takes the ball up from his chest before releasing it. The closest comparison to his form in the NBA is probably Kevin Martin, a player who was living proof that unconventional shot mechanics can still work.”

To borrow a video again, I’ve already used once.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9EuXq7GM9I&w=560&h=315]

Beyond that, an NBA team may see reasons to ask him to change it.  That it’s potentially difficult to get off quickly and thus not only potentially easy to block, but more difficult to even create clear chances.  And that it potentially creates balance issues when raising up, depending on which direction the player is moving.

Can the player function equally moving in both directions?  Or are his mechanics holding him back?  Does he have more weapons move right than left?  Or vice versa?  Because NBA teams scout extensively, notice weaknesses and can very often mitigate a player’s strengths just by choosing to surrender to the aspects of the game at which the player is less accomplished.

A Cole Zwicker aptly points out:

“I thought he could be a spread pick and roll scheme-changing lead guard who could hit 3s off the dribble, ala D’Angelo Russell (a poor man’s Russell in terms of scoring) but there are shooting concerns there. His form being Kevin-Martin esque doesn’t allow for a lot of contorting in pull-up situations. He’s not going to make those tough one footed fall-away jumpers off the dribble like a Steve Nash because his form doesn’t allow him to shoot in that manner when he’s not set and he’s moving to the right.”

It’s a potentially major issue.  In talking about the mid-range and Ball’s ability to pull-up from three, Cole’s talking about a part of the game, which has been critical to the success of basically any Point Guard who could conceivably play in the modern game.  From Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier, John Stockton, Mark Price, Chris Paul, Steph Curry, etc . . .

When addressing those who have been able to consistently play PG to great effect without being particularly good at scoring from three or from the mid-range, we’re probably only talking about two players.  Early and mid-career Jason Kidd.   Early and late-version of Lebron James.  That’s it.

Beyond that, it’s a deficit that almost certainly cost the Heat a championship in 2011, as they were defeated by the Dallas Mavericks.  Down 0-2 and in an “Everything but kitchen sink” situation, Carlisle decided to let his defenders sit back in zone games 3-6.  Then we all watched the Heat crumble beneath the weight of wide open mid-range jumpers.

It’s also arguable that a couple of Nets teams would have had a legitimate chance to win had Kidd been able to bury pull-up jumpers with consistency as a younger player.

Conclusion:  How This Affects Mr. Ball

As it concerns Lonzo Ball, I’m of the opinion you let the player play with what works until it fails.  However, this is not an outcome we should be betting on.  As it seems much more likely than not that not only does the NBA team Ball is drafted by see the legitimate reasons that may make changing his shot make sense.  But also ask Ball to entirely alter his form because of them.

That makes Ball’s shooting, despite the solid numbers he puts up, potentially much more difficult to project than it would be for a prospect with a more conventional form.  Let’s say Malik Monk or Markelle Fultz.

And unlike Josh Jackson, for whom there’s nowhere to go but up, Ball’s profile diminishes considerably if you can’t bank on him shooting from distance.   It’s the fact that NBA teams have to worry about Ball as a distance shooter that is going to make every other aspect of his game work.  If he’s not a threat from distance, then his opponents simply won’t bother covering him deep.

In that scenario, it doesn’t matter how good a passer Ball is, nor how good a decision maker.  Best case scenario, you’re talking about a player like Ricky Rubio.  Except without the ability to affect primary initiators at the point of impact on D.  Worst case scenario, you’re talking about the on-court problems that unplugged the NBA career of a player like Omar Cook, despite the ability to create for others.

Because in this hypothetical, the one where an NBA team messes with Ball’s shot and it not only doesn’t improve but atrophies considerably, there’s no scenario in which he’s a highly successful off-the-ball player.

That’s the downside for Ball, and why Ball might not be a relatively safe prospect.  No matter what his Basketball IQ and his statistics suggest.  Though I suspect the team that drafts him would have no one to blame but themselves.

  • If anyone has a definitive answer as to what’s going on with Baldwin’s shot?  Especially if there’s some visual evidence, please let me know.  Is he working on making formal changes?  Or is professional basketball, especially in spot minutes, just really difficult?

Kaiser Lindeman

6 thoughts on “Lonzo Ball, Wade Baldwin and Funky Shot Mechanics in the NBA

  1. Good analysis, but Good Lord, there’s nearly no chance he’s another Omar Cook. It still amazes me that his dad has taught him to play basketball well and hard. He’s a great kid from a great family who has become one of the best 100 basketball players of any age on this planet…why didn’t his dad teach Lonzo and LaMelo to shoot properly? I have watched Lonzo play for the past 5 years and it is so obvious that it’s going to be his eventual downfall as a player. With a solid shooting form both he and LaMelo would be projected to be NBA all stars down the road. Baffling to say the least.

    1. Hi Ron, thanks. I agree with you completely. It’s amazing that his dad taught him to play basketball. I mean, really taught him. Kid just understands the game, and yet he didn’t teach him how to shoot. And beyond that, his form is so unorthodox that it really could permanently alter his possibilities going forward. I’m hoping not, as it’s impossible not to root for him. Ball is basically everything the AAU is not.

      As for Omar Cook, that may be going a bit too far. (I’ve always liked and been prone to hyperbole and exaggeration.) Though Cook’s actually put up a decent career in Europe playing for Milan, Valencia, and some other Euroleague teams. He’s even shot the Euro-three pretty well in a decent number of seasons. 50-60 games stretches shooting 3.5-5 a game at around 37-39%. Which was surprising when I looked it up. Because in college he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. He’s one of those guys, where if he goes to college for 3 or 4 years, I think there’s a decent chance he’s still in the league right now. Or at the very least might have had a decent career.

      Even if the league invested in his development, it might be the same. Despite being a small point guard. It’s just very difficult to stay in the league right now as a perimeter player beyond 4-6 years if you aren’t a real threat from deep and you aren’t an impact defender. It’s not hard to imagine scenarios in which Ball’s shot gets messed with and he doesn’t shoot at all. Don’t know if it’s likely or not. But it’s a non-zero possibility. And Ball as a non-shooter might not be a very interesting player in the league.

  2. U writters are crazy why lonzo needs to change is mechanics ? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.He’s the shooter with the most range in college hoops he shoots 30-40 footers,and he’s the best shooter next to malik monk the problem is that he doesn’t have a midrange he only has a 3 point-game and slashing game and he’s a great floor general.Don’t compare lonzo with Wade baldwin Lonzo he’s a better passer,rebounder,slasher and shooter and he has a better stroke than wade baldwin so mechanics doesn’t matter because lonzo has a great stoke.#ifitain’tbrokedon’tfixit

    1. Please learn to read better.

      1) I said exactly this, that I wouldn’t try to fix a player’s jump shot until it showed it didn’t work.

      2) I didn’t compare Baldwin to Ball in any way except this: Baldwin has a jumper far more conventional than Ball’s and it’s very likely his NBA team asked him to work on it. Baldwin’s most effective part of his game in college was his jumper, and his entire game in the NBA is mightily enhanced (and perhaps only truly workable at point) if opponents need to follow him around a screen. So if his J doesn’t work, his game goes away.

      This is not a comparison of their entire games.

      3) I’m about as pro Lonzo Ball as anyone there is. I’m comparing his passing ability to John Stockton. Who is one of the two best passers I’ve ever seen at the position, and by anyone’s standards an all-time great.

  3. It’s not flattering to say “thanks for the confirmation bias” — but I’ve had these same exact thoughts, comparisons, and on Twitter on Lonzo Ball (haven’t picked a place to blog at, I probably should, but many folks like yourself say what needs to be said so well already).

    I would also add he’s only had more than 8 assists in 1 game since Kentucky and other than UK and Oregon, hasn’t played against anyone remotely close to NBA level talent/athletic ability. As of today (1/11/17) I believe his assist rate is 62nd in the NCAA. Pre-UK it was very un-athletic competition, especially at the guard positions, along with a super-fast pace that inflated those assist numbers.

    Your Ricky Rubio point is so spot on. Trade a set 3pt shot for the defense, that’s Ball. I will say Ball is an opportunistic defender. But he’s not an on ball point of attack defender and much of that could be because he went to Chino Hills who in any of the games I watched didn’t – no player (ever) exhibited any sort of on ball defense. It’s zone press, 3 second full court half court fire it up from 3 or get a dunk possesions. How does one undo four years of HS varsity basketball that resembles rec center all-star game basketball?

    End game: I think Ball could be an efficient 2nd team PG. He can run the point, hit an occasionally open 3 when he has space. His 3-pt distance would play in the NBA. BUT, that has to be in a system that it works for — heavy ball movement offense. Thinking Golden State, Houston, and maybe San Antonio.

    Looking ahead: I’m curious to watch Ball play a few more games this year to perhaps give a better hope of his game translating against NBA talent/athletes. ULCA will play USC (2x), Oregon (1x), and Washington (2x). As a side note: Fultz shares some of the same non-chalant drifting tendencies as Ball and well, similar spg and bpg numbers. But for Ball, hopefully those games can answer more questions about him 1) Defensively, can he stay with any of those guards. 2) Offensively, can he do much against athletic defenders Oregon and USC (De’Anthony Melton).

    I say all of this as UCLA is my favorite college team — and the Minnesota Timberwolves as my favorite NBA team. I like Ball a lot. Love watching him. I like Ricky Rubio a lot. Love watching him play too, but in today’s NBA the (different) shortcomings both guys have that are so relevant to the point guard position in the NBA today.

    1. Cognitively I think Fultz is most likely to end up the best player in the class. But intuitively I think it’s going to be Ball. He has a lot of legitimate concerns, but if you trace back the draft 30-35 years, the best player in the class is almost always the smartest one, no matter what doubts people had about him going in. And that accounts for skill, or athleticism or frame. The smartest players figure it out. And if they’re not the best, they are generally close.

      But if Ball has one part of his game that could doom him, it’s not shooting from three. If Ball connects from three, I don’t have much doubt he’ll be the best or second best player from this class. (And either way, maybe the easiest player to build around. His college skills just fit with anyone, if they translate.) So I would be comfortable with the risk. I understand why people wouldn’t be. But I like him high in this draft.

      As an aside: One thing to notice when watching Ball is how he chooses to give up his dribble. It’s very often when a play is available. That he could press the edge but he gives up his dribble before then because a positive pass presents itself. That’s something Stockton used to do and always to effect. And something I haven’t really seen anyone do since Stockton. There’s a clip I’m going to write about at some point where Stockton gets a switch on a screen and immediately gives up his dribble. Pivots three times to make the center move and finally finds an angle for the pass to the roll man. Because Stockton knows the play is over as soon as he gets the switch. This is not something that is taught. Something almost no one else would do. We’re taught never to surrender our dribble if we don’t have to do so. So most players continue dribbling, probably out of the play. However Ball might do something like this. Like Stockton, he thinks that far ahead of the play. So just watch when he gives the ball up. Sometimes he’s just making a pass, but very often he understands there’s an advantage where no one else does.

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