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.
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:
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.)
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.
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?