Currently 11-13 and tied for 12th in the West, the New Orleans Pelicans are lingering on the edge of fringe playoff contention. This is about where it was presumed they would be, as their deemed ceiling for the 2020-2021 season is not relatively high in respect to the rest of the West.
Along with fringe playoff chances, they have compiled one of the “weirdest” rosters in the NBA.
Their star players, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, are talents in themselves. How those two mesh continues to be the entity under the biggest microscope for them. Neither works all that well off the ball, and neithers game truly compliments the others in a sustainable fashion.
That dynamic trickles down almost their entire roster, including the topic of this post.
The 2nd overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft has had a stigma attached to his game, being that he cannot shoot reliably enough (which he has addressed) to warrant an impact on the game. Which, in turn, stagnates him reaching a level of productivity to warrant his draft position appropriate.
Though that is partly true, as he probably won’t ever reach that stratosphere of production a 2nd overall pick warrants, it undermines his overall game and how serviceable he truly is.
Sure, there are a few anomaly-type draft picks that would succeed regardless of which franchise or situation they were drafted to. For most though, the situation they are drafted into plays a large part in their development and career trajectory.
Lonzo was drafted to a Lakers team in flux, where no guard has been a good fit long enough over the last six seasons (see D’Angelo Russell, Isaiah Thomas, Jordan Clarkson, and Jose Calderon to name a few) and we all know the scrutiny any lead guard lives under in Los Angeles.
He was then traded to a Pelicans team that doesn’t have a roster construct lenient toward his strengths in style of play as a combo guard with lead guard tendencies, and it seems as if, in alignment with his contract, his time has about run out with the Pelicans per The Athletics Shams Charania.
ESPNs Brian Windhorst has also been on the record naming the Bulls as a team with interest.
All of this to say, it appears a trade is imminent for both of these veteran guards from New Orleans, as upper brass is pressuring newly hired coach Stan Van Gundy to delegate more rotation minutes in favor of younger talents like Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr, the Pelicans most recent draft picks.
What’s the most ideal situation for Lonzo?
A team with a primary and a secondary (and maybe even a tertiary) scorer to be placed ahead of him in its scoring dynamic. Most or all of which needing to be viable in operating off the ball, with the ability to play with pace.
That team also needs to have a bigman that can be a factor in pick and roll play as well as pick and pop, or two players giving their own variant of each dynamic. If either of those players can provide vertical spacing, even better.
Enter the Chicago Bulls 👀
The Bulls have been linked to Lonzo for over a year now (and teams having a player on their radar for so long typically lead to action taken). When said player fills a void your franchise has longed to address, that likelihood increases.
Third in pace (in contrast to the Pelicans style of play, ranked 21st), the Chicago Bulls are the most perfect fit for the services of Lonzo Ball 🎯.
They currently have the aforementioned roster necessities to both appease and compliment what Lonzo brings to the table.
A prolific (and I mean PROLIFIC) primary scorer in Zach LaVine (28 PPG), reliable secondary and tertiary scorers in Lauri Markkanen (19 PPG) and Coby White (15.5 PPG), and two trees that would benefit from a guard able to operate in the pick and roll or pick and pop in Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
Of their top eight players in minutes per game (their deemed core rotation), six of those players shoot over 34% from 3.
Notice the likes of LaVine, Markkanen, Williams, and White, who are all enjoying great success from deep this season, as they would be the direct beneficiaries of Lonzo’s integration into Donovans system.
The Bulls have challenged Coby White to learn how to play lead guard on the fly, and, not to the Carolina products fault as growing pains were expected, that has stagnated their growth and potential as the transition has been less than seamless. He’s just not a point guard, and he’s admittedly been a scoring guard essentially his entire life.
Lonzo’s offensive dynamic
Insert Lonzo Ball onto this roster and he naturally repositions White into the role of sixth man, where he would be most effective and rank amongst the leagues best. That is a win for both Ball, White individually, and the Bulls as a collective.
Ball would also allow for less of a playmaking demand on both White as well as LaVine, while giving Billy Donovan lineup versatility to play any tandem of LaVine, White, and Ball, making for one of the most fun guard trio’s in the NBA.
Just imagine Zach LaVine and how he would absolutely flourish as the second-side playmaker in an offense where the play initiator is borderline elite in passing and vision. Even more, imagine Ball and his threat to get down hill, especially off of a ball screen, attracting enough attention for LaVine to use his off the ball cutting ability to slip back door or cut opposite side for alley-oops 🤯.
In small ball lineups Donovan could experiment with having all three share the floor for short stretches in the rotation.
In regards to shooting, the Bulls are fifth in the league in corner 3PA’s (10.7%), and fourth in the league in corner 3PM’s at a 43.8% conversion rate.
Take a look at Lonzo’s shot chart below from this season, one which he’s tied a career-high at 38% from deep.
Notice how he would fit with this team in both shot selection and where his success comes from. Specifically from the corners, Lonzo is in the 80th percentile in attempts and converting successfully in the 100th percentile at 54% (19/35).
His frequency at the cup has gone down since arriving in New Orleans, in contrast to what it was in Los Angeles. So he leaves a lot more to be desired as a downhill driver in freethrow attempts per game. That can be directly attributed to personnel though, having Zion, Adams, and Derrick Favors as a template of the paint-dwelling types of bigmen that clog the lane in his time with New Orleans. I’d expect for his frequency at the cup to ascend back toward what it was in Los Angeles, which is more true to his style of play.
Lonzo’s defensive dynamic
Though a tad bit overrated in common perception, Ball is still more than serviceable and will make plays on that end. He still has potential to become a consistent fringe all-nba defensive team worthy talent, and would be able to grow in a better situation for himself on that end of the floor. Of note, he’s yet to have a negative season-long impact in defensive +/-, which means each of his teams throughout his career has been better with him on the floor than with him off. In some instances, his teams have been immensely better with him on, versus off, and the Bulls could certainly use an influx of plus defenders, especially from guard.
The fourth-year guard does come with flaws of his own. He leaves more to be desired in on the ball defense at times from the point of attack (so no Bulls fans, he is not like Kris Dunn was in that regard). He has had an issue playing without fouling at numerous times in the season thus far.
He will however play with consistent energy defensively, as he can serve as an irritant if nothing else on the ball. He will also pick up opposing guards 94 feet at times and fully tap into his strengths as a defender shooting passing lanes and using his length to create deflections, allowing for more play in transition (where he would be a lot of fun in the open floor with LaVine, White, and Williams changing ends, just imagine that).
Pairing ball with LaVine defensively would have its benefits. Though he receives a lot of flack for his ability, LaVine does not come up short in effort on that end. Having Ball and his energy/effectiveness in tandem with LaVines efforts can suffice.
Add to that what their rookie Patrick Williams has shown defensively, and Wendell Carter’s continued growth on that end, and you have a foundation being built.
Ball fits the timeline of this roster age-wise, and would be a piece that unlocks a new level to this Bulls rebuild. One that may even allow them to ascend into the play-in tournament tier of the Eastern Conference this season.
There is some risk involved, but the potential in reward far outweighs that.
Given the demand for his services are not relatively high, and competition won’t be an issue regarding attaining him from New Orleans, I would expect for negotiation to not be all that complicated.
The trade could include more players, which would in turn include more pick compensation being swapped, nonetheless this could be a foundational template for a transaction.
The Pelicans receive one of the most coveted trade targets in Thaddeus Young, a versatile defender, one that could play with Steven Adams or, of course, Zion Williamson, as well as a second round pick in next years draft.
There are 3-team trade scenarios I thought of, allowing the Pelicans to cut their ties with both Ball and Redick at once. One of which where this same trade is made m, then add in the Rockets swapping Oladipo for Redick for example, but that get complicated in regards to ancillary players added to match salary, though it makes sense.
Nonetheless, the Bulls have the assets to attract the Pelicans attention, and to execute a trade for Lonzo. I expect the Pelicans to part ways with the UCLA product relatively soon as the trade deadline looms, and I believe the Bulls are the best destination for his services.
What are your thoughts on Lonzo with the Bulls? Do you think adding him to the Bulls makes them better both short-term and long-term? Do you think the Pelicans would see receiving a combination of Young, or Satoransky, or Felicio, or Temple as enough in return? Would the Pelicans be willing to take on the Otto Porter Jr.’s $28.4M expiring deal (though salary filler olympics would ensue to make the trade a success)? Comment here or on social media and let me know!
All stats derive from NBA.com, Basketball-Reference.com or CleaningTheGlass.com unless stated otherwise.