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Column: Lonzo Ball’s offensive game isn’t just a passing fancy

Lonzo Ball
Bloodied by a scramble on the floor, Lakers guard Lonzo Ball catches his breath during a break in the action.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The first time it happened, it was the final seconds of the first half, the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball grabbed the ball near the three-point line, and the Staples Center crowd screamed.

“Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!’’

He didn’t shoot. It was as if he couldn’t bring himself to shoot. He passed, and the Lakers never got off a shot.

The second time it happened, it was near the midway point of the third quarter, Ball found himself with an open three-pointer and the fans ringing in his ears.

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“Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!’’

Again, he didn’t shoot. He looked tentative. He looked lost. He passed the ball and the place echoed with groans.

The third time it happened … actually, no, there was no third time.

Lonzo Ball finally listened. He finally felt it. He suddenly found it.

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In the middle of his most-hyped matchup of a hype-filled early season Wednesday night, the Lakers celebrated rookie finally lived up to that hype in the middle of a 127-123 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Moments after passing that ball in the third quarter, Ball got it back, and this time, funny motion and all, he shot it. Swish.

Soon thereafter, after running back down court accompanied by a knowing nod from coach Luke Walton, Ball threw up another trey attempt. Swish.

Twenty seconds later, Ball blew off a three-pointer and just drove past the Warriors defense for a layup, eight points in a minute, and he wasn’t done yet.

On the Warriors’ ensuing possession, he went to the floor to tie up the loose ball with Stephen Curry and wound up cutting his left eye like a boxer. Returning to the floor wearing a bandage over the eye, he hit one more three-pointer to finish his barrage of a quarter.

The Lakers lost, and the still-smallish Ball wore down in an overtime period dominated by Curry, but the point had been made.

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The ability is there. The fortitude is there. The confidence is coming. The shot needs to be completely remodeled this summer, but he’s only 20 and chances are, he’s going to eventually figure this out.

Will he be a transformative superstar? Maybe not. Will he even be the player to lead the Lakers into the next era? Right now, Brandon Ingram, who scored a career-high 32 points Wednesday, looks like that player.

But can Ball be a star on this team and entertain this town? Absolutely.

He didn’t ultimately win the battle with Curry — they frequently guarded each other — but he didn’t get blown out either.

Ball’s line: 15 points, 10 assists, two rebounds, two turnovers.

Curry’s line: 28 points, seven assists, five rebounds, five turnovers.

Ball was invisible early, but he battled. Ball seemed tentative until that third period, but he fought through it. Ball was sort of everything that he’s been in this season’s first 20 games — sometimes baffled, sometimes brilliant, but ultimately hopeful.

“I was just out there playing, man,” said Ball. “Had good looks tonight, not thinking about it, just let it go.”

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On nights like these, folks should remember to stop listening to his blowhard father LaVar. Don’t blame Lonzo for ramblings like those of last spring, when LaVar said of his son, “He’s better than Steph Curry to me.’’ Stop believing that his basketball ability has any relation to his reality show of a life.

If you look at Lonzo Ball strictly like a 20-year-old rookie who played only one year of college and is learning under the most pressure of any professional rookie in Los Angeles sports history, the view is pretty good.

On Wednesday night, everyone saw it.

“I thought Lonzo played great,’’ said Walton afterward. “I thought Lonzo was really good in being aggressive individually but still within the concept off how we want to play the game of basketball.’’

It turns out, Walton set him up for it.

“He’s been shooting the lights out in practice,’’ said Walton. “I told him before the game, you’re going to be one of the best point guards in this league. Embrace this challenge, if it’s open and in rhythm … and he’s got a bounce to it … let it fly.”

Walton stressed that, while Ball is not supposed to be a big-time scorer, the Lakers want him to keep searching for that long-lost shot, and need for him to find it.

“When he saw that one go in, it built that confidence for him,” Walton said. “Those are shots we want him taking, we need him taking. I was happy for him.”

Entering the game, Ball had been struggling so much that feelings about him from NBA veterans had morphed from irritation to sympathy. Even the Warriors found themselves defending him in the wake of all the pressure heaped upon him by his father.

Earlier this week, Curry said, “I think he loves to play basketball, so he’ll be able to fight through all that and have a great career. I hope you don’t judge me off my first 20 games in the league.’’

The Warriors’ Kevin Durant added, getting his age wrong, “He’s 19? That’s what any 19-year-old would go through in the pros. It’s just a matter of him being in L.A, where the eyes and scrutiny are on him. He’s playing like he should play as far as, learning the game and adjusting on the fly.’’

Lonzo Ball did exactly that on a revelatory Wednesday night. He might not be ready for Hollywood yet, but the kid stays in the picture.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke


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