UCLA coach Steve Alford defends Lakers’ Lonzo Ball against criticism

Lonzo Ball, center, remains the Lakers' starting point guard, though the rookie's struggles sometimes send him to the bench.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Among those attending Monday night’s game between the Lakers and the Clippers was UCLA men’s basketball coach Steve Alford.

Alford has heard the criticism his former point guard Lonzo Ball has received early in his first NBA season, especially about his jump shot. Alford doesn’t think it’s totally fair.

“The thing … I am very impressed with him is that I think defensively, he’s really working at it,” Alford said. “And defensively he’s growing in that area. For a rookie, I think that’s the hardest thing coming into the NBA, is to learn what you have to do defensively. And I was very impressed with that.

“I just think he’s gotta get the ball. When he’s got the ball, he makes people around him better, and I think the more trust there can be in Lonzo being the guy that facilitates the offense, because right now what’s being critiqued is his jump shooting. That’s not who he is. He’s not a shooting guard.”


Alford said Ball’s shooting will improve the better he’s able to facilitate for others.

“In my 27 years of coaching, I’ve never seen anybody at the collegiate level … move the ball north-south any faster and more efficiently by the dribble and by the pass than Lonzo,” Alford said. “And when that trust happens, and he’s allowed to do those things, I think you’ll see teammates’ game go up, you’ll see passing, the joy of passing will go up in that organization. And when that happens he’s going to get easier shots, and he’ll make those shots.”

Lonzo vs. Steph

The way Ball and his little brothers played growing up included launching three-point shots from near half-court. As Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry rose to prominence with long-distance shots, the Ball kids’ style was increasingly more accepted.

“At first we were kind of getting criticized for it,” Ball said. “But after he pretty much opened the gateway, everybody was cool with it.”

On Wednesday, Ball will face Curry for the first time when the Lakers host the defending NBA champion Warriors. Curry isn’t the first elite point guard Ball has faced this year, and he certainly won’t be the last.

“One of the most exciting players in the league,” Ball said. “In my opinion, the best shooter of all time. He can shoot off the catch or dribble. He is one of the best point guards in the league. … It is a challenge I am looking forward to. Come out and be ready to play.”

Curry is among the players that Ball’s famous father, LaVar, called out during the past year. In February, LaVar said Lonzo was a better player than Curry. This week Curry told reporters in Oakland that those comments weren’t motivation, but rather “comic relief.”

Curry doesn’t appear to carry a grudge against Ball; rather, he’s empathetic to the rookie’s early struggles.

“I’ve always said he’s a great talent,” Curry told reporters in Oakland. “I think he loves to play basketball, so he’ll be able to fight through that and have a great career.”

Watching the eighth seed

At 8-12, the Lakers’ record might not be what they hoped it would be heading into the brutal stretch they are about to enter. But they are only one game out of the eighth playoff seed in the West, currently occupied by the Utah Jazz.

“That’s definitely something I keep track of for sure,” forward Larry Nance Jr. said of the playoff picture. “That’s something that I would love for this team, I think everybody here would love for this team and I think that’s very realistic the way things are shaping up.”

The Lakers made staying there a little tougher for themselves in the past couple weeks. They lost games against teams with worse records, Sacramento and Phoenix. On Monday they dropped a game in which they had led the ailing Clippers.

Now, from Wednesday through the end of December, the Lakers will face the top two teams in the West, the Warriors and the Houston Rockets, three times each. They’ll also play the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

“After a tough last game, it’s easy to be upset about it, but the second we’re like ‘There’s a bigger plan here, we’ve got to refocus on the eight seed, we can still get it’, [it] kind of brings you down to earth and kind of refocuses you,” Nance said.

The Times’ Ben Bolch contributed to this report.



When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

On air: TV – Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes, NBATV; Radio – 710, 1330

Update: The Warriors have a habit of losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles. They’ve done it in each of the past two seasons. But the Lakers won’t catch this team sleeping — Golden State is coming off a rare loss, to Sacramento.

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli