How far can the Chicago Bulls go without the Lonzo Ball?

Lonzo Ball missed much of last season after knee surgery and will not be ready for training camp. How much does his absence limit the Bulls?

It’s in less than a month Chicago Bulls will open their training camp at the start of the 2022/23 season. Unfortunately, they are without their starting point guard Lonzo Ball. Having missed over 50 games last season, Ball is doubtful about being ready for the start of the season and is expected to miss the entirety of training camp as he continues to struggle with his after undergoing meniscus surgery last season has knees ESPN’s Jamal Collier and Ramona Shelburne.

The Bulls go into this season with championship ambitions and hope to build on the early success of last season. Losing possession earlier in the season is a drastic setback for an offense that relied on his style of play to level the ground. With DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine two of the game’s top wingers, Ball’s relief became an integral part of an offense that reinvigorated the Bulls last season. In just 35 games, Ball demonstrated his ability to lead a high-profile offense at an elite level, helping lead the Bulls to a 23-10 record from the start of the season through the month of December.

At every stop, Ball’s steady play provided pace, shooting and playmaking, along with the wide defense. The former Bruin has made leaps and bounds in his game every year while still developing into one of the best young field generals in the game.

Not only is Ball’s absence preventing Chicago from starting the season in full force; it forces them to continue without their general downstairs.

Despite a variety of weapons, Ball’s absence was painfully felt last season, especially as the season progressed after the All-Star hiatus. After remaining in the top 10 offensive rating for most of the season, the Bulls fell to 25th in the offensive rating in March. During the months of October, November, and December, Chicago ranked 7th, 16th, and 9th in terms of team support percentage. In March and April, Chicago ranked 25th and 29th in terms of assist percentage.

While the numbers may not fully tell the story, Ball, like so many other ground generals, influences his team in ways that go far beyond the box score. From his hockey assists, lead passes that open up quick scoring chances, his ability to read defenses from ball screens, and pinpoint accuracy on skip passes, Ball’s playmaking and basketball IQ stretch well above the assists column or even some of the Advanced metrics to assess the often undervalued intangibles that fly under the radar.

Those intangibles, coupled with his size, defensive shiftability and versatility he’s displayed over the past few seasons, have made Ball an incredibly valuable player and an integral part of his team’s success at both sides.

However, Ball’s effectiveness and performance were stifled by significant absenteeism in almost every season of his fledgling career. In five seasons, Ball has gone on to play sixty games within an NBA calendar year. He currently averages 50.4 games played per season. Last season was a career low for Ball as he only played 35 games before deciding to have surgery. Additionally, the surgery last year was the second surgery Ball has had on his left knee, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in the summer of 2018.

Who’s stepping in at the Lonzo Ball?

Heading into this season, Billy Donovan and the Bulls will now need to find additional ways to stay afloat without their conductor on offense and how to manage an offense with two wingers who averaged over 24 points per game last season scored.

For most of the season, Chicago managed to stay afloat without the ball, benefiting greatly from the play of rookie Ayo Dosunmu at point guard. However, without a clear timeline for the ball’s return, Chicago must once again adjust to life without their point guard and find ways to balance the impact he exerts on either end of the ground. For Ball, it’s another unfortunate hurdle in his injury-plagued but promising career. Chicago’s championship aspirations will likely continue to rest on the good health of its stars, including Ball.

With a new contender officially in the Central Division and a handful of championship-level teams in the East, it will take the Bulls all at full power to make a strong push to the top of the conference.

For now, they can afford to wait for Ball, but only time will tell how long that will take. How far can the Chicago Bulls go without the Lonzo Ball?

John Verrall

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