How Does Lonzo Ball Compare With Jason Kidd?

How Does Lonzo Ball Compare With Jason Kidd?
Jun 07, 2017, 03:53 pm
Lonzo Ball isn't the next Jason Kidd
Very few players are the next, [insert former NBA hall of famer here]. One to one player comparisons have become passé in NBA circles, and evaluating prospects from different eras on the same scale is often a pointless exercise. 
In the case of Ball and Kidd, a lot has changed between 1993 and 2017. During that 24-year-window, basketball has evolved. Players are longer, stronger, faster, and more explosive. Power forwards are centers, small forwards are power forwards, and there isn't much distinction anymore between point guards and shooting guards, or shooting guards and small forwards. Three-pointers and dunks are king, and fast-paced, pick and roll heavy basketball is the vehicle driving 100-point scoring nights and sell-out crowds.
Simply put, the Pac-10 that Kidd sliced up on his way to Conference (and National) Freshman of the Year is different than the Pac-12 that Ball led UCLA through one frozen-rope outlet pass and cross body step back three at a time.
Ball's Bruins finished second in the NCAA in scoring at 89.8 points per game, topping the century mark nine times, while hoisting 24.2 threes per game. On the flip side, Kidd's Golden Bears took only 14.5 3-pointers per game (at a 31.1% clip), and reached 100 points once, pasting 102 points on the Bruins in Pauley Pavilion, nonetheless. While Kidd loved to push tempo in his own right, the pace wasn't nearly as break-neck in 1993, ball screens weren't as prevalent, post ups were highly en vogue, and the level of athleticism simply wasn't what it is today.

Eras aside, Kidd and Ball are no carbon copy.
At 6' 4, 215 pounds, Kidd was a physical, quick, hard-playing athlete (especially relative to the level of athlete in 1993) who lived at the free throw line, played above the rim in transition, loved to throw his weight around on both ends, and made a living as a menace in the passing lanes to the tune of an outrageous 4.8 steals per 40 minutes. A near-non-shooter (as a freshman) who liked to operate out of the post in the half court, and play inside the arc with regularity, Kidd was much more of a live in the paint, put pressure on the rim' point guard than Ball, who took 1.4 more threes than twos per 40 minutes and is much more fluid and rangy' than thunder and lightning'.
Kidd was a feisty competitor who led a #6-seeded Cal team featuring Lamond Murray and 12 others who never stepped foot on an NBA floor to the Sweet 16, including a remarkable victory over Duke's Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Coach K. Conversely, Ball turned around a floundering UCLA program as a 19-year-old, but was surrounded by at least two first round picks in TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu and, while spectacular the majority of the year, did have some trouble getting out of second gear at times, which was never more apparent than during the Bruins' NCAA Tournament loss to Kentucky.
With all of that said, and with all the precautions in place, it's hard to ignore some of the similarities between Kidd and Ball. Both born in California, Pac-12 Freshmen of the Year, big point guards with game-changing transition play, a pass-first mindset, elite basketball instincts and a special confidence about them, the parallels are striking enough to further explore.
The eras are different and saying Ball is the next Kidd would be unfair to both parties, but is it reasonable to say that Lonzo Ball may be a modern basketball version of Jason Kidd to some degree? If Jason Kidd were to grow up during an era where three balls are celebrated and pace-and-space style is the norm, would he look more like Ball, launching pull up threes in transition and killing pick and roll switches with deep step backs?
One of the more unique prospects in recent memory, Ball's basketball instincts, unselfishness, open court electricity, and non-pick and roll reliance style of play mirror Kidd in a lot of ways. For all of their differences, they have some similarities in terms of strengths and weaknesses, which led us to breaking down several different aspects of their games with an eye toward how Ball will project at the NBA level.
(Keep inmind that 1992-93 Cal film isn't all that easy to find, and since Synergy didn't exist back then, watching every Jason Kidd pick and roll possession that year is impossible. We did the best we could to watch a handful of full games to get a better idea of what type of player Kidd was as a freshman and how it compared to Ball, with the differences in era considered.)PHYSICAL PROFILE

 Most casual NBA fans probably remember post-knee surgery Jason Kidd, a strong, below the rim point guard who got by on smarts, timing, instincts and strength. But 19-year-old Jason Kidd was an athlete, especially relative to your typical point guard in 1993. With tremendous open court speed, a quick first step, and explosive one-foot bounce with a head of steam, Kidd was regularly playing above the rim in transition, and when coupled with his 215-pound frame at 6' 4, the San Francisco native was a nightmare for collegiate guards to keep in front. Kidd lived at the free throw line (6.1 attempts per 40 minutes in NCAA play), and used his strong legs to change directions, play low and keep his balance through contact. He did a tremendous job taking hits at the rim thanks to his barrel-chested frame. Not overly long relative to his height, Kidd's extension around the rim was just okay, evident by his lifetime 43.4 2P% on over 10,000 career attempts.
Ball, on the other hand, is a more fluid athlete at 6'6. He's light and wiry (190 pounds, unofficial) with thin legs, a longer stride, and very impressive open court speed in his own right. While not as powerful of an athlete, with a 6'8.5 wingspan and above average open court bounce, Ball is a lob target and very capable of playing above the rim in space. He's not nearly as thick as Kidd, however, as he prefers finesse over physicality and rarely got to the free throw line in college (3.1 times per 40 minutes).
Where Kidd really differs from Ball is in his ability to operate from the low block, something that translated well to the NBA game during his time in the league. Kidd was able to use his strong base to establish position versus virtually every college guard, and after the catch used his size and strength to get to the front of the rim or free throw line, or set up a teammate after commanding a double team. On the flip side, post-ups made up 0.8 percent of Ball's total possessions, as he lacks the strength and physicality to punish opposing point guards.
Different style of athletes, Kidd and Ball are similar in the rebounding department (6.2 per 40 for Kidd, 6.8 per 40 for Ball), as their size, quickness and instincts make/made them plus rebounders at the point guard spot. Kidd proved to be one of the best point guard rebounders in the NBA for stretches (7.0 per 40 in the NBA on his career), and Ball figures to have similar production in that area.TRANSITION PLAY

 Where the Kidd and Ball similarities really shine through is in transition. Kidd loved to push tempo as he constantly put pressure on the rim, and was as creative of an open floor passer as college basketball had seen since Magic Johnson, whom both Kidd and Ball cited as a player they modeled their game after. His open-floor speed brought a level of electricity to the game, and his fearlessness putting pressure on th rim caused opponents to retreat frantically on every change of possession.
Ball generates a similar energy when he grabs a defensive board and ignites the break with his dribble. He has excellent open court speed once he gets going, and while not the most physical finisher, his long strides and slight change of speeds make him tough to track in the open floor (transition made up 30% of his offensive possessions last season). Like Kidd, Ball thrives in transition and loves to get others involved in the open floor, but his approach is a bit different.
Kidd, while an excellent outlet passer who would move it ahead if there was an opportunity, was best pushing coast to coast, grabbing a rebound, using his speed and finding shooters, lane-fillers or rim runners with perfectly-timed no-look passes using either hand. Ball, on the other hand, loves to hit ahead immediately. It certainly depends on how the defense is retreating, but Ball's willingness to not only throw long baseball passes to teammates down court, but also give it up to teammates who aren't even in a scoring zone made passing contagious. He empowered teammates by giving it up quickly, and one simple pass quickly led to five in a row and a wide open three, leaving defenses spinning. It was these basic passes that often went unnoticed, but were the backbone behind a UCLA offense that finished third in two-point percentage, fourth in three-point percentage, first in assists, and second in points per game.
As was often the case with Kidd, the ball never sticks with Lonzo, and his transition impact was even felt when he wasn't the primary ball handler, as he would regularly sprint the wing, catch in stride and instantly rifle a one-handed cross court pass to a shooter in rhythm. Kidd, on the other hand, was best with the ball in his hands, pushing until the defense played him and using his creativity and vision to set up teammates in highlight fashion. Both point guards incentivized their teammates, but in slightly different ways.
Then there's the shooting element. Ball loves to catch the defense sleeping by pulling up from 28 feet in transition or early offense situations. He scored 1.05 points per possession (73rd percentile) as the transition ball handler, and a lot of those buckets were of the deep ball variety. He's often too willing to casually stroll up floor at half speed only to jack up a contested three from well-beyond NBA three, but the deflating nature of this shot that we often see from NBA greats like Steph Curry is a lethal weapon in today's game, and the fact that he's a threat off the catch as well makes him even more dynamic.
This is where Kidd differs. He wasn't much of a three-point threat as a freshman, and his open floor plans were more centered around shots at the rim, short leaners or finding teammates. More than anywhere else, the 24-year-gap between Kidd and Ball's freshman seasons is most apparent in their transition shot selection.
Lastly, Kidd and Ball also have some differences in the way they handled heavy-ball pressure. While Kidd was more turnover prone than Ball (1.96 assist to turnover ratio for Kidd and 3.11 assist to turnover ratio for Ball), he looked more comfortable handling heavy ball pressure in the back court at the same stage. A risky passer, Kidd's turnovers were more bravado based, while Ball has a tendency to defer a bit too much, and has looked a little uncomfortable with defenders crawling into his air space both at the college, and high school level. He's always relied on constant ball movement, and quick outlets, which reared its ugly head at times during the college season. Kidd, on the flip side, was able to keep his defender on his hip, use his strength to shield the ball, speed to the ball over half court, and size to see over the top and move it. Ball has the size to pass over the top and the IQ read the defense, and while very few starting NBA point guards are willing to pick up 94 feet, this is an area where Ball still has room for growth.HALF COURT PLAYMAKING

 The essence of Ball and Kidd's half court genius is similar - the beauty lies in the attention to detail and the basic play'.  While Kidd was still more flashy and creative, it's the accuracy, timing and force behind every simple pass' that made them so special. Whether it was a one-handed on the money bullet to Lamond Murray, Bryce Alford sprinting off a screen, or a perfectly-timed lob pass to T.J. Leaf or Brian Hendrick, the accuracy at which both players deliver/delivered the ball is a huge part of what makes them so special. They find open teammates before the play is even there, recognize switches, attack mismatches, and manage the game at an elite level.
They were also fairly similar in that neither relied on too heavy of a dose of pick and roll in the half court. It was hard to get too accurate of a feel for Kidd's pick and roll game at that stage because it simply wasn't emphasized as often, but it was clear that Kidd did have impressive timing and vision, and was regularly able to see over the top, hit the pop man or opposite shooter and handle blitzes with poise. Like Ball, he wasn't seen snaking ball screens or keeping his man on his back with all that much regularity as we see some of the greats like Chris Paul do today. 
Although pick and roll possessions only made up 10.2% of his offense (very low for a point guard), Ball showed he has the vision, timing, accuracy, and overall foundation to eventually make every read necessary at the NBA level. He can hit the weakside shooter circling up, find the roller with lobs, or use his strides to get into the paint and locate shooters. He can add more pick and roll savvy, however, which is apparent by his 37% turnover rate out of pick and roll possessions. He doesn't put defenders in jail', which is partially a function of his lacking mid-range threat (eight inside arc jumpers taken all year), and can get better at stringing out the big, probing and playmaking from there.
Kidd was much more reliant on getting into the teeth of the defense than Ball. His combination of strength and quickness (along with his ability to post up) allowed him to get into the paint at the collegiate level, and although a bit turnover happy at times, he had an excellent feel for finding shooters, cutters, or bigs in the dunker spot. The floor wasn't nearly as spaced as it is today, however, and Kidd's lack of a consistent shooting threat did shrink the court at times, taking away driving lanes. Kidd, like most guards during that era, wasn't full of the traditional Kyrie Irving like breakdown moves that we see today. Leaning more on change of direction than shifting gears, he used hard in and outs and basic crossovers, along with his strength, to get into the lane and create for others.
Ball, although a different style of athlete and body type, has a somewhat similar ball-handling package, featuring a very strong handle that isn't loaded with advanced combo moves. Ball had a bit more trouble getting into the teeth of the defense at the college level, but has the size to see over the top and the timing and accuracy to pinpoint any shooter or big from virtually any distance. His lack of breakdown game did show up in isolation situations, but his ability to play off ball really helped mask that shortcoming. Because of his aptitude to spot shoot, Ball regularly played off of closeouts (something that Kidd didn't have at that stage), attacking scrambling defenders and finding teammates on the move. He also created buckets with his tremendous cutting ability, slicing into the teeth of the defense without the ball, catching on the move and whipping it to an open teammate for a bucket.
As is the case in transition, Ball did have his issues handlin heavy ball-pressure in the back court, however. Where Kidd was often able to use his strong frame and savvy to shield defenders and get into the offense, Ball deferred at times and has a bad habit of spotting up 35 feet from the rim, all but taking himself out of the play. His give-it-up-early style of play is certainly a major plus, but his struggles handling heavy ball pressure does suggest that he'll be best next to another guard who can play out of pick and roll and operate on the ball for stretches.
Overall, Kidd and Ball had fairly similar half court playmaking styles predicated on timing, accuracy, the simple play, and unselfishness, although Kidd was more capable of getting a piece of the paint. HALF COURT SCORING

 While a tremendously talented floor general, whether or not Kidd could score efficiently in the half court was definitely a question as he finished up his first season at Cal. He turned himself into a 36.2% three-point shooter as a sophomore, but his shooting limitations and reliance on power over elite wiggle hurt his scoring upside a bit, which ended up being a valid question as he averaged only 14.0 points per 40 minutes on 42.9% from two and 34.9% from three over his NBA career. Even his high free throw rate shrunk to 3.2 attempts per 40 minutes, something that often doesn't translate all that well from the college ranks. Knee injuries and some lost athleticism certainly played a role, as did his past-first nature, but Kidd never really developed into much of a half court scorer outside of the 2002-03 season with the Nets when he scored 20 points per 40 minutes.
Of course, Kidd's brilliance came in other areas - playmaking, transition play, defensive impact, to name a few - but he never really developed into a dynamic scorer type that's more important in lead guards in today's NBA than it was during Kidd's career.
At Cal, he did most of his damage inside the paint, using his strength and quicks to get into the lane, where he'd finish through contact or drop in short leaners off of two feet. Kidd also had a semblance of a mid-range game as he liked to rise up in short range spots and shoot at the peak of his jump. Aside from those weapons, however, Kidd didn't have much in terms of shot creation. As mentioned above, he was quick and powerful, but not crazy shifty with the ball and he didn't quite have the pull up range or comfortability to play off of step backs (to be fair, you didn't see anything near the level of off the dribble shot making that we see today at the college level during that era). He was caught between a set and jump shot fairly often, and opponents were able to play him to drive, keeping him in front at times in the half court. Kidd finished his freshman season scoring 16.4 points per 40 minutes on 53.7% from two and 28.6% from three, with 13.4 of his points coming from inside the arc and the free throw line.
While Ball has some similar shortcomings in that he's not the most shifty player of all time and doesn't have a ton of breakdown game, his ability to shoot off the catch and off the dribble (going left) give him quite a bit more scoring upside than Kidd in today's NBA. He's an average to slightly above average athlete at the NBA level and his lack of physicality and scoring savvy inside the arc was apparent all year, but the fact that he can punish a defense for going under a screen, shoot on the move, space the floor as a spot up guy, and add value as a cutter makes him very valuable.
If he shoots it at near a 40 percent clip in the NBA, with the variety of shots he can make playing both on and off the ball, he can play off of closeouts and constant movement, and use his shooting threat to get a piece of the paint that he wouldn't otherwise capture against a set defense out of pick and roll or isolation situations. He's likely never going to be a put pressure on the rim' type of guy in the half court, and his reliance on tough step back 30-footers is concerning give his history of streaky shooter.
This is the same player who didn't attempt a single shot in the gunner-heavy McDonald's All-American game, so he doesn't necessarily want to be a high volume scorer. His struggles with ball pressure and contact also figure to limit his half-court shot creation at the NBA level, and the fact that he's not a mid-range or floater threat, and struggles to shoot off the dribble going right, do limit him a bit in the half court. But Ball, who posted an impressive 67.8 true shooting percentage in 36 games as a freshman, has a higher ceiling as a half court scorer than Kidd due to his shot-making prowess given the league's emphasis on shooting.
Both Kidd and Ball prefer to facilitate rather than get buckets, but Ball is more likely to develop as a capable, efficient scorer than Kidd did as long as the jumper stays true.DEFENSE

 Aside from the shooting gap, the defensive side of the ball may be where Kidd and Ball differ the most. At 6'4, 215 pounds with elite instincts, quick/strong hands, and a relentless motor, Kidd was a monster defender both at the college and NBA level. He made the NBA All Defensive First or Second Team nine times, and averaged a ridiculous 4.8 steals per 40 minutes during his freshman season at Cal.
He was disruptive in the back court, willing to pick up 94 feet, and had the strong legs and quick feet to sit down and slide with any guard in the country. Opponents were unable to punish switches in the post, and Kidd's competitiveness and physicality shined through as a pick and roll defender and off the ball in tag situations. Kidd was truly a defensive genius with the tenacity to go along with it. He had all the tricks to bait opponents into steals in the backcourt, and his instincts and anticipation off the ball are some of the best in the history of college basketball. On top of that, Kidd was regularly seen diving into the stands for loose balls, or chasing down 50-50 balls. He wasn't crazy long relative to his height, and he's not the rangiest defender in a traditional sense, but Kidd was elite in virtually every area on that side of the ball, something that he more or less maintained at the NBA level, even despite battling some athletically limiting injuries.
On the surface, Ball shares some of Kidd's instincts and tricks. He has excellent anticipation, positional length, and regularly gravitates toward the ball when he's locked in. He averaged 2.1 steals and 0.9 blocks per 40 minutes, mastered the crack-down block, and, like Kidd, knows how to wreak havoc in the back court at times using his brain, length and quick hands. Ball is rangier defensively and has the length to guard a couple of positions in theory, something he did at times during the college season, matching up with players as big as Oregon's Dillon Brooks for stretches.
Where Ball leaves much to be desired is in the toughness, physicality and mentality departments. He tends to die on screens, doesn't bump cutters, and isn't going to use his body to contain penetration. He's never been a physical defender, and he has a tendency to float a bit at times, which was easy to do on a team that gave up 75.5 points per game, good for 259th in the NCAA. Ball also has a tendency to get a little bit too upright in his stance, as he had some issues keeping quicker guards in front. He has good feet when he digs in, and he understands angles and distance, but he lacks the body and tenacity that Kidd possessed.
Kidd was a plus defender at virtually every stage of his career, and his impact on that end was a big reason his teams where so dynamic in transition. Ball projects as more of an average defender at the NBA level, and while instinctual with length, will likely never develop the same mentality that Kidd possessed on that end of the floor.   MENTALITY
Overall Kidd and Ball differ a bit in terms of their mental makeup. Both basketball visionaries in their own right, Kidd had a fearlessness and fire about him that Ball has only shown in spurts. Ball is no stranger to big shots, and, like Kidd, his level of self-assuredness on the floor (at least to the untrained eye) is very impressive, but he's not immune to blending in at times. There were times throughout the year where he took a little too long to get himself going, and he didn't always handle ball pressure and in-game adversity with the level of aggression of Kidd. Ball is without a doubt a winner who makes everybody better and ignites a free-flowing style of play that NBA fans will enjoy for a decade plus. With that said, he didn't always display the same level of killer that Kidd did at the college level.
Ball isn't exactly Kidd, just like Brandon Ingram isn't exactly Kevin Durant (LINK) and Luka Doncic isn't exactly Manu Ginobili. The NBA has changed over the last 24 years, and with that you get new age players like Ball, who shoot more threes than twos, take only eight mid-range jumpers per year, and knock down at least one step back 30-footer a night.
Kidd could very well be considered one of the greatest, most well-rounded pure point guards of all time. For Ball to be mentioned in the same realm as a prospect should be an honor for the Chino Hills native, and if he does go #2 (like Kidd in 1994) and comes anywhere near Kidd's ten All-Star appearances, 1995 Rookie of the Year award, 2011 NBA title, five First-Team all NBA selections, and overall 19 seasons of NBA service, his career will be a massive success.
Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but Ball will certainly chart his own path in the New NBA', delivering entertaining basketball one outlet pass and step back three at a time.  

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