LOS ANGELES — James Worthy sees some Magic Johnson-like traits in Lonzo Ball and believes his old Showtime point guard will be able to “deliver” some star reinforcements in free agency this summer.
Before the season started, Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ president of basketball operations, said he can envision Ball and Brandon Ingram running the floor like Johnson and Worthy did during their Showtime days. Johnson set an extremely high bar for the past two No. 2 overall picks respectively.
“Big shoes to fill,” said Worthy, currently a Lakers analyst for Spectrum SportsNet. “But I think I totally get conceptually where Magic was coming from and the style of play that Luke [Walton] is promoting, the fast-paced game. Lonzo Ball, for sure, presents some of the talents that Magic had. Not as tall, but he is 6-6 and has the IQ, has a vision like no other.
“As soon as players get used to the way he passes and they get some really good shooters around him, I think people will really appreciate him. And they already have appreciated what he brings to the table, a very unselfish player.”
Building a system and culture is really hard. Everyone, including Luke Walton, wants to be the Spurs. But achieving that kind of structure is hard.
Johnson’s biggest task will be to give Ball — who is averaging 12 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 3.3 steals in his past three games — superstars to pass to. The Lakers will try to add two stars this summer when LeBron James is expected to headline the free agency class, and Worthy thinks his old point guard will not come up empty-handed.
“You look at what Magic has been able to do throughout his basketball career, [and] in his post-basketball career, he’s been able to manifest pretty good deals,” the former Lakers great said. “When Magic is in the room, that is a major asset trying to recruit.
“With Kobe [Bryant] gone and the young core players that we have, and I think players understand and see what Lonzo Ball brings to the table as a point guard, I really think we are in a good place and I think [Johnson] will be able to deliver next year.”
Worthy, who is promoting NBA All-Star voting and how each fan’s vote on NBA.com and the NBA app will count as two on Friday and Monday, also likes what he has seen in Walton, who has had to deal with several distractions and frustrated players during a nine-game losing streak. Walton and the Lakers (14-27) have since rebounded with their first three-game winning streak of the season after knocking off the Spurs (28-15) on Thursday night.
“I don’t really have any acknowledgement of what LaVar Ball said about Luke,” Worthy said. “Luke is an outstanding coach, a young coach with a young team. I like the direction that they are going. … [Kyle] Kuzma has been pretty dynamic as a rookie and has probably been the biggest surprise in the NBA amongst first-year players, maybe even some second-year players.
“Ingram’s ability to adapt, that is the key in the NBA, you have to adapt quickly,” Worthy added. “For a player who only had one year in college, his ability to come in as a driver right away, then they took that away, he shoots the outside jumper. He understands the theory of the game. I like what Magic said.”