Don’t jump off the Lonzo Ball bandwagon yet

I am a huge fan of buses with TV, especially for trips which last for more than hour. It lets me escape the tiring scenery of the city. A movie or two (if the traffic is really heavy) can make me forget the mess and the stress that is visible along EDSA.

A few weeks ago, I was able to catch Ang Probinsyano (the OG version) on my commute from Laguna to Cubao. Similar to the storyline of the TV version, a police officer (played by the great Fernando Poe Jr.) was killed during a drug operation. Conveniently, the deceased had a twin brother who was also a cop (also played by FPJ, of course). The twin disguised as the murdered policeman to catch the syndicate behind the drug operations, and the rest is history.

It was a grandiose story to say the least, with the death of the police officer as the movie’s biggest cliché. It was a trademark moment for Filipino action films.

‘Ganyan talaga ang bida, nagpapabugbog muna sa umpisa!’

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Watch some Filipino action films from 20, 30 years ago, and I bet you’ll see this kind of storyline more often than not. It doesn’t matter who the lead actor was. The typical plot stayed the same—someone on the good side would be beaten so badly before the main guy could settle the score towards the end of the show. It’s the breakthrough point, a moment that served as the setup for bigger things to come.

Imagine if NBA players can enjoy this kind of treatment from fans and owners alike. ‘You know what, just take your time to learn, and you’ll eventually get better at playing.’ Sounds pretty easy, right? But sadly, patience isn’t a virtue possessed by everyone. If some lottery pick rookie strings together a few bad games, some people will be more than willing to jump into conclusion and classify him as a bust.

Take Lonzo Ball as an example. Despite averaging nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists per night, he was quickly included in the talk of being a bust 19 games into his career.

There’s some traction to the chatter, though. His production has been inconsistent on a nightly basis. He’s shooting bricks in one game and stuffing the stat sheet in another. His shooting percentage (31.6% in the field, 25% from deep) isn’t helping his cause, either.

But it’s not time to press the panic button just yet. If there’s one thing that history can tell us, it’s to never dismiss an NBA player as a bust early in his career. Some guys, even superstar-caliber players, needed more than one season to show what they’re capable of.

Steve Nash

He wasn’t exactly considered as a bust, since he was picked 15th overall in the talent-laden 1996 draft. But earlier in his career, he wasn’t widely thought of as a potential superstar, either. He never averaged more than 10 points and six assists per game in his first four years as backup point guard for Phoenix and Dallas.

Everything changed when he took over the starting position at Dallas in the 2000-01 season, and he never looked backed. Since then, he averaged more than 12 points and six assists each season for the next twelve years. During that stretch, he entered the 50-40-90 club four times, led the league in assists five times, and was part of seven All-NBA teams and eight All-Star teams. His excellent playmaking abilities was one of the best the league has ever seen, and he is currently third in all-time assists leaderboard (10,335).

Perhaps, his most important achievements were the back-to-back MVP awards he received in 2005 and 2006. As to getting inducted in the Hall of Fame, it’s not a matter of ’if’, but ‘when’. Not a bad thing for someone who wasn’t viewed to as superstar material.

Gary Payton

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, 2013 inductee Gary Payton was the second overall pick by Seattle in the 1990 NBA draft. He had a stellar career in which he had nine All-NBA team and nine All-Star team selections, a DPoY award, and an NBA title.

But Payton didn’t exactly start his career with a bang. As good as he was on defense (1.9 steals over his first two seasons), he was pedestrian at best on offense. He averaged 7.2 points and 6.4 assists on 27.4 minutes of action during his rookie campaign.

The slow start spilled over his second season. Payton only managed to score 9.4 points and dish 6.2 assists per game in spite of the increase in playing time (31.5 minutes). During the two-year stretch, he shot 4-of-36 from the three-point area.

His game stepped up during the 1992-93 NBA season. During that year, he averaged 13.5 points per game, the first of 13 straight seasons where he scored double-digit points per game.

But his calling card is still on defense. He is currently standing fourth among the all-time leaders in steals (2,445). It’s only fitting that he was nicknamed “The Glove” in reference to his excellent defensive ability.

Chauncey Billups

Chauncey Billups is best remembered as the starting point guard for the Detroit Pistons. With him, the team went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals from 2003 to 2008, highlighted by the NBA title in 2004.

But before he reached stardom in Motor City, he had a rocky start to his career.

He was the third overall pick by Boston in the 1997 NBA draft, six picks ahead of Tracy McGrady. Despite going high in the draft, he was traded to Toronto after just 51 games with the Celtics. In his second season, he was traded to Denver, where he managed to stay for a season and a half. He was traded to Orlando (but failed to play due to an injury). He then moved to Minnesota, where he stayed for two full seasons before finding his way to Detroit.

Billups certainly looked like a bust during his early stage of his career. He didn’t have the luxury of time to prove himself during that time. He was unimpressive during his first four seasons (11.2, 13.9, 8.6, and 9.3 PPG). He never averaged more than four rebounds and five assists per game during that same stretch.

He had the opportunity to showcase his skills in his fifth season while playing for Minnesota, where he averaged 12.5 points and 5.5 assists per game. But it was with Detroit where he started to look like a third overall pick—six years after he was drafted.

He bounced around the league after his stint at Detroit. But still, his six seasons with the Pistons—along with an NBA title and a Finals MVP—was enough for his jersey to be retired by the team that gave him his much needed break.

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I am a huge fan of buses with TV, since it allows me to forget the horrible traffic in the city. But more than just the distraction, it allows me to enjoy the ride, no matter how long it takes for me to reach my destination.

Speaking of long trips, maybe we just need to be patient with Lonzo Ball. It may have been a bumpy start for him, but it’s still too early to dismiss him as a bust.

Sometimes, good things take time before it can happen. Take the stories of Steve, Gary and Chauncey as examples. If Lonzo’s journey will be similar to the journeys of those stars, then we just have to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It will be an epic expedition to remember.

Photos from Getty Images, Stats from Basketball Reference

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