LaVar Ball is loving his moment in the spotlight.
What may have started as an honest attempt to drum up NBA interest for his son Lonzo, a projected Top 3 pick in the upcoming draft, has cascaded into the formation of his own celebrity and mass attention around his family.
LaVar has said his son is better than Steph Curry, told of his desire for a $1 billion dollar shoe contract for his three sons and even appeared on ESPN’s First Take alone to spout that he could beat Michael Jordan in a one-on-one matchup. LaVar averaged just 2.2 points per game in his lone season of college basketball at Mississippi State.
The obvious-but-sad result of LaVar’s outlandish behavior is that it will not only follow him, but his son Lonzo as well.
Lonzo, a First-Team All-American, can keep his head down, say all the right things before the draft and impress the scouting combine, but he will always be connected with his father’s outlandish comments. Every day, it seems like fans—myself included—view him less as a supremely talented basketball player and moreso the offspring of a serial attention seeker, and that isn’t fair to Lonzo.
However, it does appear that at least team executives are not concerned with Lonzo’s father, as a report from USA Today’s Sam Amick cited multiple executives who were still confident that Lonzo will be a top-three pick.
Still, the fact that concerns such as these are even being levied at all speaks to the absurd level of attention that LaVar is creating around his son.
While Lonzo’s draft stock may not be affected by his father’s recent public tour, the expectations surrounding him certainly will be, as he will likely be deemed a bust if he fails to become anything less than an All-Star.
These types of expectations, which are common for early-first rounders—though are perhaps even higher for Lonzo—can be looked at as a microcosm of fans’ and executives’ perceptions of one-and-done players.
Though a player like Lonzo, with just one year of college experience, will certainly have growth to make in the NBA, it often seems that highly touted players like him are viewed with less patience than is fair for a 19 or 20-year old.
It would be perfectly normal for Lonzo to struggle in his first year or two in the league, but thanks to the fanfare surrounding him, and the price that his future team will have paid for him, such struggles could potentially be viewed as intolerable.
It’s no wonder that we remember busts like Darko Milicic and Kwame Brown and forget far later picks with lower expectations.
By contrast, Wisconsin has recently sent the less-heralded Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky to the NBA, three-year and four-year players, respectively, who have been allowed time to grow in the league despite entering at far older ages than Lonzo will.
While Dekker and Kaminsky were never viewed as having the same natural talent and ceiling as Lonzo, they were still the No. 18 and No. 9 overall picks who had proven themselves over stellar college basketball careers.
Kaminsky’s rookie season in the NBA was nothing to write home about, as the former Badger started just three games for the Charlotte Hornets. Dekker, meanwhile, toiled in the D-League for the Houston Rockets’ affiliate.
But like most rookies, they were viewed as works-in-progress, and there didn’t seem to be much panic around the performances of either. This season, Dekker has worked his way into the Rockets’ rotation, while Kaminsky improved his per-game totals for points, assists, rebounds and steals and has started more than a dozen games.
If Lonzo flounders early on in his NBA career, he will be met with far less patience than Dekker and Kaminsky have been, and not just because he is supposed to be better. It’s not only that Lonzo is projected to be a higher pick than the two former Badgers, but that he has far more attention and scrutiny surrounding him—largely due to his father—even more so than this year’s fellow one-and-done superstars Markelle Fultz and Josh Jackson.
It’s in this comparison of Lonzo—not with less talented players like Dekker and Kaminsky but legitimate draft contenders like Fultz and Jackson—where one can see the true absurdity of the attention and expectations his father is manufacturing for him.
One-and-done players such as Kyrie Irving, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins have all come into the league and met or exceeded expectations en route to becoming franchise players, and there’s no reason that Lonzo can’t do the same exact thing.
But the type of expectations surrounding Lonzo are almost unforeseen and the point guard will be under massive pressure to perform in the NBA.
The amount of commotion surrounding Lonzo makes him a jacked-up, supremely hyped version of the college star prototype, but it’s not yet clear whether he is actually more talented than his peers and predecessors as his father says he is.
That ability will be determined in the near future, but one thing is for certain: his path to the top is already far more cluttered than it needs to be.