No matter how many outlandish things he says or ridiculous predictions he makes, LaVar Ball won’t define son Lonzo’s NBA career.
De’Aaron Fox will.
The significance of the rivalry between the phenom rookie point guards has gotten lost in the Big Baller din these past few months. But the fun Fox had with Lonzo Ball’s absence for Monday’s Summer League game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers was a reminder that, just as they were in their brief college careers, the two will continue to be each other’s measuring stick.
“People are going to kind of intertwine our careers,” Fox acknowledged after his Kings lost to the Lakers. “We can say whatever we want. No one’s going to let it go.”
And for that, Adam Silver and everyone else who loves the NBA should be eternally grateful.
More than any other league, the NBA is driven by its players and their personalities. How else to explain the endless deep dives on Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with Golden State? And then re-sign, at a discount. Or the very serious analysis of the role a banana boat might play in next summer’s free agency.
Ball vs. Fox goes right along with that.
That another point guard, Markelle Fultz, was taken ahead of both as the No. 1 pick in the draft is irrelevant. Their high-stakes matchups in college, coupled with the fact they’ll face each other four times a season as members of the Western Conference’s Pacific Division, means their accomplishments will always be viewed in multiple dimensions.
There’s the impact they have on their team, of course. But everything they do is also going to be judged in comparison to what the other has – or hasn’t – done. Assists, points, wins, playoff appearances – their careers are going to be like their very own NBA Live game.
Fox recognizes that, which is why he briefly posted a face palm emoji upon hearing Ball wouldn’t play against the Kings.
“It made a story, didn’t it?” Fox asked, laughing.
“I knew that you all were going to take it,” he added. “Y’all ran with it faster than I would run a 40.”
Even though the two play the same position, they do it very differently. Ball has drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd, a pass-first playmaker. Already polished, he has the ability to elevate the game of the other four guys on the floor.
Fox is still raw, more speed and ferocity than skill. While that makes him less effective at distributing the ball, his athleticism makes him a nightmare to defend.
And, speaking of defense, Fox is by far the better of the two – he did play at Kentucky, after all.
In their first two games, Fox got the better of Ball. He scored 20 and had nine assists with two turnovers while Ball had 14 points, seven assists and six turnovers. But UCLA also won that game in December, beating Kentucky 97-92.
That didn’t sit well with Fox, who blistered Ball and UCLA in a Sweet 16 win. He made his first five shots on his way to a career-high 39 points, a Kentucky tournament record. He repeatedly blew past Ball in one-on-one coverage, making him look slow and out of sync.
Though Ball had eight assists, Fox helped harass him into four turnovers and limited him to 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
While that performance made some question whether Ball was worth the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, it hasn’t stopped his father from yapping all kinds of nonsense. He has promised that the Lakers will make the playoffs this year, and that his son has Rookie of the Year honors “sewn up.”
LaVar Ball might own the conversation surrounding his son right now, but that’s about to end. Once the NBA season begins, Lonzo Ball’s success will be decided by what he does on the court.
And it will be Fox who will be his biggest measure.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.