Lonzo not going to bench, Lakers’ Walton says

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Coach Luke Walton says rookie Lonzo Ball remains the Los Angeles Lakers‘ starting point guard and that there is no talk of moving the No. 2 overall draft pick to the bench.

Struggling with his shot, Ball has not played in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ past two games — a win against the Phoenix Suns and a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Walton instead rode with the strong play of sixth man Jordan Clarkson.

“He’s our starting point guard,” Walton said of Ball after practice Thursday. “So there’s no discussion, no talks as of now of moving Lonzo to the bench. Nah. He’s our starting point guard.”

Walton said he was told Ball came to the practice facility late Wednesday night and worked on his shot after going 1-for-9 from the field, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range, in the 115-109 loss to the Sixers at Staples Center.

Ball finished with two points, two assists and five rebounds. He admitted afterward, for the first time this season, that he let his shot affect the other things he does to impact the game.

Walton noticed that the normally even-keeled, easygoing Ball wasn’t as playful at the team facility Thursday as he normally is. “That could be a good thing that he’s frustrated or mad a little bit,” Walton said.

Ball is averaging 9.0 points, 6.9 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals but is shooting just 30.3 percent overall and 23 percent from behind the arc.

Walton was asked if UCLA freshman LiAngelo Ball‘s recent arrest in China for shoplifting has weighed heavily on his older brother.

“It’s got to,” Walton said. “It’s family and they’re a close family. So obviously growing up together and whatnot, if my younger brother was in China being arrested, that would weigh on me. So again, [it’s] speculation. You’ve got to ask Lonzo; he’s the only one who can tell you that. But I would imagine.”

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma came to his friend’s defense and asked if anyone else could deal with all the attention and hype that Ball has tried to play through. Lakers president Magic Johnson and Walton feel no other rookie since LeBron James has come in with as many expectations and as much hype as Ball has.

“Could you walk through his shoes? I’m just saying,” Kuzma said. “Everybody thinks it’s easy, but nobody could really walk in his shoes. It is tough. He’s in a tough situation, but he is level-headed, even-keeled, comes in and works every day.

“I know he wants to play better and wants to be that guy. I think he is going to be all right. The media and everybody in the country wants him to be a Hall of Famer, wants him to be an All-Star right now, but he is still a rookie. It is tough to play at this level for anybody. There are 10-year vets that play way worse than he does and nobody talks about them. He will be all right, 20 years old, not worried about him.”

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