How far can the Chicago Bulls go without Lonzo Ball?

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Lonzo Ball missed much of last season after knee surgery and he won’t be ready for training camp. How much does his absence limit the Bulls?

In less than a month, the Chicago Bulls will open their training camp for the start of the 2022-23 season. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do so without their starting point guard, Lonzo Ball. After missing over 50 games last season, Ball is doubtful to be ready for the start of the season, and is expected to miss all of training camp due to continued issues with his knee from the meniscus surgery he had last season, according to ESPN’s Jamal Collier and Ramona Shelburne.

The Bulls enter this season with championship aspirations and hopes of rekindling last season’s early success. Losing Ball to start the season is a drastic setback for an offense that was reliant upon his playmaking to balance the floor. With two of the game’s best wing scorers in DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine, Ball’s facilitating became an integral part of an offense that reinvigorated the Bulls last season. In only 35 games, Ball demonstrated his ability to run a high-octane offense at an elite level, helping to guide the Bulls to a 23-10 record from the start of the season through the month of December.

In every stop, Ball’s steady play has provided pace, shooting, and playmaking, along with perimeter defense. The former Bruin has taken leaps in his game every year, while still evolving as one of the game’s best young floor generals.

Ball’s absence not only keeps Chicago from starting the season at full strength; it forces them to continue operating without their primary floor general.

Even with a multitude of weapons, Ball’s absence last season was sorely felt, particularly as the season progressed after the All-Star break. After remaining in the top 10 in offensive rating throughout most of the season, the Bulls fell to 25th in offensive rating in March. In the months of October, November and December, Chicago ranked 7th, 16th, and 9th, in team assist percentage. In March and April, Chicago ranked 25th and 29th in assist percentage.

While the numbers may not fully tell the story, Ball, like so many other floor generals, impacts his team in ways that extend far beyond the box score. From his hockey assists, lead passes that ignite quick scoring opportunities, his ability to read defenses out of ball screens, and his pinpoint accuracy on skip passes, Ball’s playmaking and basketball IQ extends far beyond the assists column, or even beyond some of the advanced metrics used to value the often underappreciated intangibles that fly under the radar.

These intangibles, coupled with his size, switchability on defense, and versatility that he’s exhibited within the last few seasons have made Ball an incredibly valuable player, and a substantial piece to his team’s success on both ends.

However, Ball’s effectiveness and production have been stifled by significant time missed in almost every season of his young career. In five seasons, Ball has yet to play in sixty games within one NBA calendar year. He currently holds an average of 50.4 games played per season. Last season marked a career low for Ball, as he appeared in only 35 games before electing to have surgery. In addition, last year’s surgery marked the second operation Ball has had on his left knee, after having arthroscopic surgery in the summer of 2018 to repair a torn meniscus.

Who fills in for Lonzo Ball?

Heading into this season, Billy Donovan and the Bulls are now tasked with finding additional ways to stay afloat without their conductor on offense, and how to manage an offense with two wing players that averaged over 24 points per game last season.

For the bulk of the season, Chicago managed to stay afloat without Ball and benefited greatly from the play of rookie Ayo Dosunmu at the point guard position. However, without a clear timetable as to when Ball will return, Chicago will once again have to adapt to life without their point guard and find ways to offset the impact he imposes on both ends of the floor. For Ball, this is another unfortunate roadblock in his injury-riddled, yet promising career. Chicago’s championship aspirations will likely remain rested on the good health of its stars, including Ball.

With a new contender officially in the Central Division and a handful of championship-level teams in the East, the Bulls will need everyone at full strength to make a strong push towards the top of the conference.

For now, they can afford to wait on Ball, but only time will tell how long that lasts.

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