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Why Lonzo Ball will lead the NBA in assists as a rookie

Lonzo Ball may be just a rookie that has yet to play an NBA game, but he’s already poised to lead the league in assists.

ESPN recently  projected Lonzo Ball to be named Rookie of the Year. He received 140 total points in a poll where the ESPN Forecast panel ranked its top three choices for the 2017-18 NBA ROY. A first-place vote received five points, a second-place vote received three and a third-place vote received one.

Lonzo’s 140 point total was more than the last two No.1 overall picks (Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz) combined. Because Ben Simmons was injured all of last season, effectively a redshirt year, he’ll be considered a rookie this year.

ESPN’s Micah Adams broke down their pick of Lonzo to win the award:

Though his electric play in summer league certainly played a role in shaping our expectations as he averaged 16.3 points, 9.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds, perhaps the biggest reason Ball enters as a Rookie of the Year favorite is simply opportunity. Luke Walton will let Ball play through his mistakes and he will have the ball in his hands a ton.

Last season bucked a recent trend, with Malcolm Brogdon snapping a streak of 15 consecutive seasons in which the Rookie of the Year averaged at least 30 minutes per game and posted a usage percentage of 20.0 or more. With a bevy of ball-dominant rookies, expect that trend to return with Ball a good bet to be in that group. The only rookie in Lakers history to do it? Magic Johnson, the man who just drafted Ball.

ESPN is right on the money with their estimation of Ball’s Summer League play and his likelihood to win ROY. But Ball will go a step further and lead the entire league in assists.

The reason are obvious. Lonzo has been a standout player at every level. Last year he single handedly revitalized UCLA’s basketball program by taking them from a 15-17 team to a 31-5 team. He also led the NCAA Division I in assists as a freshman averaging 7.6 per game.

Then in his first action as a pro for the Los Angeles Lakers Summer League, he made history. Lonzo did what no player had ever done in the Summer League’s 13-year history—record a triple-double, which he did twice.

What’s more telling about why Ball will lead the league in assists his rookie year, is that his 9.3 average this summer is shy of what it should have been. On many occasions Ball’s teammates either couldn’t handle his passes or couldn’t finish at the rim or from outside.

Once Lonzo is playing with a roster full of NBA talent, his assist total will rise. Ball can easily average 11 assists per game and lead the league.

Last year James Harden was the NBA’s assists leader at 11.2 per game, but with Chris Paul now on the Houston Rockets that total will lower. The runner up in assists was Russell Westbrook with 10.7 per game. Now that Westbrook is playing alongside Paul George, his assist total will also drop making room for Lonzo to be the NBA’s assist leader in his rookie season with L.A.

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