It’s rare to see two players enter the league with such a rich backstory of action and oration like De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball. These guys traveled pretty similar paths to get to the NBA, both highly touted high school point guards who took their talents to blue blood colleges, both expected to help lead their teams on a deep March run. But the overarching narrative between these two, constantly dissected during their college tenures, and still holding true in the infancy of their NBA careers, is what’s shaping these two up for a classic sports rivalry: Lonzo is the hype, while Fox doesn’t cower away from the hype.
Lonzo was the gem, the spotlight itself, the chosen one to spearhead the basketball renaissance at UCLA, which his two younger brothers were pegged to keep it moving. He could pass the ball anywhere on the court, a true point guard’s point guard, garnering comparisons to his now boss Magic Johnson. As far as media exposure goes, he’s even outshone eventual no. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, in large part thanks to his dad.
De’Aaron wasn’t deep in Lonzo’s shadow. Fox was the speedster, a guy with the kind of quickness NBA scouts drool over. The rest of his game was nothing to scoff at, but his swiftness was his greatest asset. Of course, he wasn’t making the same jaw-dropping dimes that Lonzo was, so right out of the gate, Fox was designated as the beta point guard to Ball’s alpha.
Still, when the time came for a matchup between the two cream of the crop guards, folks were anxious to see who would come out on top.
The results were… inconclusive.
Sure, Fox’s 20 points and 9 dishes outweighed Ball’s 14 and 7, but UCLA came away victorious, so it’s tough to say who got the better end of their exchange.
Of course, the Selection Committee just couldn’t resist a March Madness rematch. The story coming into this game was UCLA’s team-centric play (led by Lonzo, of course) against UK’s lineup of individual studs. At least, this is what you’d hear if you asked Lavar Ball, as ESPN did: “If you’re ahead, all those guys are alpha dogs. So everybody is going to turn into Michael Jordan on that team and then it’s going to be hard. What UCLA does is they play with great chemistry.”
So the stage was set. Two of the top PGs in the draft, battling for supremacy and NBA stock in the Sweet Sixteen, giving Lonzo his opportunity to once and for all assert his dominance over De’Aaron Fox and lead his team to the Final Four.
Of course, that did not happen.
Fox annihilated Ball, dropping 39 points compared to Lonzo’s 10. This game was less of an “I’m a better point guard than you” statement and more of an “I’m a better basketball player than you” kind of statement.
In this moment, fan buzz seemed to elevate Fox over Ball on the eventual NBA draft boards. But lo and behold, 3 months of Lavar Ball’s mouth later, Lonzo got his wish, and was chosen no. 2 overall by the Lakers, with De’Aaron going no. 5 to Sacramento.
Now, Lonzo Ball is clearly an elite point guard and is deserving of a premier spot in the league. But the overhype train seemed to catch up with him in his first summer game as a Laker, as he only made out with 5 points and 5 assists to go along with 3 turnovers. Not exactly Lakers’ star point guard kind of numbers.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) July 8, 2017
Fox, on the other hand, had a nice night for his Kings debut, scoring 18 points, plus 5 steals, 4 assists, 3 boards, and a block.
Maybe being outperformed again finally got to Lonzo, because last night, he followed up his sub-par debut effort with a triple double, with 11 each of points, assists, and rebounds.
Hopefully this back and forth keeps up. Each guy coming into the locker room after every game to check on the other, both trying to prove themselves. If so, their matchups in the NBA will turn out to be just as must-see as their college showdowns.
We have the infinitely likable Fox, who’s quick as they come, earning his keep with hard work in Northern California. Then there’s Lonzo, a relatively quiet young passing specialist whose star is amplified by his loud-mouthed father, trying to revive a legendary franchise in SoCal. It’s a rivalry fit for WrestleMania, let alone the NBA. When all’s said and done, who’s gonna come out on top?
Round 1 is tomorrow night, as the Lakers and the Kings face off in summer league action. Let’s see where this story goes.