Lonzo Ball's 'ugly' shot is starting to fall

On a night when Lonzo Ball made every one of his shots for the Lakers, Isaiah Thomas wanted to make sure his one playful shot at the rookie's shooting form landed as well.

Thomas, a six-year veteran guard, was asked on Monday after Los Angeles' victory in Atlanta about what he thinks of Ball's shot and his infamous technique, now that they are teammates and the rookie guard is shooting well of late. Thomas gave a sly look over toward Ball's locker to see if he was around and listening -- not in a sinister way, but more like he wanted Ball to hear him give the point guard a hard time about his form.

"I mean, it's ugly as hell," Thomas said as he began defending Ball's shooting style. "It's an ugly shot, but he's been successful with it his whole life. So you get to the highest level, there is no need to change it. You just got to figure out ways to continue to make it better."

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft has appeared to have done just that, turning around a terrible start to his rookie season and shooting the ball better and more confidently as the calendar turns to March. During Monday's 123-104 win over the Hawks, Ball made all four of his shots, including three 3-pointers in 24 minutes.

Despite rapper and actor Shad "Bow Wow" Moss posting a viral Instagram video this week of him beating Ball in a shooting game (Ball, however, points out that he actually won the best-of-three contest 2-1), the Lakers point guard is shooting as confidently as he ever has as a pro, connecting on 6 of 9 3-pointers in two games since returning from a left MCL injury.

Ball has appeared to be very comfortable, both on and off the court, for some time now, and it is showing in his game, as he has knocked down three or more treys in five of his past seven games.

"I can shoot," said Ball, who'll look to continue his hot shooting as the Lakers face the Heat in Miami on Thursday night. "I just missed at the beginning of the year. I told you I was going to keep shooting, and now they are going in."

Ball heard all the criticism of his shot earlier this season and the suggestions from some that he needed to completely overhaul his unorthodox form after shooting 28.6 percent from 3 in October and then 24.3 percent from behind the arc and 30.4 percent overall in November.

"I feel like I will get out of it, man," Ball said at the time. "It is still early in the season. We have a long season to go, just keep working."

Since the start of December, Ball has shot 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from the 3 line, despite not playing for a six-game stint and then a 15-game stretch due to injuries to his shoulder and knee, respectively. He also sat out one game -- against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday -- as the team held him out of his first back-to-back since returning from his sprained MCL injury.

Ball said when he was mired in his shooting slump that he would keep shooting the same way he has his entire life. He stayed after practices and shootarounds, participating in competitive 3-point shooting games with teammate Kyle Kuzma and assistant coaches Brian Shaw and Miles Simon. Following a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at home on Nov. 15, when he missed eight of his nine shots and all six of his 3-point attempts, Ball went straight to the team's practice facility to get more shots up.

Criticism intensified over Ball's shot at that time about whether the rookie should change his technique in the offseason.

"I think just [because of] who I am, everybody is going to keep talking," Ball said of all the chatter surrounding his form when he struggled. "So, I don't feed into it. I just play my game and I just kept shooting, and now it is going in."

At times this season, the Lakers have worked with his balance on his shot but otherwise have let the rookie continue to work his way out of his early struggles. Lakers president Magic Johnson said the team would continue to let Ball shoot the way he always has and then determine in the offseason if his technique needed to be tinkered with.

Since Dec. 12, Ball has shot 36-of-86 (41.8 percent) from 3-point range. The Lakers prioritize getting the rookie stronger in the offseason and having Ball build more muscle to prevent injuries more so than his shooting form.

"It's how he was shooting before he got hurt," Lakers coach Luke Walton said of Ball's shooting confidence prior to spraining his left MCL on Jan. 13. "I would've expected it would take him a little bit of time to find his rhythm again [upon his return on Friday].

"As soon as we got in [to Atlanta on Sunday], him and Miles and Tyler Ennis came into the gym and got shots up again. He's putting in his work to make sure that he stays where he's at and continues to get better. But he's shooting with a lot of confidence."

Ball, who shot 41.2 percent from 3 while at UCLA last season, is shooting the 3 better from every spot behind the arc. He also is shooting 52 percent in the restricted area since November, after going just 44 percent to start the season.

According to Second Spectrum, Ball is making more difficult shots, as well, hitting 42 percent on 74 contested 3-point attempts since October and November, when he shot 24 percent on 75 contested 3s.

"Just improving over time," Ball said of how his rookie season is going. "Started off slow, but I think I am getting my rhythm now; I thought I was getting it before I got hurt, so I am trying to pick up where I left off."

While Thomas might not be a fan of Ball's form, the Lakers' newer point guard likes the results so far.

"He is a gym rat, so he is going to continue to get better, no matter what and no matter how it looks," Thomas said of Ball. "It reminds me of Kevin Martin's shot when he used to play in the NBA, and how successful was he? He was a really good shooter. So, I think if he just continues to work at it, it is only going to get better."