How Lonzo Ball is positively impacting Bulls at both ends

The triple-double gets the headlines — and rightfully so. It’s a perfect summary of the impact Lonzo Ball is making on these Bulls.

But look past Ball’s 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the home-opening shellacking of the Pelicans and focus on a stretch early in the fourth quarter. That’s where the relentlessness of Ball proved most evident.

First, Ball splashed in a 3-pointer, one of his three on the night, for a 20-point lead. Large advantages don’t preclude maximum defensive effort. So Ball not only stopped a drive with help in the lane at the other end, he recovered and rushed out to block Garrett Temple’s 3-point attempt. He then capped the sequence with a midrange jumper.

“He’s everywhere,” Zach LaVine said.

The performance begs the question, which almost deserves all capital letters: Why did the Pelicans let him go?

“I only can control what I can control,” Ball said. “I’m where I want to be. And I’m happy to be here.”

The Bulls, and a raucous United Center crowd, would say the feeling is mutual.

Ball hasn’t dropped his guard much when asked about the revenge factor in already facing the team that gave up on him twice, including once in the preseason. But the way LaVine sees it, Ball’s downhill attack for the first points of the game on a layup spoke volumes.

“He had a little extra bounce in his step,” LaVine said.

That’s superfluous stuff. This is substantive: Ball is impacting both ends in myriad ways and giving the Bulls a floor general with infectious energy. He fights through screens. He deflects passes. He had three steals and a block, but his active hands disrupted plenty of other offensive sets.

That he achieved his triple double on an alley-oop pass to Alex Caruso seemed fitting. It brought the house down and continued the good vibes that are flowing once again on West Madison Street.

“Players know who the real ballers are,” LaVine said. “He affects the game in so many ways.”

Ball has talked about feeling embraced by a Bulls organization that first tried to trade for him at the March trade deadline before acquiring him in a sign-and-trade transaction during free agency. Asked about the triple double, he matter-of-factly stated his style of play lends itself to stuffing the box score.

And he continued to downplay questions about feeling extra motivation from facing the Pelicans.

“Just it being the home opener, everyone is going to come out a little extra hyped. To me, it’s just coming in every game and wanting to win that game,” he said. “And trying to do the best I can to help my team win that night. That’s all it’s really about no matter who the opponent is.”

In the Bulls, Ball has found a franchise that doesn’t view him as a “3-and-D” guy, a classification Ball used to describe his role last season in New Orleans. No, the Bulls view him as the engine, a connecting piece with a high basketball IQ that sets up teammates, knocks down open shots and energizes the team defensively.

To this point, it’s a perfect match.

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