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Lonzo Ball Is The NBA’s Most Talked About Rookie In Years

In a summer that’s been relatively full of crazy, unpredictable headlines — like Paul George being sent to Oklahoma City, or Kyrie Irving requesting a trade away from a team that’s made three consecutive trips to the Finals — only one player has constantly stayed in the news cycle. And that player has yet to play a meaningful minute in the NBA.

Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, for better or worse, has kept a steady presence in the media. From May 1 to July 30, the quiet, mild-mannered floor general was mentioned in a whopping 702 mainstream, published news stories, according to Media Cloud, an open-source platform that tracks the contents of online news — by far the most of any top-five player drafted the last five years. In fact, Ball’s American-mainstream-media mentions outpaced the combined total of Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz’s and Boston’s Jayson Tatum’s — this year’s No. 1 and No. 3 picks.1

Ball has gotten more attention than any recent top-five pick

Mainstream online American media mentions between May 1 and July 30 of player’s draft year, 2013-17

2017 Lonzo Ball Lakers 702
2017 Markelle Fultz Sixers 436
2014 Andrew Wiggins Cavaliers 381
2016 Ben Simmons Sixers 342
2015 Jahlil Okafor Sixers 320
2015 Karl-Anthony Towns Wolves 302
2016 Brandon Ingram Lakers 282
2015 Kristaps Porzingis Knicks 275
2014 Jabari Parker Bucks 243
2014 Joel Embiid Sixers 230
2017 Jayson Tatum Celtics 211
2017 Josh Jackson Suns 207
2013 Otto Porter Wizards 169
2015 D’Angelo Russell Lakers 168
2014 Aaron Gordon Magic 165
2016 Jaylen Brown Celtics 154
2014 Dante Exum Jazz 148
2013 Anthony Bennett Cavaliers 145
2016 Kris Dunn Wolves 135
2013 Alex Len Suns 122
2013 Victor Oladipo Magic 120
2016 Dragan Bender Suns 111
2017 De’Aaron Fox Kings 109
2013 Cody Zeller Hornets 102
2015 Mario Hezonja Magic 56

Source: Media Cloud

We analyzed this period for a reason: While the end of March is clouded by NCAA tournament coverage, May-July is prime time for NBA rookie hype. All the players in our sample generally see a spike in press coverage near the draft, including Ball. But unlike the others, he has been a more consistent object of curiosity.

It goes without saying that a ton of the attention Ball receives stems from his brash, outspoken father, LaVar, as he tries to bolster his family’s brand value any way he can. (It’s unclear whether LaVar’s penchant for the limelight will persist once Lonzo’s rookie season gets underway, something a number of fathers in and around the sport have expressed mild concern about.) But even when you parse out the stories that are more focused on LaVar,2 Lonzo still stands alone as the NBA rookie who’s been written about most frequently these past five years, with 563 mentions in the media.

This is in part due to Ball’s outstanding passing ability and unusual height, a dynamic combination we haven’t seen at his position at the college level since perhaps Jason Kidd. It didn’t hurt that he had noteworthy performances in front of big crowds at the Las Vegas Summer League, the nationally televised tournament in which he was named the Most Valuable Player.

Some of the media attention undoubtedly stems from his independence as a top-two pick who’s yet to sign a shoe deal with one of the major brands. As demonstrated in Las Vegas, because of this, he can generate attention by wearing an array of different sneakers during summer league. There was also a pretty significant spike in Ball-related content when the eye-popping prices for Big Baller Brand shoes — $495 for the sneakers, and $220 for the sandals — first went public.

Another factor: Players taken by flagship teams often get far more coverage. For instance, Kristaps Porzingis was hardly written about at all throughout May and most of June, averaging less than one mainstream story mention a day. He had been gaining momentum in the press over the preceding week, but on June 26 — one day after he was taken by the New York Knicks — Porzingis was written about by 55 publications, more than any other player in his class. (On the flipside, players drafted by teams with smaller national followings — like Mario Hezonja and Victor Oladipo going to the Orlando Magic, or Dragan Bender and Alex Len going to the Phoenix Suns — were written about much less than other top-five picks.) The Los Angeles media’s situation with Ball may run even deeper, given that he’s a hometown kid.

But with new front-office leadership in Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, headlines alone won’t be enough to satisfy the Lakers’ new regime. Ball will have to step up, and only time will tell whether he’s capable of living up to the incredible hype that’s been generated over these past few months.


  1. The duo had a combined 647 mentions in the American mainstream media during that span.

  2. By excluding the ones that include his name in the headline

Chris Herring was a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.