-- SALT LAKE CITY -- In an effort to put Lonzo Ball in the best possible situation to succeed, the Lakers studied the likes of Jason Kidd and John Stockton and Karl Malone this past summer.
On Saturday, Ball played in Stockton and Malone's old home, and the Jazz welcomed the rookie by taking away two of his biggest strengths so far this season -- rebounding and assists.
The Jazz did the best job of any team so far this season in keeping Ball off the glass and from racking up assists as Ball finished with 9 points, 4 assists and just 2 rebounds in a 96-81 loss to the Jazz.
Ball wasn't even the most exciting rookie in this game. That distinction went to Utah's coveted rookie Donovan Mitchell, who stole the spotlight from Ball, scoring 22 points and throwing down one absolutely ridiculous one-handed putback dunk that will easily be one of the best highlights of the season.
Ballin': In his first six games, Ball started his career facing Patrick Beverley of the LA Clippers, Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans, John Wall of the Washington Wizards, Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors?and Ricky Rubio of the Utah Jazz.
One thing that Ball was able to do for the most part during that stretch was play solid defense. He wasn't on the opposing starting point guard a ton on defense -- oftentimes, shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope guarded point guards like Wall -- but Ball did hold his own for the most part when he had to guard them, which is saying something.
Bledsoe went for 28 points in a 132-130 Lakers win that featured no defense. But Ball helped hold the likes of Wall to 18 points and Lowry to 11 points, although Lowry did finish with a triple-double. Some rookies could get abused by Wall and Lowry in consecutive games. When he has been on some of the better point guards, Ball has managed to stay in front of them for the most part, and he has been able to swipe down and cause turnovers when big men drive with the ball on help defense. Defensively, Ball was OK, but he will learn how to better defend the likes of Rubio and pick-and-rolls.
What Ball did do much better in Utah was knock down his perimeter shot. After shooting 1-for-14 from behind the arc in his previous three games, Ball made 3 of 6 3-pointers against Utah. Those were actually his only baskets of the night, as he finished 3-for-10 overall.
Ball did have one terrific pass that would have made Stockton and Malone proud Saturday, as he fired a bullet in the air from just beyond half court on the run ahead of a streaking Brandon Ingram, who caught it like a wide receiver on a slant and took it in for a score.
Not ballin': The Lakers got off to a poor start, falling behind 31-16 at the end of the first quarter. They won't recover from those kinds of starts against solid teams like the Jazz on the road.
Ball is still learning the game, but the floor leader of the Lakers will have to figure out how to get the offense better shots and sets. There are times when play gets sloppy and Ball won't have the ball in his hands or touch it that much in the half-court set. This is when the rookie can be more assertive and get the ball and reset the offense. Of course, Ball missed most of training camp with an ankle injury, and he will get a better grasp on the half-court offense soon.
While Ball has been good at rebounding, he wasn't a huge factor on the glass tonight. He also surrendered a defensive rebound that led to one of the most scintillating dunks of the season. After Alec Burks missed a 3, Ball was under the glass. But Mitchell flew in from the wing, kept elevating, grabbed the rebound with one hand and threw down an emphatic one-handed dunk all in one motion as Ball remained stuck to the floor. In Ball's defense, it all happened so fast and no one put a body on Mitchell, who had a running start.
Ball came into Utah averaging 8.6 rebounds and 8.4 assists to go with 1.2 steals. Late in the game, Ball also found out what it is like to try to drive and score over Rudy Gobert. He was soundly rejected and ended up landing on his rear end under the basket looking back at The Stifle Tower.
The rebuild: The Lakers continue to experience droughts in which they have difficulty getting easy baskets while also giving up too many easy scores on the other end. They fell behind big in the first quarter.
One thing the Lakers have shown is that they will fight back and get back into games. They were within five with 8:31 remaining, but Utah was too strong down the stretch. The Lakers played good enough defense to win, holding Utah under 100, but there wasn't nearly enough offense for the Lakers, who finished with just two scorers in double figures.
Big baller of the night: Brandon Ingram rebounded from his nine-point, two-rebound game against Toronto with 16 points Saturday. He was much more aggressive and continues to show spurts where he can be an effective scorer who is difficult to guard.
The matchup: Rubio was his crafty self with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. But Ball's opponent didn't go for a triple-double like Lowry did the night before, and Rubio certainly is capable of doing that.
Quote-a-Ball: "I think he's been good. I think him figuring out when to be aggressive and when to get guys the ball is obviously going to be an ongoing process. But the way he rebounds the ball and passes the ball, even if he is not scoring, he still helps our team win. The thing I have been most impressed with Lonzo is the way he has been playing defense. I think he has surprised the whole staff with the way he has competed, and he gets in there and mixes it up and gets steals when bigs bring it down, and he is all over the glass helping us rebound. Overall, happy with the way he's playing, most impressed with his defense." -- Luke Walton on how Ball has fared in his first six games against stellar point guards.
The final say: The well-coached Jazz managed to do something that other teams really haven't this season -- keep Ball off the glass and limit his assists. Ball finally got his 3-point shot going again, but he didn't come close to filling up the box score like he usually does.
Then again, playing in Utah on the second night of a back-to-back is a tall task for any point guard, let alone a rookie who has never experienced this kind of environment where it feels like the fans are right on top of you.