Lakers’ vets helping rookies with grind

When Lonzo Ball played at UCLA last year, he never felt much need to prioritize taking care of his body. With one or two games a week, there was plenty of time for him to rest while preparing for the next opponent.

But since he started playing in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, Ball has changed his tune. The veterans on the team have taught him certain ways to take care of himself, one of which involves taking frequent ice baths.

So far, Ball has taken the advice to heart.

“At UCLA, if I really needed one, then I’d take it,” Ball said recently. “But here, I don’t go two days without taking it.”

With the Lakers a quarter of the way through the season and in the midst of a four-game East Coast road trip that spans two weeks, the team’s rookies are finding out exactly what life is like in the NBA. And the elder statesmen are guiding them through it.

Andrew Bogut, who is in 13th year in the league, remembered what it was like to be a rookie. He was the No. 1 pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2005 draft, and sees some parallels between the attention he experienced and what Ball goes through now.

“Obviously the attention Zo received, I received somewhat (because) I’m a No. 1 pick, but I was in a smaller market, so it wasn’t as crazy,” Bogut said. “But every game they’re coming at you, whether you played good or bad, to ask you questions. That’s probably the biggest difference is that you’ll probably feel the bulk of the criticism in a loss and the bulk of the praise in a win.”

Bogut said he hasn’t physically sat down with any of the rookies to talk specifics about what to expect in the NBA. Most of his influence has been “basic veteran stuff,” such has helping to keep the locker room loose and keeping them confident when they have ups and downs.

Ball attested to how Bogut’s presence helps the rookies.

“Bogut’s always talking,” Ball said. “He’s a lot of fun. He’s a funny dude and he’s not afraid to say anything.”

Part of what Bogut has done for the rookies, particularly for Ball, is knowing when to step away.

“Zo’s got so many people in his ear, from people in the franchise and coaches and obviously people around him that he grew up with,” Bogut said. “So the last thing you wanna do is just put more stuff into his ear.”

That kind of influence is similar to how Luol Deng has helped the Lakers’ rookies so far this season. Deng, who is in his 14th year, feels the rookies are doing well finding the balance between working hard on their game and prioritizing rest.

But possibly the biggest way Deng has helped lies in simply being supportive.

“I try to talk to them and also give them space and just being there for them as a friend more than anything because they got so many coaches in their ears, so sometimes you don’t wanna overpound the information you’re trying to pass,” Deng said.

While Deng has publicly asked the Lakers for a trade or a buyout, he still attempts to make an impact on the court for the rookies. He tries to talk to all the rookies as frequently as possible, but said he has taken Kyle Kuzma under his wing.

“So far, Kuz being a guy who plays similar to the way I played, I try to help him more,” Deng said. “It’s just a conversation where we have a good relationship and I help him in a lot of things.”

Corey Brewer has been the veteran who has talked the most basketball with the rookies so far this season. It’s Brewer’s 11th year in the NBA, and he’s tried to impart to them some of the tricks of the trade.

Ball and Kuzma especially have impressed Brewer, who said they are “pretty mature to be rookies.” But when he sees something on the floor, Brewer makes sure he lets them know about it.

“I help them basketball-wise,” Brewer said. “I tell little details, like coming off the pick-and-roll. If I see something Lonzo can do, I try to help him. If I see Kyle got an open shot somewhere, I try to tell him, ‘You can get an open shot right here or right there.’ Just little things more than anything.”

Lakers head coach Luke Walton said the biggest adjustment for rookies in the NBA is transitioning from playing teenagers to playing grown men, as well as the constant grind of the schedule.

“To mentally be able to bring it four games in a week and back-to-backs, not really having many days off, is physically and mentally really challenging for young players,” Walton said.

Walton has liked how Ball, Kuzma and Josh Hart have adjusted so far this season. But he stressed that it’s still early, and wants to see how they will fare during December and January, which he called the “dog days” of the season.

“It’ll be interesting to see how they continue,” Walton said. “Even for vets, that time of the year gets really challenging.”

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