Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It doesn’t seem like Lonzo Ball is ready to play basketball anytime soon.

Update: Lonzo Ball finally got an encouraging injury update:

The Chicago Bulls were arguably the NBA’s biggest surprise for the first few months of the 2021-2022 season. That ended when Lonzo Ball went down with a knee injury.

The guard exited a Jan. 14 game against the Golden State Warriors with pain in his left knee. Doctors diagnosed him with a torn meniscus, and gave him a 6-8 week timetable for recovery. Instead, Ball missed the rest of the season, and won’t be ready to go as the 2022-2023 campaign opens. Ball had a second surgery on his injured knee just before the start of training camp, and right now there isn’t any concrete information about when he could be back on the court.

Ball experienced a bone bruise in his left knee in addition to the torn meniscus, which has kept him in pain and limited his ability to recover. As Ball had his second surgery at the end of September, he met the media and described what he’s going through. None of it was promising.

Ball said he still can’t run or jump, and therefore cannot yet play basketball. He’s even still experiencing knee pain when he does everyday tasks like walking up a flight of stars.

Doctors had hoped Ball could recover without another surgery on his knee, but it didn’t happen. Instead, Ball’s left knee is on surgery No. 3 since entering the NBA. This time, Ball had an arthroscopic debridement, where doctors aim to clean up frayed or loose cartilage and remove them from the joint. Everything is fine with Ball’s knee structurally, but clearly something is still hampering his ability to recover.

Ball will be reevaluated in 4-6 weeks after his latest surgery. The hope is that the scope clears up the debris around his knee and allows it recover. If that doesn’t work, the next step for Ball’s potential recovery remains a mystery.

There is a precedent for a knee bone bruise being a year-long injury. Kendrick Nunn hasn’t played since May of 2021 after experiencing a bone bruise in his knee. He missed all of last season for the Los Angeles Lakers, and was finally cleared for training camp this week.

The Bulls are simply not the same team without Ball. He has a case as the NBA’s best role player. The 6’5 guard injected life into Chicago with a number of sharp skills, specifically his volume three-point shooter, versatile defense, and transition passing.

Ball has turned himself into an excellent outside shooter after struggling from three early in his career. Last season, he made 42.3 percent of his threes on a team-high 7.4 attempts per game. The Bulls finished dead-last in three-point rate — the percentage of field goals taken from three anyway, and clearly have a dire need for shooting without him in the lineup. Ball’s defense is probably the most impressive part of his game. He guarded everyone from shifty ball handlers to big, bruising forwards for Chicago last season, using his quick hands and incredible help instincts to power the Bulls’ defense to a top-10 even without a dominant rim protector on the backline. Chicago was at its best when the transition attack was thriving, and that starts with Ball’s outlet passing, as well.

No one knows when Ball will be on the court again. He’s hopeful to play this season. Meanwhile, the Bulls there’s a chance — maybe even a strong one — that Ball misses the entire 2022-2023 campaign.

The next step for Ball is seeing how he feels after recovering from the debridement. As the Eastern Conference continues to get better and better, the Bulls are stagnating because of Ball’s injury. His future this season and beyond remains a mystery.