NBA: Rookie Lonzo Ball ready to step up and become the face of the Los Angeles Lakers

Lonzo Ball (right) and Brandon Ingram of the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game against the Sacramento Kings at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct 8, 2017.
Lonzo Ball (right) and Brandon Ingram of the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game against the Sacramento Kings at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct 8, 2017.PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

(REUTERS) - When the Los Angeles Lakers took Lonzo Ball as the second overall pick in this year's NBA (National Basketball Association) draft, they didn't just get a skilled player they believe will take them to the play-offs, but a brand who will put the spotlight back on a fading franchise.

The newest face of the famed Lakers, Ball comes hyped, packaged and market ready for Hollywood, with his "Big Baller Brand" selling seats and sneakers even before he has played a regular season game for his hometown team.

The 1.98m point guard, entrepreneur and aspiring rapper is not only preparing to take on the NBA's best but Nike, Adidas and Under Armour as well with his own "Big Baller Brand" apparel and shoes that come with a Hall of Famer worthy US$495 (S$671) price tag.

Ball may not bring the Lakers a title this season, but he has already brought them something nearly as important - attention.

There is a no more competitive market place in North American sports than Los Angeles, where getting noticed requires more than a 10-game winning streak.

As the Lakers prepare to open their season on Thursday (Oct 19) against cross-town rivals the Los Angeles Clippers, there is already plenty of competition for sports fans dollars.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are closing in on a trip to Major League Baseball's World Series while the National Hockey League and college American football campaigns are well under way.

Two new National Football League teams, the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers, have also set up shop since the Lakers last made the post-season in 2013.

Yet, despite a steady decline in the standings that reached rock-bottom two seasons ago with a franchise-worst 17-65 record, the Lakers are once again the NBA's hottest ticket, on the secondary market at least, with sales up 130 per cent over last year and much of that being traced to the Lonzo Ball effect.

"With the arrival of Lonzo Ball, Lakers fans have renewed hope in the future of their team, which is reflected in StubHub ticket demand," StubHub spokesman Jessica Erskine said.

"While young prospects such as Ball and Markelle Fultz of the (Philadelphia) 76ers have yet to play a regular season game, their arrival can have a big impact on the ticket market, particularly for teams who haven't made the play-offs lately."

After one year of college basketball with the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Bruins, Ball entered the NBA to howling hype, much of it delivered by his bombastic father and "Big Baller Brand" chief executive officer LaVar Ball.

According to the senior Ball, his son's place with the Lakers had been ordained by the gods, that Lonzo was already better than two-time Most Valuable Player Steph Curry, and that he would lead the Lakers to 50 wins and back to the play-offs this season, picking up Rookie of the Year honours on the way.

"As far as changing the dynamic of the team, it's not just me, everybody is in here working trying to get better," said Ball, defusing his father's outlandish projections with a string of media-trained responses.

"I love just to play.

"We're focused on making the play-offs, obviously it is going to be a tough journey but we're looking forward to it."

While LaVar's predictions for his son are extreme, others have also set the bar high for Ball, who brings size and vision to Lakers.

That potential was on display during the NBA Summer League where Ball collected Most Valuable Player honours.

A majority of NBA general managers also agree with LaVar Ball that Lonzo will take league's Rookie of the Year honours.

In an annual poll conducted by NBA.com, Ball was the clear front runner for the award with 62 per cent of general managers, putting him ahead of second-placed Ben Simmons of the 76ers with 24 per cent.