Luke Walton has experience dealing with stars under a microscope. As an assistant coach for Golden State, he was on staff during the Warriors’ 2014-15 championship season and the following year, when they won 73 games. He played alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal as they wrestled for control of the Lakers during the early part of his playing career.
Those Lakers were fraught with palace intrigue, with Bryant and O’Neal, future Hall of Famers, providing plenty of tabloid fodder. But even that, Walton said, pales in comparison to the bubble that Lonzo Ball, his 20-year-old starting point guard, finds himself in.
“I think it’s worse,” Walton said. “Maybe worse isn’t the right word. There’s more of it now because of where our society is.”
He added: “Everything that gets said goes directly to players’ smartphones. There’s more for them to have to deal with than any generation that’s played before them.”
Few N.B.A. players are as closely examined as Ball, the first-year player drafted No. 2 over all out of U.C.L.A. He is burdened with high expectations from within and without, exacerbated by his polarizing father, LaVar Ball, consistently banging the drum for him. He bears the weight of a franchise hoping for rejuvenation and a family hoping to become a major lifestyle brand — a Magic Johnson-meets-the-Kardashians on hardwood.
On Tuesday, Ball arrived with that traveling circus at Madison Square Garden for his first trip to the famed arena as a Laker. Facing a Knicks team that is gelling around Kristaps Porzingis and has proved to be stiff competition at home, the Lakers (10-16) and Ball kept it close but fell, 113-109, in overtime as his father and his younger brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo, sat courtside watching.
Porzingis, who has helped the Knicks (14-13) to the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, scored 37 points and had 11 rebounds. Ball had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Los Angeles with 24 points.
The jeering of Ball began early. His first touch. His first missed shot. If Knicks fans had been able to see him walk into the arena before the game wearing a sweatshirt with his face photoshopped onto an image of a Nas album — a Queens native whom Ball has previously criticized — they might have booed him in the tunnel.
“He’s got a lot of pressure on him,” Walton said of Ball. “And that’s just from being a starting point guard for the L.A. Lakers as a rookie.”
Walton added: “Obviously with how big he is in the social media world that exists now, everything that he does gets scrutinized by everybody.”
When Los Angeles selected him with the No. 2 pick in the N.B.A. Draft in June, Johnson, the Lakers president, introduced him with the expectation that Ball’s jersey would hang in the rafters along his own one day.
Ball’s father has created countless headlines on behalf of his son, forcing Ball to answer for his father’s statements at times. LaVar Ball recently pulled his younger sons LaMelo and LiAngelo out of high school and U.C.L.A. and decided to start their professional careers in Lithuania.
Tuesday night, he barked instructions and help at Ball from his courtside seat, yelling within earshot of the Knicks.
“I know how he is,” Lonzo Ball said. “Regardless, he’s going to be turnt up. I like his energy. Some people don’t.”
Whether the attention has significantly affected Ball or not, he has struggled this season, inviting criticism for his performance as the Lakers stumble to a mediocre start. His erratic jump shot has drawn criticism and second-guessing even as he had averaged 8.6 points, 7.1 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game entering the day.
There are moments when Ball shows the talent that brought him to this point. He contributed to 10 straight points in the third quarter against the Knicks, showing off his athleticism with a transition dunk and getting to the rim for a layup, and then setting up Brook Lopez for an open 3-pointer. If the Garden provided Ball any more duress, he did not show it. Ball, at least according to Walton, has shown an aptitude for blocking out any outside noise.