LaMelo Ball: The Most Polarizing Player in the 2020 NBA Draft
An Introduction to LaMelo Ball:
LaMelo Ball is the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect. If his game translates to the next level he could be a one-of-a-kind talent, however if he isn’t developed correctly you could waste a top 2 pick on a taller Rubio. While a tall Ricky Rubio would certainly be a good player, a top 3 pick is expected to be a great player.
With LaMelo spending the previous season playing for the Illawarra Hawks in Australia, we have an interesting sample of his playing style. What we saw in Australia was incredible passing, solid driving and impressive handles. These have been included in various highlight reels across the internet. Ball’s weaknesses were also very apparent in his time in the Australian NBL. These weaknesses include inconsistent defence, poor shot selection, a questionable shooting form and bad shooting percentages.
If LaMelo Ball is able to reach his potential he could fit the mold of the positionless playmaker that so many teams crave in today’s league. Positionless playmakers allow teams to run shorter scorers who lack playmaking. An example of this is how the Dallas Mavericks run Luka Doncic, Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr at the same time. While Doncic is playing the role of point guard on offense, he is defending the 3 or 4 on defence. This elevates Seth Curry’s game as Curry is a 6’2 shooting guard who can defend the point guard and focus on his off ball scoring on offence. Most forwards aren’t used to defending the ball handler which makes most coaches have to adjust their defences to compensate. The best positionless playmaker in the NBA is most likely LeBron James, and while I would never compare LaMelo to LeBron (I am not LaVar Ball), I believe that James highlights the importance of this role. If Doncic can become a more athletic Doncic with less range, he could justify being drafted this high, and hopefully become an all star.
LaMelo Ball is listed between 6 foot 6 and 6 foot 8. I had the opportunity to see him play last season when the Illawarra Hawks played against the New Zealand Breakers, and I would not be surprised if he measured at 6’8 barefoot. He has great size for a point guard, and if he can not defend the point at the next level, this height will allow him to become a playmaking wing. TheStepien.com projects LaMelo’s wingspan to be around 6’10. If Lamelo’s wingspan measures at 6’10 or longer that should be great length for a guard or wing.
From a physical point of view, LaMelo is going to need to add strength and muscle. So far he has managed to add a reasonable amount of size and strength over the last year. This is a great sign as he is not adding too much within too short of a period of time. Whoever drafts Ball is going to need to be patient with his physical development, but based on what we have seen so far Ball looks like he is going to be able to put on good size.
The main concern I have over LaMelo Ball’s physical profile is his durability. While he has never had a serious injury, we have seen him go through some nagging injuries. One of these minor injuries includes the foot injury that made him finish his NBL season early in Australia. We have also seen his brother Lonzo Ball go through constant minor injuries that could be a concern for whoever drafts LaMelo. The fact that Ball will be wearing Puma shoes instead of Big Baller Brand shoes will hopefully mean that he will not face the same foot injuries as Lonzo in his Laker years. However this will all remain to be seen.
Interpretations of Statistics
LaMelo Ball’s stats are very interesting to read through. His shooting percentages are very discouraging, but his passing, rebounding and ability to steal the ball are very promising.
Lamelo only shot 37.5% from the field over 12 games. While this is certainly not a good shooting percentage, there are two main things that need to be taken into consideration. The first thing is that LaMelo Ball was only 18 at the time. He is currently 19 and will turn 20 years old in August 2021. This makes him one of the youngest players in the draft. To be shooting 37.5% from the field against grown men as an 18 year old is definitely acceptable. What also needs to be taken into consideration is that LaMelo’s three point percentage was only 25% on 6.7 attempts from deep per game. This lowers Ball’s FG% percentage as he was shooting 45.8% from inside the arc. Again this isn’t great, but it is still impressive for an 18 year old playing in a pretty high level men’s league.
LaMelo’s 3pt% was only 25% in the NBL. A large part of this was his poor shot selection. One of the main reasons Ball signed with the Hawks was because they were a fairly weak team that would allow him to do what he wanted. As a result of this LaMelo had free reign to showcase his talents while not having to play winning basketball. LaMelo’s poor shot selection was partially due to this free reign.
Ball’s 3pt% is also due to his shot form. LaMelo’s shot form is by no means broken, but it does need a lot of work. In order to try and predict whether a player can become a good shooter at the next level, many scouts use the free throw percentage of a player as an indicator. A player like Tyler Herro only shot 35.5% from the 3pt line in the NCAA (which is still pretty good), but he shot 93.5% from the free throw line. LaMelo Ball shot a solid, but not great 72% from the free throw line. This shows that Ball has some of the mechanics required to become a good shooter at the NBA level, but a lot of work is going to be required from both himself and the coaching staff of the team that drafts him. LaMelo could potentially be a good shooter, but he is nowhere near being at the level required to be a star yet.
Ball’s passing stands out in his stats. 6.8 assists per game is impressive for an eighteen year old at any level. The fact that LaMelo had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.72 is also impressive. At the higher pace the NBA plays at, Ball should thrive as a playmaker. This mixture of courtvision and pass-making ability is very rare and is what makes LaMelo such a tantalising prospect.
The final statistic I want to focus on is LaMelo’s rebounding. Ball averaged 7.6 rebounds per game. This is incredible for a guard and is a large reason for why I want Ball to be developed as a playmaking wing at the next level. While Ball likely won’t be able to deliver high level scoring immediately he will be able to offer many other contributions to the team that drafts him.
LaMelo Ball is a hard player to find comparisons for. The lazy comparison is to compare him to his brother Lonzo. I believe that LaMelo is faster than Lonzo with far better handles, but lacks the older Ball brother’s on-ball defence. The two players I have been comparing his statistics and playing style to are Ricky Rubio and Jalen Rose. These are by no means great comparisons, but Rubio played in a professional league at a similar age to Ball. I also use Jalen Rose as a comparison as I think Ball will have a similar career to this retired NBA star. I also have noticed that Aran Smith of NBADraft.net also compares Ball to Jalen Rose which makes me more confident in this comparison.
The reason I would compare Ball to Rubio is because of his pass-first mentality, courtvision, and defensive potential. Ball also shoots a low field goal percentage like Rubio, however unlike Rubio he does not shoot a high free throw percentage. If Ball can become a taller version of Rubio he will still be a high quality player. But as fans we should want Ball to become the star player he could potentially become.
I believe that Ball could potentially be a playmaking wing very similarly to the former-player-turned-ESPN-host Jalen Rose. Rose’s playing style was built around slashing and making smart passes. A positionless playmaker such as Rose would have thrived in today’s NBA due to the pace and spacing that is seen in the modern game. I believe that with some added strength Ball could potentially be a very similar player.
In Jalen Rose’s sophomore year at Michigan University he averaged 15.4 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game. He did this on 44.6% FG, 32% 3pt and 72% free throw. These stats are lower than LaMelo’s, but the percentages are higher. While there is no perfect comparison to compare any player to, I think that Rose offers a pretty good preview of what LaMelo could be with the right development and coaching.
I believe that a lot of websites and scouts are overlooking how good of a fit LaMelo Ball could be on the Timberwolves. While a lot of people don’t think LaMelo and D’Angelo Russell can co-exist, I don’t necessarily believe this to be the case. D’Angelo is a scoring combo guard who can play on and off the ball, while LaMelo is in my opinion a playmaking wing. Ball’s playmaking may actually benefit Russell’s scoring. LaMelo’s rebounding would also compliment the Timberwolves allowing them to run a stretch four such as Juancho Hernangomez. In my opinion the Timberwolves should be targeting Jerami Grant in free agency in order to put a rim protecting perimeter defender next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Grant is a below average rebounder which would make LaMelo Ball more valuable.
Assuming the Timberwolves keep the pick I think that LaMelo Ball might actually be the best player for them to draft. Anthony Edwards is definitely the safer pick due to his higher basement, but I believe LaMelo Ball’s ceiling is higher and may potentially be the better fit in the long term as a small-ball small forward. They don’t want to be like the Suns or the Kings looking back and regretting not drafting Luka Doncic.
Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors have the second pick in the draft. I don’t view LaMelo Ball as being a good fit on this team based on the current roster. LaMelo is not a good shooter currently, and would not provide enough floor spacing for the Warriors. I don’t think he is a strong enough driver yet to compliment Curry and Thompson. His playmaking may also clash with both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green being ball handlers as well.
Even though Golden State does not appear to be a good fit for Ball, that doesn’t mean they should not draft him. The Warriors are going to want to draft the best player available in order to trade for a player who can help them now, or to trade down for more assets. If Edwards has already been drafted I believe the Warriors should take Ball simply based on his value.
I highly doubt Michael Jordan is going to want LaVar Ball anywhere near his team. However if Ball is available at the third pick I don’t know if the Hornets will be able to resist. As a playmaking wing, LaMelo could be a good fit next to the Hornets young scoring guards. I don’t think it is likely that the Hornets draft Ball, but if they do he will definitely be worth the risk for them.
If Ball is available the Bulls have to take him. He can fit with almost all of the players they have. If the Bulls keep Kris Dunn, Dunn could defend the point and allow Ball to run it on offence. If the Bulls want to for a full on offensive lineup they could run Coby White, Zach LaVine and LaMelo Ball together. If the Bulls have the chance to draft Ball they should.
New York Knicks
I can see the Knicks trading up in the draft to take Ball. They have several young assets such as Frank Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson who could interest a team like Golden State. While I do have concerns about LaMelo’s fit next to RJ Barrett, I can see the Knicks overlooking this in order to kickstart their rebuild.
When it is all said and done I think that there is a good chance that LaMelo Ball will be the best player in this draft. There is certainly a lot of risk when drafting Ball which could scare off the teams selecting at the top of the draft. Drafting Ball with the first pick is like winning a lottery and spending all of your money on a risky start up business that could either disappear within a year or quadruple your investment.
Whoever drafts Ball is going to have to be patient with him and provide him with a lot of training. They are also going to need to make sure that LaVar Ball does not meddle too much. Both Lonzo and LaMelo improved this year with LaVar quieting down a little.
If LaMelo Ball can reach his potential he will be an NBA All Star that could be part of a championship core. That core could be KAT and DLo if the young Timberwolves tandem will be patient enough with this young prospect.