Digging For Diamonds: LaMelo Ball 2020 NBA Draft Breakdown
Country: United States (Chino Hills, CA)
Professional Team: Illawarra Hawks
Birth date: 8/22/2001
NBL Statistics: 12 games played: 17 points-7 assists-7.5 rebounds FG%( 37.5) 3PT% (24%) FT% (72)
Many kids who find fame at an early age find themselves going down a desolate path of destruction, suffering from an over inflated ego or lack of motivation upon tasting the dangerous nectar of fame.
The rise of outlets that cover the grassroots circuits such as Overtime & Ball Is Life have given teenagers trying to make a name for themselves the platform to awe the collective basketball world any time they step on the court. As we get closer to the completion of the 2020 NBA Draft cycle, Lamelo Ball finds himself as the prince of the Tik-Tok era of young basketball fans. The blonde tips, the sheer ridiculousness of him pulling up from half court and calling his shot from half court in a Babe Ruth-ian manner, his 5.1 million followers on IG (more than Zion), combined with the boisterous exploits of his father, are all reasons why he’s hard to take your eyes off. But is Lavar’s youngest son a product of the social media mixtape era in the way that Aquille Carr and Marcus Lovett were before him? Or is he a future NBA All-Star?
Melo with a live dribble is a sorcerer capable of whipping accurate hook passes to punish weak side defenders that sag off shooters spotted up in the corners, rise up from NBA range three pointers at any moment or slithering his way to the basket. His anticipation level as a teenager is among his best characteristics as a floor general. He’s ambidextrous and can make passes with either hand, playing with pace is second nature for him as he finds teammates in transition with relative ease. Has a keen understanding of the geometry of passing angles on the basketball court and uses his advanced ability to manipulate defenders eye level with his dribble for a split second before he fits the ball into tight windows, a-la Patrick Mahomes.
Mixes in a flurry of hesitation dribbles in one sequence, which allows him to keep defenders off balance and create separation to get his shot off. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards, but flashes excellent body control that allows him to contort his body in the paint and avoid rim protectors. Generally contact averse in the paint which could easily lead to efficiency issues if these struggles continue.
Lavar’s youngest son is soon to be a member of what I like to call the ‘Spoon Feeders Association,’ which is a club reserved for only the best passers in the league. The big men around him aren’t always able to anticipate Ball’s feeds, which can frustratingly lead to would-be dimes turning into fumbled turnovers.
Josh Boone, former 2006 1st round pick of the Nets, played alongside LaMelo on the Illawarra Hawks; one of my observations were a couple live ball turnovers where a former NBA player (who played with Hall of Famer Jason Kidd), was left marveling at a teenagers’ passing capacity. Simply put, he possesses several of the characteristics teams are looking for in a modern dynamic lead ball handler who can put pressure on the defense with his play making and scoring ability.
Ball is supremely confident in his own shot making ability, which is evident in his audacious shooting trigger; always thinks the next attempt is going in. When we hyper analyze the psyche of the greatest scorers on the planet this happens to be both a positive and a negative: lack of confidence is a death sentence, but a young guard needs to be more discerning between with his shot selection.
Inconsistent and funky shot mechanics run in the family. ‘Melo has a drift on his jump shot which raises the concern about whether he can get his shot off against NBA defenders in tight spaces. Over his twelve game sample in Australia, LaMelo shot a ghastly 24% on 80 attempts from long range, which obviously isn’t going to cut it. According to the Synergy database, his spot up catch and shoot indicators rated inside the 76th percentile. As is the case with most prospects, the shooting stroke will be the major litmus test to where he evidently settles in as a prospect. If he can knock down pull up three pointers, we have the makings of a rare scoring and facilitating guard.
II. Differences Between Lonzo & LaMelo Ball
For all the acclaim and publicity that has surrounded the Ball brothers, both Lonzo and LaMelo each possess a high level basketball IQ in between the dotted line that is rare for teenage NBA prospects. The bombastic and ostentatious gene of hi-jinks from Lavar Ball that most observers would associate with a selfish and “Me First” brand of basketball looks to have skipped his offspring. One of the main differences between the two brothers is that LaMelo has already shown a much more complete skill set as a scorer.
Lonzo is currently enjoying a much improved shooting season during his first season with the Pelicans as he sits in the 53rd percentile on cumulative three point attempts according to Cleaning The Glass. However, going back to his UCLA days, his mid range acumen has always been a non-existent portion of his game (17th percentile currently on all mid range attempts).
Lamelo has already flashed a capacity to knock down floaters. Modern proponents of analytics will fight to death about the sub-optimal points per possession mathematics behind mid-range attempts, but the floaters are a critical tool for a finesse guard as a counter action when trying to finish in traffic. His budding touch on these shots is among the best precursors to be optimistic that the 24% from three point range can be improved upon.
The addition of mass to his 6”7 and growing frame will be an interesting subplot to follow within the developmental process of Lamelo Ball. Ignoring the fact for a moment that he usually seems completely disinterested in even getting low in a defensive stance and or exerting energy at all on that side of the ball. Core strength is probably the most under analyzed component when brainstorming how swift the transition to the NBA will be. Fighting and maneuvering through screens is one of the areas where young guards can get picked apart on a possession to possession basis. From day one in the league he’ll have a target on his back from coaches and ball handlers that will attack him at every chance possible in pick and roll scenarios.
Lamelo isn’t completely hopeless on the defensive end, but it’s going to take a complete mental adjustment to see him consistently lock in and raise his motor on defense. Can be disruptive in passing lanes when engaged and theoretically has the length to guard bigger guards as he adds more weight; also projects as someone who’ll be able to rebound his position well due to his uncanny nose for the ball.
LaMelo Ball doesn’t turn 19 until August of 2020, yet he’s had quite the basketball journey for a young kid. His path to the NBA is a literal one of one circumstance. From winning a state championship at Chino Hills as a 14 year old next to his two brothers. Becoming the youngest American professional basketball player ever when he took his talents to Lithuania, his time back in the states playing in the JBL & at Spire Academy all before his stint in Australia.
Due to his proximity to his father and playing style Melo is one of the most polarizing prospects entering the league. From a dynasty perspective if you invest an early first round pick in him you must be prepared to endure some rough growing pains as he transitions and gets comfortable the NBA.
This is still a blank canvas of talent that can be cultivated into a special player as a professional if surrounded by the right players and structure within a organization. By no means is he a finished product and still has a long way to go to put into motion all of the natural gifts that he possesses on the basketball court.
Let the record show, I’m a long term fan of his upside and believe in his skills and struggle to find a scenario where he isn’t a serviceable NBA player. The 6″7 frame and promising shot making profile with his savant level passing ability is a conjuring mixture that will make it difficult for NBA decision makers to pass up on a kid that has incrementally improved his game at every level while still being young enough to be a senior in high school.