Maybe one of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s draft is Illawarra point guard LaMelo Ball. The 18-year-old averaged 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in his first year in the NBL. With a pro-ready body and gifted court awareness for a teenager to go with so many other special traits he possesses, there is a solid chance LaMelo Ball can become the best player in the 2020 NBA Draft if he can put it all together at the pro level.
Starting on the offensive end, one thing extremely notable about Ball is that his IQ is sky high, and when he was running Illawarra’s offense, he displayed consistent advanced-level shake and fluid ability in stringing together multi-move sequences. His first step gives him the ability to change pace whenever, and his signature move hesitation dribble can put defenders to sleep at any time. It’s classy.
Maybe one of the biggest strengths for Ball is in transition, where he seemingly will almost always make the right play. His elite ball control combined with his stellar court awareness, while being one of the fastest point guards in his class, makes the open court game a huge plus for LaMelo’s draft stock. He averaged 1.22 points per possession in transition, good for first in the NBL. To put those numbers into context, Giannis Antetokounmpo averages 1.12 PPP and is one of the better transition players in the NBA.
His ability to change pace makes him somewhat unguardable, and his vision will give defenses trouble. Such a profile makes him even more valuable for teams who want to play a transition style of offense, such as the Chicago Bulls.
Notably about LaMelo, he is a fantastic passer. He’s quite possibly the best distributor imaginable for an 18-year-old, and he will be one of the best playmakers to enter the pros since Chris Paul. Simply put, he possesses several of the characteristics teams are looking for in a modern dynamic lead ball-handler who can put pressure on a defense. LaMelo already excels at making hit-ahead/transition passes, very similar to his older brother Lonzo. This will carry over to the NBA easily.
He can read a defense to perfection and will often make timely passes. He can play in the pick-and-roll at a high level with athletic, mobile rolling bigs. A Knicks dynamic duo with Mitch Robinson would be extremely fun, as would the Bulls with high-flyer Daniel Gafford.
As for the half-court set scoring-wise, he has shown potential as a finisher but still has to develop consistently. He has a lot of flashy moves to get to the rim and is ultra crafty with several reverse layup packages he often showcases in-game. An underrated strength is his ability to get to the line when driving to the rim, where he is one of the best point guards in his class at that area, averaging nearly four free throws a game (good for 72.3%).
Shooting-wise, he isn’t the greatest, and he also is not the most consistent shooter yet (25% from three on six attempts per), but does have excellent range, which can be a strength for him if he fixes that jumper. As of now, he is a streaky shooter that can get hot when he wants to, but mechanically his form just isn’t there yet. Unorthodox jump shots seem to run in the Ball family.
As a scorer, Ball exhibits strong play off the ball as a floor spacer. He knows where to be most of the time and readily makes himself available as a stationary shooter. However, he still lacks awareness at times when playing off the ball and will occasionally find himself looking lost when involving himself in some sort of set.
The defensive end of the court is not his strongest area as he often gets lost when playing off the ball and struggles to move his feet while playing on it. While he does give effort at times, he still has a lot to learn, especially since he has consistently been out of position when guarding the pick-and-roll game. However, while he isn’t even an average defender just yet, he is 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, which means he has the potential to become a solid defender at the pro level.
One thing LaMelo did well defensively was being active in passing lanes. He was top three among point guards in the NBL in deflections per game and also averaged 1.6 steals. Being active in passing lanes will translate well to the NBA, and if coached well, LaMelo could become a strong defender like his brother Lonzo. He just needs to put the effort in.
Ball’s lengthy frame and improving shot-making profile with his savant-level passing ability is a conjuring mixture that will make it difficult for an NBA front office to pass up. He has incrementally improved his game at every level, and he’s still young enough to be a senior in high school.
One looming question for LaMelo is his draft position, which still remains highly uncertain. From speaking with NBA Draft analysts, I have been told this draft will be more ‘best fit’ rather than the usual ‘best player available.’
LaMelo Ball could go as high as #1 and as low as #5. He is a perfect fit for teams like the Knicks, Bulls, and Pistons, all of who are still looking for that potential star point guard that can run an offense at a high level. Ball will make a difference from day one if he’s playing on the ball often. If everything pans out, he could become one of the best offensive players in the league.