LaMelo Ball has chosen the road less traveled to try and reach his NBA dream. He entered the limelight in 2016 as the youngest Ball brother on the national champion Chino Hills team. Before his move to Lithuania and sequentially the JBA and Spire Academy, LaMelo was one of the top guards in the nation. Now, he has fallen off the draft radar of many NBA teams due to his father’s antics, poor play overseas, and a rather easy strength of schedule in comparison to other top prospects at top institutions. LaMelo went from being committed to UCLA in his freshman year to barely having any scholarship offers his senior year. The Ball saga has been one filled with twists and turns which leaves people with two questions, “How good is LaMelo Ball?” and “Does he have an NBA future?”
To answer both questions, yes.
LaMelo Ball is good at basketball and I believe he is a top 20 draft prospect in the 2020 NBA draft. His game from his first stint in high school to his second stint has made an 180 degree turn. At Chino Hills he was known as a shoot first, shot chucker with minuscule flashes of ball handling and playmaking packed into a 5’8’ frame. At Chino Hills his scoring prowess was on full display, but now at Spire Academy he is a team player that looks to get his teammates shots rather than himself. Not only has he reigned in his shot selection but he has been able to truly show off his passing acumen, creating for his teammate Isaiah Jackson much like his older brother, Lonzo, did at UCLA for TJ Leaf getting the most out of their respective play-styles.
To fully understand the potential Ball possesses, we must look back to his final year of middle school where his father, LaVar Ball, reclassified him to the class of 2019 forgoing his eighth grade year so he could play basketball for a year with both of his older brothers. This means that LaMelo is supposed to be a junior in high school and is one of the youngest players in his class. When paired with his long awaited growth spurt (reportedly 6’7”) LaMelo looks not only like a division one basketball player, but a legitimate first round prospect.
With LaMelo’s growth spurt and length, he has a unique set of physical tools for a point guard which will give him an ample number of advantages at the next level. He has a loose but effective handle, changing directions and speeds effortlessly, which allows him to get to his spots on the floor and use his aforementioned height to see over the defense and create for his teammates. LaMelo has the ability to see plays develop before they happen and sometimes seems to be playing chess when his opponent and sometimes teammates are playing checkers.
He uses his eyes and dissects the defense by seeing how they react to his movements to throw defenders off to deliver accurate passes with both hands to his big men and shooters on the perimeter. His new found unselfishness spread like the plague on his team’s offense which leads to fluidity, better shots, and selflessness from everyone on the court. Taking part of the Chino Hill play style, he shows the ability to spark fast breaks with quick and long outlet passes down court. LaMelo often tries to do too much when it comes to his passing as he tends to make the flashy pass rather than the right one at times.
LaMelo’s form is not picture perfect but it is not as bad as his brother, Lonzo’s. His shot is fine seeing as he hits shots from range with consistency. He has shown that he can shoot both off the catch and dribble, and the final key to his shooting development will be showing he can shoot off of movement so he can operate as both a primary and tertiary ball handler. LaMelo is still not the best athlete and his frame still needs a lot of filling out which at times stops him from getting into the paint to score off the dribble.
He is much better than Lonzo at the same stage at creating his own shot and is likely a much better pick and roll player due to him being a threat to pass, pull up from midrange, or just take it all the way to the basket himself where he can show off his impressive touch around the basket. He already has advanced footwork and a great floater game for a player his age. He can finish both above and below the rim with both power and finesse.
LaMelo’s major downfall is on the defensive end where he just doesn’t seem laterally fast enough to deal with quick guards penetrating. He still plays lackadaisical on defense with little to no discipline on that end. He shows a knack for getting into passing lanes and has impeccable timing for getting rebounds and getting steals where he can utilize his skills to do what he’s most comfortable doing, playing in transition.
Another one of LaMelo’s biggest faults is his mentality. It seems like at times he is playing too cool which could be both a strength and a weakness. A negative of living the rock star lifestyle that the Ball family does, is that the public can see their every move and can take a glimpse into who they are as people. LaMelo seems to be a social butterfly, who may be a bit immature to make the jump to the next level at such a young age. It helps that he has an older brother who is already thriving in the NBA to advise him on both on and off court etiquette. The family’s Lithuanian excursion may have been a blessing in disguise for LaMelo seeing that he came back a much more mature player, trading in his trademark 40 foot bombs for passes to open teammates and playing a more disciplined, and inherently winning brand of basketball. My one question is, does he care more about being a celebrity or playing the game of basketball?
LaMelo Ball is unquestionably a top five talent in this class. He has elite size for both guard spots, a high level passing gene, shooting ability, and ever growing athleticism against high level USA and overseas competition. On my 2020 board I have LaMelo fringe lottery and think he has some of the most potential in this draft.