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2020 NBA Draft scouting report: LaMelo Ball (Part 1)

Ball will surely be selected inside the top-3, but will he go top overall? Will he fall? Or will he be traded?

NBL Rd 9 - New Zealand v Illawarra Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this two-part edition, we break down potential No. 1 overall pick LaMelo Ball.

Everyone knows the name ‘Ball’ in today’s basketball landscape.

It obviously started back with Lonzo Ball, a top prospect at UCLA and the second overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017. In the build-up to said draft, a man named LaVar Ball made waves across basketball broadcasts as he spouted various claims about himself and his son. Some of these statements were, as you know, absolutely ludicrous, but LaVar ultimately did what he set out to do: get people talking about the family.

Later that year, the second Ball brother, LiAngelo, caused waves when he and some UCLA teammates were arrested in China for alleged theft. This eventually led to LiAngelo withdrawing from UCLA and eventually heading to Lithuania along with the youngest Ball, LaMelo, to continue their basketball journey.

Again, given the names involved, this made waves in the US media.

LiAngelo now plies his trade in the NBA G League, but his younger brother, LaMelo, has been the one to make the headlines on the court since Lonzo.

Unlike both Lonzo and LiAngelo however, LaMelo Ball did not go to down the NCAA route, and instead signed in Australia’s NBL, although perhaps not completely by choice? The following excerpt is from Bleacher Report’s article on Ball signing with the Illawara Hawks:

Ball originally wanted to play college basketball, but the path to eligibility seemed treacherous. LaVar Ball said the NCAA was keeping his son out of college to “prove a point.”

“It’s going to be hard getting ‘Melo into a college program because the NCAA wants to prove a point,” Ball said on an episode of Ball in the Family. “But I do know for a fact that ‘Melo brings a crowd and he wins, so if you can get the guy that can entertain, and win, and put people in the seats, that’s what you start your program with.”

LaVar then shot down the idea of LaMelo going through the G League to the NBA Draft:

“I’m going to let you know the plan now, so everyone can just stop,” LaVar said at the Big Baller Brand All-American Game. “In college, I already know what they were about to do. Like, ‘We’re going to investigate. We’re not going to let him play until we let him play. We’re not going let you do all that big-mouth talking and then we’re going to hold him back and a whole year go by.’

“The G League, I’m not going to let no 28, 29-year-old dudes tee off on him and try to make a name for himself, so he’s definitely going overseas.”

Overseas he went, and over a year later, LaMelo Ball is one of the top prospects in the entire draft — you’ll be hard pressed to find too many outlets that have Ball mocked outside of the top-3 after Ball enjoyed a strong season in Illawara.

For the season in the NBL, Ball averaged 17 points per game on 37% shooting from the field on 16 attempts, 25% from three on six attempts per contest, 72% from the free throw line on just under four attempts, 7.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.5 turnovers in 31 minutes of action per game in 12 games played, per RealGM.

Those shooting numbers and percentages won’t wow you but I’d argue you should take that with some grain of salt on the count of the 12 games in the NBL (13 on the season), with Ball’s season ending in January with a foot injury/an eye on the NBA Draft — not a large sample size. I do think if there were a few more games on the sample, Ball’s percentages I think would be better than they finished but alas, this is what we’ve got.

Some of the other numbers that Ball averaged are very solid and we’ll talk about it all as we go on, but let’s begin with his playmaking first.

Ball has a fantastic awareness of his surroundings and touch, and I want to lead with this because I think it’s such a strong aspect of Ball’s game. So, with that, let’s dive into the film and see what’s what. For reference, Ball wears the No. 1.

We’ll start with some creation in the pick-and-roll, seems as good of a place than any to start.

A simple play to start as Ball links up with his teammate on the pick-and-pop, leading to the three-pointer:

A similar play, the pick-and-pop assist on the three-pointer:

On this play, the pick-and-roll is slipped and Ball finds his teammate on the lob and the end result is an assist at the rim on said lob:

In overtime, Ball comes off of the screen and demonstrates great awareness of his teammate’s positioning as he finds his teammate (not involved in the screen) with a nice, snap right-handed pass for the clutch three-pointer, game-sealing three-pointer:

Ball possesses flair and flash and can whip out on command but can also make it work, as he does on this possession as he links up in the pick-and-roll and whips out the behind-the-back pass for the assist at the rim, a perfect pass:

On the pick-and-roll, Ball draws the attention of the rim protector and finds his teammate on the weak-side on the cut for the assist on the dunk at the rim:

Again, a lovely link up play on the pick-and-roll and bounce-pass but the dunk is criminally missed:

Ball was rewarded on this play however, as he executes the pick-and-roll, gets inside and throws a beautifully weighted lob-pass for alley-oop assist:

So, you can see Ball is very capable of creating in the pick-and-roll, leading to creation of shots in a number of different situations. It’s a very strong aspect of his playmaking.

Ball is also capable of creating off of the dribble too.

To start this game against Cairns, Ball attacks in the paint, draws the help defender and loops the ball to his teammate at the rim for the assist:

On this possession, a nice right-to-left hesitation dribble before the drive inside and zips the pass to his teammate at the rim, who misses the shot:

Another hesitation move after the catch at the three-point line and Ball again displays good awareness of his surroundings and should be rewarded with the assist on this possession but the free-throw jumper is missed:

Here, Ball rejects the screen, drives inside, draws the defense, makes the pass to the corner (a tad to the left of his teammate on the catch) and sets up the three-point attempt:

The quick burst from Ball on this play leaves everyone behind and Ball finds his teammate in the corner for another three-point attempt:

After briefly seeing an extra body, Ball proceeds to explode with the quick drive going to his right and finds his teammate on the weak-side of the rim for the assist on the bucket plus the foul:

Here, the defender shows Ball to drive left before getting all the angles wrong and allowing Ball to drive inside before displaying fantastic awareness of his teammate in the corner and firing the overhead pass to the corner for the assist on the three-pointer:

Ball is also handy as a facilitator in transition too.

After helping force the turnover, Ball leads the way and finds his teammate with a two-handed pass, leading to the assist on the three-pointer:

Off of a miss, there is a hand-off to Ball and he sets off in transition before finding his teammate on the baseline cut but the shot is missed at the rim:

After a miss, at half speed, Ball handles the ball and whips out a beautiful behind-the-head pass for the assist on the three-pointer:

Off of the turnover, Ball handles the ball heading the other way and whips out the flash that he is known for with the extravagant right-handed pass for the assist in transition:

Ball also showed his ability to see plays far in front of him and then the ability to find to complete those plays with long outlet passes. He gets his head up, spots the opportunity and he’s good at it.

Off of the miss on the free throw, Ball grabs the rebound and heaves the pass forward to an open teammate and while no clear-cut opportunity was created this time, you can see what we’re about to get at here:

On the inbound, Ball receives the ball, chucks it forward and the ball lands perfectly to its intended target and the resulting shot is goal-tended, count the bucket and the assist to Ball:

On this occasion, Ball’s toss forward is a lot more casual but still accomplishes what it sets out to do, as the ball is caught by his teammate and draws the foul and free throws:

On the pick-and-roll, Ball intercepts the intended pass for the steal before sending the outlet pass to hands of his teammate, who misses the shot at the rim:

Off of a make, Ball immediately looks up and one-arms a leading pass forward for the assist the other way:

You can get the idea, and I think Ball will be able to do this in the NBA too — you might see them the following morning on the NBA’s top-10 plays.

One of Ball’s great strengths is that he doesn’t turn the ball over a ton for how often (a) he has the ball in his hands (27% usage) and (b) his 6.7 assists per game — an assist/turnover ratio of 2.7 and an assist percentage of 36%.

That said, it’s worth looking at a few of Ball’s turnovers on passing/playmaking.

Here, Ball attempts to loft the ball forward but his intended pass is picked off in the sky and the turnover is committed:

On this play, Ball is a little too casual with the pass here and failed to spot the danger and the turnover is committed on the steal:

On the pick-and-roll, Ball gets near the rim but his pass to the roller underneath the basket is picked off in the traffic, resulting in the turnover and the basket in the other direction:

Honestly, that’s effectively the extent of the Ball’s turnovers on creation: he is normally good at protecting the ball and limiting turnovers.

Let’s move onto Ball’s scoring/offense — 17 points per game on 38% shooting from the field on 16 field goal attempts, 28% from three on 6.6 attempts, a true shooting percentage of 48% and an effective field goal percentage of 44.5%.

We’ll start with Ball’s work off of screens/pick-and-roll first.

Here, Ball comes off of the screen and sticks one in for the anti-analytics crowd as he sinks the long two-pointer:

Another long-two comes in the form of Ball coming off of the screen at the top of the three-point line before taking the hit, drawing the foul plus the bucket:

On the drive going left, Ball comes off of the screen, gets to the rim, takes the contact and finishes at the rim with his weaker left-hand to score the bucket, plus the foul:

Here, Ball comes off of the screen, splits the defense and finishes with the dunk at the rim, plus the foul:

On this possession, as Ball comes off of the screen the defense is a little indecisive and this allows Ball the freedom to stick through the very long floater:

Ball can use these screens as well to rise into three-point opportunities, which seems like a good time to transition into that area of Ball’s game.

Here, Ball receives the screen, the switch and though he’s a little hesitant, Ball eventually launches the three-pointer and connects:

Going left, Ball comes off of the screen and with the second defender sitting just a little far back Ball finds the affordability to let it fly and hits the three:

Ball has range too, and he’s not afraid to launch from deep, connecting on this particular occasion from far out, and without hesitation too:

Ball can take these deep threes so casually at times, it almost looks effortless as he converts on this attempt:

In a close game in the fourth quarter, Ball showed he can hit some big shots and he hits the game-tying three on this possession with five seconds left on the game:

Another catch-and-shoot scenario as Ball heads up the floor unchecked in transition, receives the ball and has time to set himself before hitting the three:

In transition again, Ball spaces himself well off of the ball, receives it and hits the three-pointer plus the foul:

Let’s move on to some penetration/off of the dribble work that LaMelo is capable of. Ball is very capable with the ball in his hands, I’m sure that won’t be a surprise to hear at this stage. His command of his dribble is strong — it belongs in his hands.

I’ve touched on the fact that Ball is able/comfortable to use his left-hand and he shows that here on this possession as he heads up the floor after the miss before the hesitation dribble from the three-point line (leading with the left-hand) before taking the contact and finishing with the reverse layup, plus the foul:

In overtime, the space opens up for Ball to drive into and he duly does so. The help defense does its job but Ball switches hands mid-air, hangs and makes the left-handed layup at the rim:

On this play, you can kind of get the feel of how Ball can operate at different speeds as he gets inside — switching hands, again, showing comfort with his left-hand — and hits the floater:

Ball demonstrates his ability to quickly change direction as he initially hits the right-to-left cross and then follows it with the left-to-right before proceeding right and hitting the floater:

On this possession, Ball switches hands as he starts his offensive move, the screen is set, Ball spins and finishes at the rim:

On the perimeter, Ball hits the defense with a beautiful hesitation dribble as he changes hands in the same motion and drives right, drawing the foul and free throws:

Ball can also operate in the open court, and you can probably imagine that his smooth movement and speed bode well in transition opportunities.

Off of the miss, Ball grabs the impressive defensive rebound and sets off, cutting through the traffic and the open court — does all the hard work — before blowing the layup at point-blank range but it’s the ability to get there in the first place I want to focus on:

Here, Ball receives the inbounds pass and sets off, zigs and zags up the court before taking the hard hit and drawing the foul and free throws:

On this offensive trip, Ball catches at mid-court at speed, drives left before having to adjust himself before finishing the tough shot underneath the rim:

Off of the miss, Ball grabs the loose ball and takes off. Again, he does a good job changing gears at the three-point line as he changes hands before drawing the foul and free throws:

Ball gets after rebounds (we’ve seen a few instances of this) and when he does, he sets off and can create plays but also go coast-to-coast, doing so on this possession and finishes at the rim:

We’ve seen in some clips where Ball grabs the rebound and sets off the other direction but he can also get on the offensive glass too. Ball averaged just under two offensive rebounds per game in the NBL. Nothing much to note here but worth showing a clip or two anyways.

Off of his own miss on the three-pointer, the bounce is kind to Ball and he’s able to collect the offensive rebound and sets up his teammate for the assist on the jump shot:

A multiple effort play here from Ball as he taps out the miss at the rim which leads to the three-point attempt. After the miss, Ball steams back in and attempts to direct the ball back to a teammate but is unable to do so. Still, can’t fault the effort:

On the pick-and-roll, Ball finds his teammate on the roll to the rim, who misses the shot at the rim. Ball grabs the attempted tip and retreats to the three-point line. From there, Ball splits the pick-and-roll defense but drives into a body, hoping for a foul call that never came and the ball heads the other way:

This miss — and a bit of a wild shot — leads us nicely into the next area of discussion.

All of this from Ball looks great: good range (at times), good off of the dribble/on the move etc etc... But the percentages can’t be ignored, and Ball was not efficient from the field or from three.

I would definitely chalk some of that that down to the fact that Ball — in many ways, and I don’t intend to be disrespectful — was a big fish in a small pond. He is the star of the team, people wanted to see Ball do his thing. As such, Ball probably took more shots than he would in an NBA setting and was probably allowed some license to take some poorer shots that you might not attempt in the NBA.

Whatever the case, shot selection was an issue for Ball when it comes to his field goal percentage, which seems as good a place as any to start.

To start, Ball gets bailed out on a poor drive and shot with a foul call right at the end:

After getting a switch on the screen, Ball proceeds to take a poor, contested three-pointer which is missed:

After Ball chucks the ball forward, receives it again at speed but commits to the shot far too early, his feet leaving the floor and attempting an ultimately wild shot:

In transition, Ball gets past the three-point line and drives into traffic and his runner is missed as he tries to adjust:

As often as Ball can get to the rim, he misses on occasion, such as on this possession where he receives the ball in transition but can’t complete the play as he tries to adjust to navigate the body in front of him:

Coming off of the screen, Ball misses the floater but does at least grab his own rebound:

To be honest, shooting inside the arc isn’t the problem — take out the 25% shooting from three in the NBL, the 1.6 makes on the 6.6 attempts and Ball shoots 46% from inside the arc. It’s the three-point shooting that is a potential problem and it’ll have to be the biggest focus for Ball to improve on when he gets to the NBA.

We’ll look at a couple of misses, just to get an eye in.

On this play, Ball comes off of the screen before withdrawing behind the three-point line when the space allows for it. The shot is missed but Ball is able to make something out of the play as he collects his own miss and assists his teammate on the jumpshot:

From distance, Ball explores with a jab-step before launching a deep three-pointer which is off the mark:

One-on-one on the wing, Ball hoists the contested three which is missed:

Here, Ball is deployed off of the ball and when the drive by his teammate is made and kicked back to Ball behind the three-point line, he does brilliantly to shed his defender with a beautiful cross but misses the three-pointer:

Between these and the three-pointers we briefly would have looked at when it came to poor shot selection and I think you get the idea.

For more on LaMelo Ball, including a detailed look at his defensive profile and much more, click here for Part Two.