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2020 NBA Draft scouting report: LaMelo Ball (Part 2)

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

If you missed anything from Part 1 of our LaMelo Ball scouting report, please click here.


Let’s move onto LaMelo Ball’s defense.

I found it difficult to evaluate Ball defensively, largely because he was deployed off of the ball defensively for many stretches. We’ll try to put something together to take away.

Let’s start with Ball’s 1.5 steals per game, seems like a good start.

On this possession, Ball is not involved in the on-ball action defensively but when the pressure on the ball-handler is extended the ball is panically sent forward and Ball swoops in for the steal:

Again, Ball is away from the on-ball action defensively but on the entry pass, Ball is able to get in front and extend to knock the ball away and comes up with the steal. From there, Ball is able to turn defense to offense as he takes the ball down the floor and sets up his teammate in transition for the assist on the three-pointer:

Worth noting, again, that Ball begins this defensive possession not guarding the primary ball-handler but anticipates the pass, collects the steal and finishes at the other end with the layup:

A change of pace on this steal as a poor shot from Ball himself is missed but he’s alert and takes advantage of some complacency, pries the ball away and scores at the rim:

This time Ball is involved in the defensive action and manages to intercept the pass on the pick-and-roll attempt. After securing the steal, Ball lofts one of his looping passes forward, finds his teammate and the shot attempt agonizingly rolls out:

Here, Ball does well to read the play and sneaks from behind the intercept the pass inside to come up with the steal:

Ball is active enough on this end but a lot of these take place with Ball not being the primary defender, and that is a concern.

What is also a concern is his effort at times, it was a little too easy for opponents at times and that was partly due to Ball’s — at times — lax nature.

Ball is placed in corner — again, noting, away from the action — and when the pick-and-roll is executed out front and the ball-handler turns the corner on Ball’s side of the court, it’s on him to make some sort of effort to rotate...or do anything really. Alas, Ball does nothing and the bucket is scored:

Here, Ball gets drawn to the ball, leaving the man he was initially marshalling open in the corner for the three-point attempt (which, luckily for Ball, is missed):

Just another note on this possession...Ball isn’t offering any “help” here if the on-ball defender is beaten in the post. Nathan Jawai is a man-mountain — there’s absolutely nothing Ball would’ve been able to do if his teammate was beaten.

Ball also has a tendency to get stuck on screens/unable to get around them, and this is a problem heading into the NBA.

Starting off, Ball gets hit with the screen, is unable to get back to his man and the open three-pointer is attempted:

Again, Ball gets pinned by the (good, to be fair) screen and the end result in another open three-point look:

On the wing, Ball, again, is set back by the screen and this time the three-pointer is made as Ball is unable to recover in time:

There are defensive sequences that Ball initially starts well but can’t complete...and then others that just go wrong from the start.

Ball initially does a good job sticking with his man on the drive but ends up committing the foul at the rim, plus the bucket:

For much of this next possession, Ball does well to stick with the ball-handler — including getting around the screen — but his final effort as the bump occurs and his closeout/contest is poor and the shot is made:

As for plays that go wrong from the off, this time Ball is beaten on the drive but is bailed out by the help defense behind him:

On this possession, Ball is a little all over the place as he misreads his show — leaving his man in the process — and the attempted recovery is judged poorly too as he gets his angles wrong and fouls on the three-point shot which is hit:

On the drive off of the pick-and-roll, Ball commits the foul and is unable to prevent the bucket from being made, count the bucket and the foul for the three-point play:

A lot of the film would point to Ball being a bad defender but he can show flashes of positives on the defensive end (other than the steals).

Here, Ball does a good job sticking with the drive and prevents the penetration, meaning the ball-handler has to look elsewhere:

On this defensive sequence, Ball shows effort on multiple occasions as he flies around to close down bodies and switches but can’t prevent the shot from being made:

Ball is also a very good rebounder of the ball. We’ve looked at some of this from an offensive rebounding perspective but can get the job done defensively too.

On the missed shot, Ball skies high and one-hands the rebound amidst the crowd:

On this shot attempt, Ball is located at the bottom of your picture as his starting point before climbing the ladder to collect the rebound away from the offensive player:

On the step-back attempt, Ball is on the weak-side of the rim and somehow manages to pluck this rebound away from the opponent who is clearly in a better place to win this rebound:

Let’s attempt to land this thing, shall we?

It goes without saying LaMelo Ball is a top prospect in this draft. However which way you feel about this draft, Ball is a quality prospect who projects to improve an NBA franchise.

Ball just turned 19 years old in August which makes his season in Australia, during which he was 18, even more impressive. That has to be a strong factor when it comes to Ball’s stock — he showed an awful lot for 18 years old that cannot be ignored.

Defensively, I’m still having a hard time coming to a conclusion...

Ball possesses good size and length, decent enough athleticism and solid foot-speed but there’s a reason Illawarra seemed to deploy him more off of the ball than on the ball. How many defensive possessions did we look at where Ball wasn’t at the forefront of the defense, tucked away in one of the corners?

As an on-ball defender, you’ll be disappointed with Ball on film. He should be better defensively on the dribble and he’s prone to mental lapses. He should’ve been better than he showed, even in his shortened season.

I expect Ball will be a turnstile defensively to begin his NBA career and if he can ever get to league average on defense, I’d honestly call that a success. Maybe I’m being a little harsh on Ball’s defense there, but that’s how it feels to me right now.

With the right coaching and personal application, Ball could maybe reach that level and maybe more if things really work out, because he has many of the tools needed to be a solid defender. Maybe not a great defender but he can be passable. The upside is present in that regard, but how Ball applies himself I think might be the biggest key to any defensive success.

Offensively, Ball is very fun to watch, especially from a playmaking point of view where he not only possesses fantastic IQ and vision but then ability to find his teammates in many different scenarios to complete the pass he sees, both in the half court and even in the full court with those long lofts forward. It feels like Ball can find a teammate from almost anywhere on the floor.

He’s very capable in pick-and-roll, in the open court and unselfish too. He makes everyone around him better and that’s the mark of a great facilitator. He’s also efficient when it comes to handling the ball, his assist/turnover rate is a strong positive — he doesn’t cough the ball up very often considering how much he had the ball in his hands, and heading into the NBA that fact can’t be undervalued.

When it comes to scoring himself, Ball is capable and is efficient from inside the arc. He possesses good feel on floaters and runners, he’s good off of the dribble, he’s good coming off of screens, he’s good in the open court/transition and his handle is, I think, fantastic. Given his age and how few games he’s actually played, he’s very advanced and there’s every reason to buy into the upside.

However, naturally, his three-point shooting is the big question mark.

Ball’s poor shooting on a very high volume of perimeter shots makes his overall efficiency seem worse than it actually was but he’ll have to shoot higher than 25% in the NBA from three. Ball can hit a three-pointer — and from range too — but has to find a way to increase the efficiency.

I do think he’ll be helped by the fact he, more than likely, won’t get the chance to hoist six threes a game in the NBA, certainly not some of the ones he took last year, so his shot selection from outside will be better in the NBA (unless he ends up with, say, maybe the Hornets). I think that Ball was allowed some liberties in terms of shots and may have been allowed to get into some bad habits because he was a star when he was on the court.

LaVar Ball talks a lot, and fair amount of nonsense at that, but when he says, “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,” he’s telling the absolute truth in regards the entertainment factor he brings.

Honestly, the crowd loved him. Ball’s play increased the volume in arenas — the ‘wows’, the gasps, the cheers... He brought a lot of excitement to the NBL and to the Illawarra Hawks. Such a player is usually forgiven for a few bad shots.

So am I concerned about Ball’s overall efficiency in the NBA? Not a ton, because he’s crafty and capable inside the arc (minus a few poor shots at the rim from time to time), I don’t think he’s taking six threes a game and I don’t think he’ll take some of the shots he took in Australia.

Am I worried about Ball as a three-point shooter? Yes, and you’d have to be right now and you wouldn’t be doing your due diligence if you decided to overlook that. That said, unlike many prospects, Ball’s NBA career isn’t so much dependent on whether he develops a consistent three-point shot. He’s talented enough from a scoring and playmaking perspective (!!) that, like his brother, means that even though he isn’t a knockdown three-point shooter — though Lonzo shot 37.5% from three on over six attempts per game in his third season — LaMelo can still have a role in the NBA.

Of course, it would help Ball’s overall ceiling greatly if he can improve his three-point shot but he has so many other talents offensively that he’ll find a role on basically any NBA team in some capacity or another even if he only ended up shooting 32/34-ish percent.

Speaking of a fit in the NBA... Ball is unquestionably better on the ball than he is off of it. His lack of shooting right now makes him a little more difficult to be as effective off-ball right now but not impossible given his handles, penetration and playmaking. So, Ball can at least be versatile from that point of view but not as effective off of the ball offensively without a decent outside shot.

However, it seems likely the team drafting Ball — unless it’s Golden State and they keep the No. 2 pick — will want him to be the primary ball-handler.

His defense will make things a little tougher for a team’s defense in his rookie season (like the majority of rookies) but assuming he lands with a lottery team I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, really.

Let’s see where some of the prominent sports media outlets say about Ball compared to what we’ve looked at here. As a reminder, I look at these excerpts from these outlets as one of the last things I do during this process.

Starting with ESPN, they rank Ball second on their ‘Best Available’ list, with Jonathon Givony having this to say about Ball, starting with his strengths.

- Has elite size for a point guard at 6-foot-7. Controls the game from his unique vantage point with impressive creativity, flair, poise and instincts operating off a live dribble. Gifted ball handler who plays at different speeds and can make every pass with either hand, especially operating out of pick-and-roll. Throws 90-foot outlets, makes magical touch passes.

- Has a chance to be an adequate defender due to his combination of terrific size, quick feet and instincts, particularly when he’s playing with energy. Already has some impressive moments rotating for steals and contesting shots around the basket. Excellent rebounder for a guard.

- Won’t turn 19 until well after the draft. Will be one of the youngest players picked in the first round. Might still be growing.

Nothing we haven’t discussed/looked at some point along the way here, let’s see what Givony has to say about Ball’s weaknesses.

- Has struggled to score efficiently throughout his career. Shot just 46% from 2-point range and 25% from 3. Shoots jumpers with unorthodox mechanics, including a two-handed release while kicking out his legs. The touch he shows on floaters and career 82% free throw percentage leaves room for optimism, but his inability to buy a basket at times this season in the half court was discouraging.

- Lacks a degree of high-end explosiveness creating offense from a standstill and beating opponents off the dribble. Doesn’t have the strength to finish what he does create around the basket. Relies on a lot of tough floaters and other difficult attempts inside the arc.

- Indifferent defender for much of his career. Still reverts back to that frequently, especially off the ball. Struggles to get over screens due to his lack of strength. Has been maligned at times for his work ethic and level of focus.

Givony goes into some detail about the mechanical flaws of Ball’s three-point shot that I struggle to spot — so this is obviously noteworthy when it comes to Ball’s three-point shooting, which obviously needs work anyways given the percentages we’ve already talked about. Givony also notes how Ball’s ‘inability to buy a basket at times this season in the half court was discouraging,’ which is worth filing away. I think in pick-and-roll scenarios with his quickness and handles but I can see where Givony would be coming from in a 1-vs-1 setting, especially late game.

It’ll be interesting to see how NBA defenses treat Ball — it certainly won’t help that, for now, opponents can back off of Ball and test him to let it fly from range.

The Athletic has LaMelo ranked No. 1 on their big board and mocked No. 1 overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves, with Sam Vecenie having this to say about Ball on his latest big board.

I still strongly believe Ball has the most upside as a shot creator in this class, which is why he sits at No. 1. Getting star creators is the single most important thing you can find. To me, Ball has the most upside. I get that some think Edwards, some think even Killian Hayes is in that mix. But Ball’s live-dribble game as a passer and his ability to gain separation is much stronger than anyone else in this class. The shot is a question, as is the defense. But I’d take the plunge and bet on Ball.

I’m glad Vecenie brings up Killian Hayes because this is something that people talk about and some buy high into Hayes (higher than I do) but I don’t think it’s close between Ball and Hayes in terms of shot creation both in terms of scoring and facilitation — I think Ball is superior in these regards by a comfortable margin. Ball just possesses so much more quality and confidence (evidenced by his flair) when it comes to shot creation than Hayes, who is solid don’t get me wrong.

Hayes might end up outperforming where he’s drafted but Ball is so much more of a sure thing heading into this draft than Hayes is in basically every area with the exception of defense. With teams placing a priority on offense, Ball is, overall, a much safer selection.

Finally, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated mocks Ball at No. 3 overall:

The sense I’ve gotten is that the Hornets may target a big here, with Wiseman, Toppin and Onyeka Okongwu all potentially availably. But if Ball makes it to No. 3, it would still behoove the Hornets to think hard about taking him—or, alternatively, consider trading back to the 5–8 range, where multiple teams might have an interest in coming up for him. He has a case as the most gifted playmaker in the draft, and his combination of size, handle and vision create a reasonable rotation-player floor, even if his iffy jump shot precludes him from being a star. Pencil him in here for the time being—nobody would knock Charlotte for taking him, and he won’t slip far on draft night. But the dynamic surrounding Ball is fluid and may have a major impact on how the draft flows.

Woo talks about Ball’s floor and I agree. Even if Ball’s shooting doesn’t ever materialize, I think his floor is NBA rotation player/secondary playmaker/backup point guard somewhere. On the other end of the spectrum, as Woo eludes to, Ball’s rise to ultimate stardom might depend on whether he develops a three-point shot.

However, Ball’s final landing spot is very much unknown. Woo talks about the idea of the Hornets trading this pick and Ball, and Vecenie also talked about this at length when he mocked Ball at first overall. So, he may be selected first overall but it’s anyone’s guess as to if he remains there.

For the Atlanta Hawks at No. 6 overall, I would be amazed if Ball was available. Even if the Hawks wanted to trade up and add Ball to their ranks... Well, it would certainly solve their backup point guard dilemma, but I’d be a tad concerned about having both Trae Young and LaMelo Ball from a defensive point of view in their respective units.

It’d be extremely fun to watch on the court but probably not viable defensively or in crunch time where Ball is probably on the bench, though the extra creation he could possibly offer would help relieve Young in many ways.

Thinking about it, it’s not as ludicrous as it sounds offensively but in that role but it’d be a nightmare defensively. Then again, Hawks President of Basketball Operations Travis Schlenk has very much created a side that’s more suited to scoring buckets than preventing them. Schlenk spent big to move up to select De’Andre Hunter but I’d be surprised if he burst the bank to move up again this year.

It’ll be a big ‘summer’ for Schlenk with regards building his roster for next season. Will LaMelo Ball be part of those plans?

Unlikely, but time will tell...