The time has finally come for LaMelo Ball, a player who has been on the NBA radar since 2016 when viral videos of him pulling up from just past half court made the rounds. Since then his basketball journey has taken him all over the world. First Chino Hills, California, then an early foray into pro basketball in Lithuania, and finally to Illawarra, Australia to refine his NBA resume.
In a draft that lacks a normal amount of high-end talent, Ball stands out as a potential superstar who plays the game with a level of flash you don't see from anyone else in the class. Blending an elite level of offensive creativity with a supersized 6'7" frame at the guard spot, he lit up the Australian NBL for 17 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game against quality competition, and in doing so darted up draft boards.
Ball is always going to be a player who has a lot of noise surrounding him due to his family's history in the media, but that shouldn't take away from his unmistakable skill and potential. He's been on a constant upward trajectory of skill development for the past two seasons and that has culminated in a player legitimately in the conversation for a top-three pick.
When discussing Ball's strengths on the floor, you have to start with his offensive creativity. Watching him play, you never feel like he approaches an offensive possession the same way twice. If defences play him with the same coverage on two different possessions, he'll show two different ways to beat it. If they throw multiple defensive schemes at Ball to attempt to confuse him, he'll demonstrate why he's the best player in this class at improvising and responding to defences on the fly.
Let's put it this way: Ball is a player that has all the skills that you can't teach and plays like basketball is just in his DNA.
You can teach a player to respond to a primary defender, read a help defender and then make an appropriate pass, sure. But you can't teach Ball's ability to get a defender rocking side to side, his understanding to set up his man before hitting him with the crossover and the use of his eyes to misdirect weak side defenders. Watch LaMelo Ball and you'll see all the tricks and savvy of a long-time NBA vet.
It's not just savvy that Ball possesses, it's the fundamentals too. He has an advanced handle that allows him to functionally play out the offensive symphony that he's orchestrating in his head and without those chops built from hours in the gym there's no way he would be able to convey those movements. When staring down a defender, he'll string together multiple dribble moves with a rapid tempo and given the fact that he's 6'7" he has the length to string out the ball to either side away from swiping hands.
Whenever he first steps on an NBA floor, Ball is already going to have one of the best floaters in the league. His sense of touch when putting up teardrops is impeccable and the need for defenders to respect that shot opens up drives closer to the hoop.
Ball will attract a lot of attention as a scorer but he might be at his best when he's looking to distribute. All the necessary passes are in his toolbox and he can execute things such as skip passes to the corner, bounced entry passes or zipped ball swing passes with either hand. The capability for Ball to make the right pass is necessary but what's most impressive is his flashy, improvisational distribution ability. No look, behind the back, over the shoulder…these passes he makes with regularity might look like fluff for highlight reels but against NBA defences the window to make a pass is tight and he'll be able to create shots for his teammates that other guards in this draft class simply can't.
Ball's jump shot is broken and needs to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. Right now it's a pushed, two-handed release that was likely developed from him trying to shoot from too far from the hoop when he was too young to have the strength to shoot correctly. That form has persisted and his crooked jump shot was lucky to climb up to 24% in the NBL after he started in the single digits for the first weeks of the season.
In terms of athleticism, Ball would be below average by NBA standards and doesn't have an explosive first step. Right now he relies heavily on his ball-handling abilities to get penetration and while he is tremendous with the dribble he may struggle against NBA players who are more disruptive with their hands than anyone Ball has previously faced.
At times Ball's effort on the defensive end is legitimately laughable. When he wants to show up on that side of the floor he has the length to get stops and has the IQ to diagnose actions and make proper rotations but sadly those plays are few and far between. If he is a top tier offensive player, he might be able to overshadow the defensive concerns. But if he isn't scoring at a star level, he'll need to show the ability to compete on the defensive end.
Projected NBA Draft Position: 1-5
Projected NBA Role: Primary offensive initiator
NBA Comparison: Spencer Dinwiddie
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.