We didn't get to see much of LaMelo Ball last season.
Not only did he take the non-traditional path of going overseas rather than joining an NCAA program, Ball appeared in only 12 games before being shut down for the season with a foot injury. He averaged 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.6 steals in those 12 games on 37.5 percent shooting from the field, 25.0 percent from 3-point range and 72.3 percent from the free throw line.
Those shooting splits point to some glaring concerns in Ball's game, but it didn't stop the Charlotte Hornets from selecting him with the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
A few years ago, Tyler Lashbrook of SB Nation wrote scouting reports on draft prospects based on three games - their best game of the season, their worst game of the season and a game somewhere in the middle. Why? Former NBA executive Ryan McDonough once said that's the "ideal scenario" to watch a prospect play.
That's what we're going to do with Ball to get an idea of what his ceiling and floor is, starting with his best game of the season.
Best Game: 32-point triple-double
Stats: 32 points (11-21 FG, 4-7 3PT, 6-8 FT), 13 assists, 11 rebounds, 1 steal
It didn't take long for Ball to make his presence felt.
On the opening possession of the game, Ball got the 6-foot-8 and 225-pound Cameron Oliver switched onto him and immediately attacked him in isolation, leading to Ball getting in the paint and sneaking a pass to Andrew Ogilvy underneath the basket for a layup.
Much was made of Ball's passing ability entering the draft. Listed at 6-foot-7, he has the height to see over most perimeter defenders, especially ones at the point guard position. He also has the type of vision that you can't teach.
That vision was on display time and time again against the Cairns Taipans, particularly in the first quarter when Ball racked up six of his season-high 13 assists.
In addition to his drop-off pass to Ogilvy, Ball found former NBA player David Andersen for a pair of pick-and-pop 3s in the halfcourt. (Ball had another nice assist to Andersen later in the game when the Taipans switched a pick-and-pop between them, leading Andersen to the basket with a pinpoint pass over his defender, who was fronting him in the post).
He set his teammates up with a couple of easy baskets in transition with go-ahead passes as well, both of which came off of makes before the defence could get set.
Ball is always looking to push the pace, which suits him well for today's NBA. According to Basketball Reference, teams averaged 100.3 possessions per game last season, the highest pace since 1988-89. It's made all the more dangerous by him being a difference-maker on the glass, as Ball has the ability to grab and go. Whenever he pulls down a defensive rebound, it's off to the races.
Ball opened the first quarter looking to get his teammates involved, but he closed it as a scorer, scoring eight points in the final five minutes of the frame, all of which came on jump shots.
First, Ball knocked down a midrange pull-up out of the pick-and-roll.
Then, a catch-and-shoot 3 when the Taipans went to a zone.
Followed by a contested pull-up 3 over Scott Machado out of a pick-and-roll a couple of possessions later.
Ball went on to score seven more points in the second quarter, capping his first half off with another pull-up 3, this time in isolation.
Those are the types of shots Ball is going to have to make in the NBA for defences to respect him as a scorer. Maybe not quite to that degree of difficulty, but with how much he struggled with his jumper last season - Ball shot 25.0 percent from 3-point range and 36.0 percent from midrange with the Hawks, both of which were well below the league average - teams are going to drop underneath screens against him in pick-and-rolls and give him space in isolation to keep him out of the paint.
Ball does have the ability to punish defenders for pressing up on him. Not only does he have the speed to blow by them, he has the touch to finish around the basket in a variety of ways.
He had several nice finishes in the second half of this game, including this up-and-under...
...as well as this left-handed finish in overtime:
It'll be interesting to see how that translates to the NBA, particularly early on in his career. While his height gives him a natural advantage, Ball is not the most explosive athlete and lacks size at 190 pounds, the combination of which could become problematic when trying to finish through contact and among the trees.
Ball did the bulk of his damage through three quarters against the Taipans, but he made some key plays down the stretch.
Those plays? In addition to his left-handed layup in overtime, an alley-oop to Ogilvy in the fourth quarter.
A steal in the closing minute of regulation.
A game-tying 3 to force overtime.
A dunk in overtime to put the Hawks ahead by five points.
Most impressive of all is Ball committed only two turnovers in the game. He was in total control from start to finish, doing so against Machado, who only had a cup of coffee in the NBA but spent several years in the D-League before emerging as one of the best players in the NBL.
The Hornets will be hoping there's a lot more of this to come.
Worst Game: An uneventful duel with RJ Hampton
Stats: 10 points (3-14 FG, 2-8 3PT, 2-4 FT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers, 2 steals
Many NBA scouts had this game circled on their calendar with it being the first showdown of the season between Ball and Hampton, two of the best prospects from the 2019 recruiting class and two first-round picks in the 2020 NBA Draft.
What they got was a one-sided affair that saw the New Zealand Breakers blow the Hawks out by 31 points.
Ball came out of the gates cold, missing both of his shot attempts in the first quarter that led to an early seat on the bench. His first miss came on the opening possession of the game, with Hampton coming up with a tremendous block against him at the rim.
His second miss was a pull-up 3 out of the pick-and-roll.
Ball also committed a couple of turnovers in his short stint in the first quarter, the second of which came when he tried to score over the 6-foot-11 Robert Loe on a drive to the basket.
The way the Breakers defended Ball is probably what we're going to see a lot this season. They had Hampton fight through screens and recover when he could while the big defending the pick-and-roll dropped back, baiting him into pull-ups from midrange or 3-point range.
Ball couldn't get anything to go in the paint either. This possession typified his night:
It brings to light some of the concerns mentioned above. The Breakers weren't leaving Ball wide open, but they were giving him space to prevent him from getting into the paint. The few times he was able to get into the paint, he wasn't able to capitalize against bigger defenders. Were they makeable shots? Absolutely. But Ball lacks vertical pop and has a reputation of shying away from contact around the basket.
Ball even had a hard time getting by Hampton on a couple of occasions. Hampton is a physical defender, albeit one who is two inches shorter and five pounds lighter than Ball.
As much as he struggled to score against the Breakers, Ball still had a number of jaw-dropping passes, more than his four assists would suggest.
There was this no-looker in the second quarter that led to a foul...
...this full courter in the third quarter that led to a foul...
...and this left-hander in the fourth quarter that led to a dunk:
There aren't many 19 year olds who would even look to make those passes, mind alone be able to pull them off.
Somewhere in the middle: 16-point double-double
Stats: 16 points (5-14 FG, 2-5 3PT, 4-4 FT), 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 turnovers
The one thing that's consistent in these three games is Ball's passing. He seems good for at least one highlight-reel pass per game.
Against the Perth Wildcats, he had a couple.
The first came off of a smart cut when Bryce Cotton, another player who has had a cup of tea in the NBA and spent time in the D-League.
The second came in transition when he set Aaron Brooks up for a layup that he wasn't able to convert.
One of Ball's three turnovers was the result of him trying to do too much, but he's not all flash and no substance. He's constantly looking to advance the ball off of makes and misses, and set up shooters when he gets into the teeth of the defence.
Once again, his height helps him in that regard, as he can see over the top of the defence when locating shooters...
...as well as cutters.
Ball should thrive in any system that looks to push the pace and has a big who can pop and roll. The Hornets played at the slowest pace in the league last season, but they have the personnel to get out more. They also have a versatile big in P.J. Washington who should complement Ball well.
Scoring-wise, Ball knocked down a couple of 3s and scored a couple of layups, both of which came on well-designed sets that helped him get downhill.
When it comes to his passing, it's easy to see the hype. Ball is clearly the best passer in this draft and there's no reason why his passing chops shouldn't translate to the NBA. He's the type of player who could very well lead the league in assists at some point in his career.
What will determine Ball's ceiling at the next level is his scoring and defence.
The good on the scoring front: Ball has a soft touch around the basket, has an impressive handle for his size and is capable of creating shots for himself off the dribble from 3-point range. The bad: Ball was one of the least efficient scorers in the NBL last season, settles for some incredibly difficult shots and might have to rework his jumper.
As our Eric Fawcett wrote:
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.
Defensively, Ball has the size and length to be a factor defensively and showed some promise when he's locked in, but there were times when he was a step slow on rotations and was out of control on closeouts, especially against the Wildcats. Some of that will come in time - he only recently turned 19 years old and almost every rookie struggles defensively - but at 190 pounds, teams will likely target him on that end of the court by attacking him in isolation and putting him in pick-and-rolls to get him switched onto bigger players.
The result? Ball is perhaps the most polarizing player in the draft. His talent is undeniable, but he has some significant weaknesses to overcome to reach his star potential. It's going to be fascinating to see how he develops in the years to come.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.