Any changes that happen at the top of NBA teams’ draft boards between now and the 2020 NBA Draft (whenever that happens) are likely to be a result of either careful analysis or straight-up overthinking. The information flow has ceased among NBA teams. As far as has been reported, no teams have yet begun interviewing players or taking the pre-draft process virtual in any meaningful way. Yet LaMelo Ball seems to be striking the fancy of NBA decision-makers once again.
As Sam Vecenie wrote at The Athletic this week as he placed Ball in the top slot on his big board, “… in this draft, where things are this up in the air, I’m willing to roll the dice on Ball and hope he keeps getting better. The talent level is very real at a premium position.” It’s fair to wonder how anyone is changing how they feel about anyone with pro basketball shut down across the planet. Which brings the conversation back to the central question: Thoughtful reconsideration or overthinking?
Back in September, Ball drew comparisons to everyone from Spencer Dinwiddie to Luka Doncic. As the league transitioned toward smaller lineups for the bulk of a 48-minute game, efficient wing playmakers who can bust matchups became teams’ logical counterpunch. What Kawhi Leonard did in the playoffs last year, thoroughly controlling every moment of Toronto’s championship run, showed the value such a player can have.
Ball is not that big nor at that level as a defender, but the mismatches he will pose from day one in the NBA are nonetheless similar. Where Ball’s true value lies is in his genes. Like his brother Lonzo, LaMelo is a preternatural playmaker. The aggressive version of Lonzo the Pelicans unlocked is a great template to imagine how LaMelo can translate to the NBA.
With an absence of new information, Ball tantalizes thanks to his unique style and versatility. LaVar Ball coached his sons’ teams to play fast, and they dictate tempo better than most young players. The difference with LaMelo is a far more aggressive and capable scorer in addition to quarterbacking his teams.
From sand workouts to build athleticism to the green light he’s had at every level, Ball is unpredictable because nothing scares him. Ball isn’t scared to take outrageous off-the-dribble triples or take a floater from a depraved angle.
That aggressiveness is the root of the knock on him — unlike Lonzo, LaMelo has some bad habits built into his game that could be harder to fix. In a video breakdown with Mike Schmitz of ESPN, Ball praised the Ilawarra coaching staff for helping him better understand the principles of team defense. Though he made strides in that department over the course of the season that could help him survive defending wing players in the NBA, Ball is not unlike his competition for the No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Edwards Jr., in that at his worst, he plays like an undisciplined amateur.
The idea that teams are overthinking their heightened excitement about Ball doesn’t hold much water. If anything, NBA scouts probably allowed a season-ending foot injury to get in the way of their analysis earlier in the winter. This is a player NBA teams have been monitoring since high school, and he’s improved greatly over the years. His time in the National Basketball League in Australia was inconsistent and didn’t result in a lot of winning, but the immense ceiling is still there.
As this year’s pre-draft process begins to look more like the Wild West, teams will rest on the laurels of their scouting and analytics. There will be no Draft Combine; no workouts. A player like Ball with multiple seasons of professional experience and heaps of intel is likely to benefit, especially because of how smoothly he will fill the need for any team searching for a jumbo playmaker.