Could LaMelo Ball really be the best player in the 2020 NBA Draft?

LaMelo Ball might be one of the most well-known names in this NBA Draft class but his game is a black box. What can he offer an NBA team?

LaMelo Ball has had one of the more adventurous prospect journeys ever, a prep career than went from scoring 92 points in a game and winning state championships at Chino Hills, to a failed mission to play professionally with his brother LiAngelo Ball in Lithuania, then back to Spire Prep Academy in Ohio. All of that was just his “high school” years. With NCAA eligibility concerns because of his brief pro career and BBB signature shoe, Ball then notoriously elected to play in Australia’s NBL for the Illawarra Hawks in 2019.

Though he only played 12 games in the NBL, the 18-year old may have done enough to make a lasting impression on NBA front offices. With an estimated wingspan of around 6-foot-10, Ball is one of the more intriguing point guard prospects of the past few drafts. In a draft this shallow in terms of clear top-tier talent, that might be enough to go No. 1 overall.

Ball is a shot-creator to the core. Everything he does on the offensive end is directed towards scoring opportunity for himself or for a teammate. He uses a combination of mesmerizing hesitations and staunch aggressiveness to play with the defense, then darts passes in the direction of open teammates or launches his desired shot.

He excels at toying with the defense off the dribble. He’s excellent when he can slow the game down and move defenders with his off-rhythm handle, especially in pick-and-roll. At 6-foot-7, he can see over the opposition, and his handle is excellent. In 196 pick-and-roll possessions (passes included), Ball accounted for 185 points (.944 PPP) in his 13 NBL games.

Ball throws his fair share of highlight-reel dimes on the break and can be an aggressive finisher at times, though he needs to add strength. He averaged 6.8 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game in NBL play, and he could have had a lot more assists with better teammates, to be honest.

In the half-court, Ball is a solid pick-and-roll decision maker at this stage. He’s a creative passer, showing plenty of potential as a well-rounded floor general. His size allows him to put guys on his hip and throw passes from all kinds of angles on his drives. Ball’s handle is maybe the most pleasing part of his game to watch. He plays at his own pace and seemingly glides up the floor with his lanky 6-foot-7 frame. He has a start-and-stop pace in his dribble that keeps the defense off-balance in the half-court as well as when finishing on the move. When his 3-point shot is falling, he can handicap a defense with his hesitation package.

In transition, Ball can be a very creative finisher but, again, needs to add strength. Additional strength will also help him maximize scoring efficiency since there are questions about his ceiling as a shooter and finisher.

The bigger concern with him at this stage is his 3-point shot. Ball struggled from deep in the NBL and has inconsistent mechanics at times. A lot of the shooting issues seem to be related to a lack of consistency in his delivery, particularly with his footwork. He looks like a comfortable shooter in catch-and-shoot but throws up some wild attempts while on the move.

Shooting is a weakness in Ball’s offensive game at times, but he is capable, and he certainly never lacks confidence. Improved mechanics and shot selection should boost the percentages a bit. He struggled from three in the NBL at 25 percent (20-of-80) on almost seven attempts per game but was largely in an on-ball role with heavy attention on him from the defense. The majority of those attempts were either on the move or pull-ups.

Moving into a more spaced out league and playing with better players should help him see more clean catch-and-shoot opportunities and raise his overall percentages. He was much better in spot-up situations compared to on the move or off the dribble, ranking in the 67th percentile at 35 percent on spot-ups per Synergy Sports. The sample size is small (only 20 attempts), but his form looks much more consistent on those shots.

Inside the arc, Ball shows a floater package that could help unlock his ability to truly keep defenses off-balance when he is coming downhill. He’s definitely not a traditional mid-range player, but in today’s NBA, at his position, that is something most teams will be happy to live with.

On the defensive end, Ball should be competent due to his length and mobility. On-ball he is often competitive but could be a little more consistent with his footwork. Off-ball, he can get caught watching the ball and lose track of his man. He has potential as a high steal rate guy — he is a bit of a gambler in the passing lanes (two steals per 36 in NBL). He will likely be tasked with secondary and tertiary options on the wing, leaving him more freedom to roam for steals and deflections. He has shown potential within a team defensive scheme, but this is another area that lacks consistency at this stage.

Ball rebounds extremely well for a guard, averaging almost six defensive rebounds for Illawarra. Grabbing a rebound and pushing in transition is when he’s at his best at this stage. While he’s not the most physical presence on the defensive glass, he makes an effort and tends to track down long rebounds. His length helps him tremendously in this area.

Based on what he’s done so far, and his style of play, it will be somewhat surprising if Ball is ever an efficient high-volume scorer. His path to becoming a star is likely shooting enough to fully unlock his elite creation potential. If he can create legitimate shooting gravity with his jumper, it will go a long way towards him becoming one of the better primary creators in the league.

There are a few different ways the youngest Ball brother can become a solid NBA player, and his combination of pure skill with the ball, size and speed make him the No. 1 player on my personal board. Whoever wins the lottery will strongly consider him, and should probably take him unless it’s a team like the Hawks who already have their star at point guard. Even for them, it might be hard to pass on everything Ball brings to the table.