Can LaMelo Ball Go Number One?
Remember the Ball brothers at Chino Hills? Arguably the greatest high school team of all-time, they had the entire country checking into BallIsLife and Courtside Films to see how many points they had put up on whatever other hopeless SoCal private school the night before. Led by Lonzo and his wonky jumper and forty inch vertical, Chino Hills ran up and down blitzing teams out of the gym. LiAngelo, the middle Ball brother, would fill it up from three and on quick post-ups; a high school match-up nightmare. Then there was LaMelo, the little dude with the big hair who looked incredibly out of place amongst the trees that usually filled out the rest of the line-up. The legend of LaMelo really started to form the next couple seasons after his brothers had left, and his game became one that was chaos mixed with pull-up jumpers. He started shooting from half-court to start games, he would draw double and triple teams every possession, and he scored 92 points in one game. It was insanity, but it was impossible to look away.
Since LaMelo’s last season in high school, things have gone a little haywire. After LiAngelo was kicked off UCLA’s team for theft on a trip to China, LaMelo’s commitment to the Bruins was off the table. After playing internationally in Lithuania for a brief period of time and hooping for the SPIRE Institute for a season, LaMelo spent his last season with the Illawarra Hawks in the Australian NBL, putting him against the best competition in his young career. By all accounts, he flourished in his new spot. He won the NBL’s Rookie of the Year award on 17ppg/7.5rpg/7apg and 37% shooting. Now, LaMelo is eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft, and he has a chance to go even higher than his oldest brother.
The 2020 NBA Draft is lining up to be one of the least predictable in the past decade, but not for the reason most fans would hope. Usually there is one or two stand-out prospects at the top and then a pretty consistent list of ten to twelve players in the lottery before things can go off the predicted rails, but this year could be entirely different because the talent just isn’t there. Before the college season started, it appeared that James Wiseman out of Memphis would lead his young Tigers team to an American Conference championship, make a deep tournament run alongside fellow NBA prospect Precious Achiuwa, and then waltz to the stage on draft night as the number one overall pick, but that combination is impossible now. Wiseman hasn’t played for Memphis since November after some trouble with the NCAA, and his stock has fallen because of the lack of tape. Besides Wiseman, players like Anthony Edwards and Cole Anthony have also seen their stock fluctuate through rocky team and individual seasons, and now the top of the draft looks as wide open as ever. Insert, LaMelo.
From a strictly scouting perspective, LaMelo is a top-tier prospect. He’s a lanky 6’8”, has a tight handle, solid athleticism, can moderately shoot, high playmaking skills, and projects to be a Ben Simmons-type but VERY willing to let it fly from three. Had he played at the collegiate level this year, I fully believe he’d be the consensus number one. Playing in the more dynamic college game as opposed to the NBL, LaMelo’s skills would have been far better showcased. The 37% field goal percentage is ghastly, but he’s only eighteen and has played his entire life with the greenest light known to man, so it’s not as large a red flag as the number would indicate. The NBL, while not near as talented as some other foreign leagues, is still professional basketball, and when LaMelo really should have been in his senior year of high school he was playing against grown men. That experience, along with his measurables, put LaMelo in the top-five of nearly any draft, but with 2020’s lack of star potential it could push him to number one.
Now, LaMelo certainly comes with some baggage. He’s already massively popular among younger fans, for better or for worse. He has 5.2 million Instagram followers and has been mentioned on ESPN on a regular basis since he was fourteen. When Zion Williamson was absolutely obliterating high school basketball, LaMelo would draw just as big of crowds at AAU tournaments. While this of course means he is used to the spotlight, it also brings a lot of scrutiny which can be difficult for a young player. And then there’s his father, Lavar. All in all, by drafting LaMelo you bring on a lot more than just a talented young player, but it shouldn’t deter teams from selecting him. If anything, a team looking for a kickstart, such as the Knicks, should be focusing on LaMelo already. You know he’s going to sell tickets and jerseys, and he has the tools to become a legitimate All-Star in the NBA.
A lot can happen between now and June 25th, but I can only see LaMelo’s stock rise. While he won’t be playing from now until the draft unlike many of his peers, this probably helps him in the long run. The game tape he has is impressive and he’s not going to shrink or lose his game in four months. This break also gives him and his team more time to push his brand to NBA scouts, which absolutely matters despite what NBA teams would want you to think. I do believe that the lottery order will matter as to who is taken first this year due to there being no consensus best player, but if the Knicks or the Timberwolves slide into number one LaMelo could easily be at the top of their boards. No matter where he lands, be prepared to see a lot of LaMelo Ball jerseys on the backs of fans across the nation.