After spending this season playing in Lithuania with Vytautas Prieunu, LiAngelo Ball decided to enter the 2018 NBA draft. One of his first stops during the pre-draft process will be competing in the Professional Basketball Combine at the IMG Academy in May.
This is a secondary combine for players who need more exposure. While this isn’t affiliated with the NBA Combine, 16 teams sent representatives last year and the prospects go through similar testing, measurements, scrimmages and team interviews.
Ball is hoping this combine will give him a chance to prove he can hold his own against fellow draft prospects, show that he developed during his time overseas, and impress teams in the interview portion of the event (when executives can meet face-to-face with the players for 30 minutes).
“I just want to show the scouts something they haven’t seen in person,” LiAngelo told HoopsHype. “A lot of the scouts haven’t been able to see me in person, so I feel like going to the Professional Basketball Combine will allow them to see how I’m built, see how I look and talk to me. I think this is a good chance for them to get to really know me.”
After leaving UCLA to sign in Lithuania, the the 19-year-old, 6-foot-5 shooting guard averaged 14.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 24.8 minutes – while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from three-point range (on 6.6 attempts per game).
Ball is determined to show that his production can translate in America when he matches up against his Professional Basketball Combine peers in three-on-three scrimmages. (There won’t be any five-on-five scrimmages due to the NBA’s pre-draft rules.)
“During the combine, I want to show that I can score on all three levels: posting up, midrange and with my three-point shot,” LiAngelo said. “My specialty is my three-point shot and I’m looking forward to showing that. As far as my development overseas, I feel like I got a lot better out here. But I feel like I’ll keep getting better no matter where I am. Everywhere I go, I’m going to keep working out and developing my game. There’s never enough practice, you can always get better. But I do feel like I’ve developed greatly.”
Ball believes he can be a difference-maker at the NBA level.
“I see myself as a starting shooting guard who can score quickly, score at a high rate and score efficiently,” LiAngelo said when asked what role he sees himself playing at the next level. “I’ve been a high scorer all my life, so I’m not just going to get to an NBA team and settle down and think, ‘Oh, I made it to an NBA team…’ I’ve worked hard my entire life to be a high scorer. Every team I’ve played on, I’ve been the highest scorer. In high school, I was our leading scorer. Overseas, I worked hard until I was the high scorer. I’m not going to stop in the NBA. I know it’s going to be a lot of work and it’s going to be hard, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
Last year, the inaugural Professional Basketball Combine was a success, featuring front-office representatives from 16 NBA franchises and 23 prospects (all of whom signed professional contracts this season). Jake Kelfer, who founded the PBC, told HoopsHype that he’s expecting even more NBA teams in attendance this May. The PBC is anticipating that 24 prospects will compete this year, but they’re waiting until after the Portsmouth Invitational to publicize this year’s official list of attendees.
Last year, the 16 teams that sent executives or scouts to the Combine were the Hawks, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Warriors, Pacers, Clippers, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Thunder, Magic, Sixers, Suns, Kings, Spurs, Jazz and Wizards. Kelfer said all 16 teams have committed to return and others will likely join them.
While in Lithuania, Ball had a number of impressive performances. One of his best games versus Lithuania-League (LKL) competition was against perennial contender and No. 1 seed Zalgiris Kaunas, when Ball led his team with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field (including 6-of-12 from three-point range). In another LKL contest against Kedainiai Nevezis, he had 28 points (on 9-of-17 shooting from the field, including 6-of-8 threes) and 6 rebounds. Ball’s efficiency and productivity were impressive in these contests, especially considering the 19-year-old was facing European veterans who are in their prime and he had a target on his back.
He also filled the stat sheet during the Big Baller Brand Challenge games and the Big Baller Brand International Tournament (although the competition in these games were often developmental teams or second-division squads). Ball had a 72-point, 11-rebound performance in a friendly against the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. Against VEF Skola, he recorded 32 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. He posted 31 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks versus Jonavos Jonava. He also had 44 points against the London Lions – one of the better teams he faced during the Big Baller Brand games.
From the moment that the Ball family decided to send LiAngelo and LaMelo to Lithuania to play professionally, Kelfer started communicating with their camp about the possibility of LiAngelo participating in the combine.
“Over the last year or so, I’ve gotten pretty close with Harrison Gaines – the agent for LiAngelo as well as Lonzo Ball and LaMelo Ball,” Kelfer told The HoopsHype Podcast in a recent interview. “When LiAngelo and LaMelo went to Lithuania, I was able to bring it up since LiAngelo now had an agent. This put him in a unique situation, being a guy who was planning to enter the 2018 NBA Draft but who already had an agent since he removed his college eligibility. I started bringing up the idea of having LiAngelo at the Professional Basketball Combine. One thing led to the next and the pieces kind of just came together. We’re really excited to have LiAngelo come to the PBC and we’re excited to see what he can do against NBA talent. We’re here to provide players with a platform.”
Despite the fact that LaMelo Ball is now a professional player who has an agent, he isn’t able to participate in any type of pre-draft event since he isn’t eligible for this year’s draft. Due to NBA rules, LaMelo cannot enter the NBA draft until his high school class is one year removed from graduation. That means the earliest he could be draft-eligible (and participate in any events like this) is in 2020.
The Professional Basketball Combine will take place after the NBA Combine on May 22 and 23 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL.
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