For the second year in a row, the Professional Basketball Combine gave 24 under-the-radar prospects a chance to significantly help their draft stock in front of representatives from approximately 20 NBA teams. However, there was one big difference between last year’s event and this year’s PBC, which took place earlier this week: the presence of the Ball family.
After leaving UCLA and spending this season in Lithuania, LiAngelo Ball entered the 2018 NBA Draft and kicked off his pre-draft process by participating in this secondary combine. His father LaVar Ball was also in attendance to show support.
Because of the Balls, there was a bit more media in the gym at the IMG Academy (where the Pro Basketball Combine takes place) and way more social-media buzz around the event (HoopsHype posted a handful of videos from the event and they’ve accumulated over 3,000,000 views across different platforms).
While LiAngelo mostly kept to himself and focused on showcasing his game, LaVar chatted with other prospects, media and the event’s staffers about a wide range of topics. He talked about how the Los Angeles Lakers could beat the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series right now. He explained how his oldest son, Lonzo Ball, will lead L.A. to 50 wins next year. He blamed the Lakers’ head trainer for the injuries that Lonzo suffered as a rookie. He discussed the family’s time in Lithuania, saying it was great for LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball because there’s nothing else to do in the country except grind in the gym. He said that his boys, including Lonzo, will sign for “pennies” when it’s time to negotiate their contracts because they’ll make so much off the court that they can afford to sign at a discount (to ensure they’ll be surrounded by stars).
While LaVar said some outrageous things that raised eyebrows and sparked debate in the gym, he was friendly with everyone, extremely accessible and gracious with his time (taking selfies with every kid who asked). It’s also worth noting that he’s the exact same way when the cameras are off and he’s just having a normal conversation; it’s not an act that he switches on and off.
But even when the cameras are off of LaVar and LiAngelo, they’re never far away. That’s because the camera crew and producers for the family’s Facebook Watch reality show, Ball in the Family, were hovering around throughout the duration of the combine. There was one extremely nice woman who had to run around and get just about everyone in the gym to sign a release form so that the show had permission to broadcast footage of each individual (even if they were just in the background and didn’t interact with the family). Even if LiAngelo and LaVar were just sitting around, quietly waiting for a workout to begin, there would be seven or eight people surrounding them, pointing cameras in their face and waiting for the next exciting moment to happen.
It also means that LaVar and LiAngelo usually make a big entrance, even if it’s unintentional. At one point, several people scrambled to one corner of the gym, causing several people nearby to wonder what was happening. It turns out LaVar and the family’s agent, Harrison Gaines, were just entering the gym through a side door and the producers needed to get that shot.
LiAngelo pointed out that because he’s grown accustomed to having all eyes on him, he probably had a bit of an advantage entering the combine.
“I feel like I’m a lot more used to that than the normal player coming in [to this environment],” LiAngelo explained. “I’ve been doing this for years. I mean, there’s been cameras all around since my junior year of high school. That’s just stuff that comes with the game – getting filmed, doing interviews and stuff like that. It doesn’t feel too different [here]. You just go out there and try to produce; you can’t worry about your surroundings.”
LiAngelo performed pretty well throughout the event. He measured in at 6’5.25 with a wingspan of 6’9 and he recorded a max vertical of 36.5 inches (which was fourth-best at the PBC). During the drills, his shot was somewhat inconsistent, but he did get hot from NBA three-point range several times.
“I feel like I’m an NBA player. That’s why I declared for the draft and that’s also why I’m here,” LiAngelo said. “I feel like my game will translate [well] to the NBA. I mean, I got a year of experience playing European basketball, where I was coming off of screens and shooting pull-ups and all of that. Out here, there were similar sets, like a lot of pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops. I feel like being out there [in Lithuania] helped me out.”
During his three-on-three scrimmages, he quietly put up impressive numbers. At times, it seemed like his teammates didn’t trust him or just avoided passing him the ball. However, in each of his two games, he ended up leading his team in points.
During the first scrimmage, Ball’s team lost, but he had 15 points on 55 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent shooting from three-point range, while also chipping in 3 assists and 3 rebounds.
In the second scrimmage, Ball stood out more and his team got the win. He led his squad in points (17), rebounds (4), blocks (2) and steals (1) while shooting 58 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range.
However, it’s worth noting that one of the best players on the opposing team, LaGerald Vick from Kansas, got injured during an earlier scrimmage and couldn’t participate in this game. Instead, a Professional Basketball Combine trainer named Ben Resner filled in and guarded LiAngelo quite a bit. (Resner is about 6’2 and has some college basketball experience, playing a limited role for Stony Brook University from 2011 to 2014 before becoming a coach in the G League.)
LiAngelo showed patience, didn’t force anything offensively, made hustle plays and continued to shoot despite missing some early attempts. However, his footwork needs to improve significantly and he tries to post up a lot, which he’ll have trouble doing at the next level since he’s just over 6’5.
He also seemed to struggle guarding some of the better athletes he faced such as Dikembe Dixson from UIC, who finished Top-3 in max vertical, standing vertical and three-quarter court sprint.
“It’s a good setting with a lot of good players,” LiAngelo said. “I feel like I did good… In three-on-three, there’s a lot less help and a lot more man-to-man, so you really have to be focused on who you’re guarding and who you’re going against.”
Overall, the event provided exposure for LiAngelo since many NBA teams didn’t get a chance to see him in Lithuania. They came away with a better understanding of who he is as a player and how he stacks up against other prospects who they’ve seen at the college level.
The 19-year-old also got a chance to interact with a number executives. He told HoopsHype that he met with front-office personnel from the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder while at the event, and he felt the interviews went well.
“The team interviews were really great,” LiAngelo said. ‘They didn’t even feel like interviews; I just started talking and vibing with the coaches and executives. I felt like they went well for me.”
LiAngelo also said that he has upcoming workouts scheduled with the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
(A Warriors’ spokesman refuted his comment, but Ball’s camp believes there was a miscommunication. Last month, the two sides agreed to schedule a workout for some time in June, but no official date has been set yet. This is why LiAngelo said he plans to work out for Golden State soon, but the Warriors’ spokesperson said that nothing is on their calendar at the moment.)
LiAngelo said that he watches a lot of James Harden, LeBron James and Klay Thompson and tries to learn from their respective games. “People say I play like [Klay] sometimes,” he added.
Most mock drafts don’t have the middle Ball brother getting drafted. It seems he’s approaching the draft realistically and understands that if he isn’t selected next month, he could be a candidate for a two-way contract or a spot in the G League (which could lead to a call-up).
“There are more ways to get into the NBA than just being drafted,” LiAngelo said. “You can get into the league as an undrafted free agent. If I don’t get drafted, I’m not just going to stop there.”
Still, he feels like he has what it takes be a contributor in the NBA.
“I feel like I can knock down shots for a team; I feel really confident about that,” he said. “I feel like my defense is good too. With the right coaching… I feel like I’ll be a good defender in the league.”
LaVar was pleased with his son’s performance throughout the three-day event.
“I think LiAngelo did great all week,” LaVar told HoopsHype. “He does what he does, which is go hard, play defense and put that ball in the hole.
“And any time you’re working out or trying out for teams, you don’t need it to work out with everybody. You just need one person who will say, ‘I believe in you.’ That’s all it is, man… I’ve seen a lot of growth from ‘Gelo [over the last year].”
While LaVar has been outspoken about wanting his three sons to play together on the Lakers, he made it clear that he wants LiAngelo to go to the best situation – even if it means his plan won’t come to fruition.
“My preference, as I’ve said, is to have all my boys on the Lakers,” LaVar said. “But if the Lakers are thinking something else and another team is thinking, ‘Man, this guy can really do something for our team and start’ or whatever, then I’m not just to going to be like, ‘Let’s [have LiAngelo] go to the Lakers and play in the G League.’ We’re going to go with the team who really believes in [LiAngelo]. That’s all I hope for, as far as ‘Gelo showing teams that he can play out here.”
LiAngelo also stressed that he’d love to play for any team.
“I’ve been saying I’d like to play for the Lakers because my brother is on the team and of course I want to play with him, but I’d love to play for any other team too,” he said.” I don’t really have a favorite or a top choice or anything like that. I’m ready to play for any team.”
Speaking of his brother, LiAngelo did say that he’s gotten advice from Lonzo as he goes through this process. Lonzo just navigated the pre-draft process one year ago and obviously did well, as he was selected No. 2 overall by the Lakers. He’s tried to prepare LiAngelo for what’s next each step of the way, even though LiAngelo’s journey will be pretty different from his brother’s.
“I feel like that helps me a lot because he went through all of this first and he lets me know what to expect,” LiAngelo said. “He’s also shown me certain techniques and moves that they do in the NBA. I feel he’s helped me a lot.”
In addition to getting an assist from his brother, LiAngelo also revealed that four players from the Junior Basketball Association have been living with the Ball family in order to help with his pre-draft training. The JBA is the league that LaVar founded, which pays amateur players (and features the youngest Ball brother, LaMelo). LaVar explained his reasoning for letting the four JBA players move in with his family.
“The good thing about that was it helped ‘Gelo get ready,” LaVar said. “I said, ‘I need you to play against a 7-footer. I need you to play against a 6-foot-11 big who’s athletic and fast. I need you to play against a guy who’s 6-foot-9. And I need you to play against a fast-a** guard.’ Those are the four types of players you’re going to play against in the NBA, so why not go against them every day? I brought in all four of them to help my boy out.”
It’s unclear how many NBA teams will work out the middle Ball brother or whether he has a legitimate chance of making an NBA roster next season, but he’s approaching this process with the right attitude and he’s working hard as he tries to achieve his dream. And while his father makes bold comments and outlandish predictions, ‘Gelo remains humble and relatively realistic about his future – much like the contrast between LaVar and Lonzo all throughout last year.
Draft, Draft, Draft Combine, Top, James Harden, Klay Thompson, LaMelo Ball, LaVar Ball, LiAngelo Ball, Lonzo Ball, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns