In high school, LaMelo Ball was as popular as LeBron James. Overseas, fans set record attendances to get a glimpse of the American phenom. Now, as his NBA career begins, will he live up to all the hype?
“He was one of those guys you’re afraid to pick but afraid to pass on,” as one Western Conference executive whose team picked in the lottery told HoopsHype.
HoopsHype spoke with six executives, three NBA scouts, two of Ball’s former teammates, and one overseas opponent who is also entering his rookie season in the NBA, for their thoughts on what the future holds for Ball.
The general consensus is Ball’s best attributes are his passing ability and size for his position.
Western Conference executive who saw Ball play in Australia: “The kid has a flare to his game. He’s got great confidence. His size at 6-foot-7 is a huge advantage in our open game these days. He has an elite passing skill set and reads plays before they happen. He has a feel you can’t teach. His shooting will catch up.”
Eastern Conference executive whose team drafted in the lottery: “He’s super talented. He can play all aspects of the game. He has unbelievable vision. There will be growing pains. The guy hasn’t played many games in the last few years.”
Josh Boone, former Nets first-round pick, and Illawarra Hawks teammate of Ball last season: “His court vision is phenomenal. For only being 18 years old, he sees more of the court than virtually any other male 18-year-old I’ve ever seen. The thing that I just saw the most was his upside is just insane. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I think he probably has the greatest upside to any player that I’ve ever played with in terms of how good he is now versus how good he could potentially be. His ceiling is just almost limitless.”
Jae’Sean Tate, Rockets rookie, and former Sydney Kings player: “He’s one of the top passers I think I’ve ever played against. He’s sneaky athletic. He caught a couple of bodies. I don’t think people give him enough credit for his finishing around the rim. It’s really impressive. If you go back and look at how he finishes with the reverse, using the rim as a defender, offhand, off foot dunking.”
NBA Scout 1: “He’s a high-level passer in all situations, fancy and routine. He has excellent vision, energy, pace, and confidence he plays with.”
NBA Scout 2: “He has tremendous size for the point guard spot. He has exceptional court vision and passing ability. His outside shot needs some work, and he needs to get stronger, but he will be a really good player for a while.”
Ball has current holes in his game, including his shooting, defense, and physique. Tate, who guarded Ball during their overseas matchups, also shared his defensive strategy.
Eastern Conference executive No. 2, whose team picked in the lottery: “His shooting is very erratic. He doesn’t play any defense. He does a lot of dribbling, but he never can really beat a guy off the dribble to make his passing effective. In the open court, he’s a pretty good passer and has good court awareness and feel.”
Eastern Conference executive No. 3, whose team picked in the lottery: “Not a big fan. He’ll have good games and could put up numbers, but he can’t shoot. Very inconsistent mechanics. Poor shot selection and low defensive IQ and instincts, along with lack of strength and effort. With that said, he’s a very good passer and will likely be elite in that area soon. Tough to play him off the ball, though.”
NBA Scout 1: “His main weaknesses are his caliber of strength, defensive discipline on and off the ball, and shooting.”
NBA Scout 3: “He’s an elite creator for others and a high-level ball-handler, but just worried about everything else in terms of ability to score, and shooting more specifically, as well as his willingness to defend.”
Josh Boone: “Number one is going to be his shot selection, which I think will continue to get better. Number two is going to be his body physically. He needs to get stronger. He needs to continue to work in the weight room so that he can avoid injuries. The third thing is probably his defense. Obviously, his defense needs to get better, but I did see a drastic improvement. I was encouraged by the fact that he does really try on defense. It’s still something that he needs to learn the intricacies of, but it’s not that he doesn’t put the effort into it.”
Jae’Sean Tate: “We definitely didn’t want him to get going downhill with his dominant hand going right. We wanted to bait him into shooting off the dribble. I think those are two big things. On the defensive side, we were trying to just take advantage of his youth and how young he was.”
Ball isn’t your typical teenager due to his popularity for his play on the court, but he is off the court, according to the man who shared a locker room with him last season.
Josh Boone: “He got along great with everybody, especially a couple of the younger guys on the team. He was willing to listen to the older guys like me, like David Andersen, who’s played in the NBA as well. He would take our advice into account. He was always looking to get better, as well.”
“He’s a little bit quieter than people think he is. I think he did keep to himself a little bit. There were a lot of times where he’d just be in his apartment playing video games. I want him to have the other younger guys would go over to his apartment and play with them.”
The Hornets are a small-market team that will benefit tremendously from Ball’s popularity regarding jersey sales and eventual ticket sales.
Jae’Sean Tate: “That was definitely one of the main reasons why I decided to join the NBL was because I knew that the coverage of the NBA with RJ Hampton, LaMelo, Didi Louzada, and Andrew Bogut. I just knew that the media coverage was going to be what I needed to have executives or scouts take notice of what I do.”
“I think they set a record for attendance this last year from start to finish. He only played maybe half the season. That speaks volumes in itself. “There would be people banging on the cars. He’s a rock star.”
Heading into the draft, Ball drew comparisons ranging from Shaun Livingston pre-injury, a taller Ricky Rubio, Penny Hardaway, and Jason Kidd before the Charlotte Hornets selected him third overall. Ball also spent considerable time learning from 10-year NBA veteran and former Illawarra teammate, Aaron Brooks, to help hasten his learning curve heading into his rookie season.
Josh Boone: “If he’s able to continue the development process, I certainly think he could be an All-Star in the NBA. Whether that’s a perennial All-Star or, one time, or whatever. There are a lot of variables that go into it.”
Onyeka Okongwu, Ball’s former high school teammate: “He is a once-in-a-lifetime player. I’m telling people that he is going to amount to a star. He has been my friend since I was a little kid. We have been doing this for a long time.”
Jae’Sean Tate: “I think he’s a better passer than his brother 100 percent. I think his ceiling is higher. He just has such a different game. He’s really just a different player in his style of play. He’s kind of herky-jerky, but he’s also really lanky.”
“I think the sky’s the limit for a guy like that because he has so much potential. He’s towering over me. He’s a legit, 6-foot-7. It’s just the ability of his ball-handling, his IQ, his vision that is very rare.”
Eastern Conference Executive: “I think he can be a high-level starter and is a potential All-Star.”
Western Conference Executive: “He could be Livingston before Shaun got hurt.”
Former NBA executive: “I thought he was overrated, to be honest. He’s not the competitor his brother (Lonzo) is. He has excellent vision, size, and ball-handling ability. He’s an inefficient scorer and a bad defender, but he could get better. I see him as kind of a Rubio type of player with a higher upside.”
NBA Scout 1: “He reminds me of a taller Rubio and Jason Williams. He has more rim finishing stuff than both of them. All are electric in transition.”
NBA Scout 2: “I’m not sure he can be an All-Star-caliber player down the road, but he will be solid the more he plays.”
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto