Charlotte is starved for star-power, and with the third overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the team landed a prospect that has a shot at true stardom. LaMelo Ball was the most recognizable name in the entire draft class, without a shadow of a doubt. He achieved his pop-culture stardom with his family and the Big Baller Brand. He never played in the NCAA. Instead, Ball forged a circuitous path to the top of his draft class, most recently by way of the National Basketball League (NBL) in Australia. He is as polarizing a prospect as he is popular on social media, and he is now a member of the Hornets.
Ball has been in the spotlight since a young age, and sometimes lost in the chaos of his fame are the rare qualities that he possesses as a prospect. A 6-foot-7 lead guard, his passing creativity can only be described as something akin to wizardry.
Ball’s best-case outcome represents the most uncommon of archetypes — Luka Doncic, James Harden, and Damian Lillard. Ball has the potential to occupy the rarified air of other top offensive centerpieces who operate as pick-and-roll playmaking engines that produce efficient offense on a consistent basis, and elevate the play of any teammate in their orbit. This profile, at the highest order, is nearly unattainable and reserved for those select few who ascend into NBA royalty. LaMelo has a colossal task ahead to achieve his full potential. It is not his birthright to become a superstar, but his physical profile and preordained basketball gifts will give him the opportunity.
On the other hand, Ball has to achieve an extraordinary amount of improvement on the defensive end of the basketball floor and as a jump-shooter. Should he fail to progress in these categories, he will not reach his lofty potential. There is a floor for Ball as a second-unit offensive organizer akin to the career path of Shaun Livingston. Livingston was a successful and very respected NBA veteran, but the Charlotte organization is expecting far more than that.
It will be fascinating to observe how Head Coach James Borrego will prescribe lineups and rotations. Ball brings size to a smallish Charlotte backcourt. Will Borrego be bold enough to experiment with lineups that include Ball, Devonte’ Graham, and Terry Rozier?
Based on what we have seen so far in training camp and the preseason, it seems as though Ball will play with the Hornets’ second unit, behind Graham and Rozier. Charlotte had a desperate need for playmaking chops off the bench last season, and Ball should bring that in spades. In his first preseason game against the Toronto Raptors, he posted four assists in 17 minutes of play. His creativity as a passer was on full display, and although he must improve as a shooter and defender, the magic of his facilitation is already evident.
|Position:||PG||Team/Class:||Hawks (Australian NBL)|
|Shot Hand:||Right||Stats:||Click here|
In the NBL last season, Ball played 31.3 minutes per game, averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.5 turnovers. He had an impressive assist-turnover ratio of 2.67 and player efficiency rating of 18.3. His numbers were very impressive for a 19-year-old who was shouldered with constant playmaking responsibility at the professional level. His nearly 3-to-1 A/T ratio bodes well for Ball’s ability to evolve into the ideal playmaker in the future, and illustrates the distinctive vision that he possesses. However, it is important to note that he played in just 12 NBL games plus one NBL Blitz game (a preseason tournament).
Ball has terrific size to go along with his transcendent passing feel. His combination of height and tight handle gives him the ideal physical profile for the potential of NBA stardom. Simply put, it’s rare to see his particular cocktail of physical dimensions and skill. The question remains: will the Chino Hills native be a consistent triple threat at the next level as he matures?
In the NBL, Ball produced a mixed bag of offensive results. The young standout was steady in pick-and-roll action (PNR), which accounted for 32.5 percent of his offensive diet. As a PNR handler, he averaged 0.884 points per possession (PPP), which was at the 71st percentile for international players. If Ball can enter the NBA as a satisfactory PNR practitioner, this would accelerate his development and ultimate value.
In transition, Ball has the ability to be an ideal weapon. He has great end-to-end speed with the ball in his hands, can thread the needle from long distances while on the move (with either hand), and has outstanding vision and creativity as a passer. Unfortunately, his efficiency in transition was poor in the NBL. He ranked at the 39th percentile for combined assists and points per possession, with a turnover rate of 30 percent. In short, he tried to do too much in these situations.
Ball also has a long way to go to be considered an efficient half-court scorer. His NBL shooting splits were far from ideal (.389/.279/.700). He displays excellent ability to create space for his shots and has a quick release on his jumpers, but he struggles due to inconsistent mechanics and poor shot selection (6.6 three-point attempts per game). In terms of PPP, he was much better when catching and shooting (69th percentile) than shooting off the bounce (34th percentile). Additionally, Ball is not an elite finisher in the half court, which is due, at least in part, to a lack of strength and modest vertical pop. Around the basket in the half-court last season, Ball ranked at the 34th percentile for PPP; he did, however, show a great deal of promise with runners and floaters, ranking at the 70th percentile.
The Hornets will likely be happy if Ball is a serviceable defender as a rookie; it was debatable if he was even that in the NBL. To illustrate these points, the lanky point guard was abysmal defending the PNR action. In 37 possessions, he allowed 1.541 PPP while his opponents shot 67 percent from the field. Overall, he made numerous rookie mistakes as both a team and one-on-one defender, displaying poor awareness and effort at times.
Ball brings star power and unique talent to the Hornets, but his shortcomings may be further exposed against the best players on the planet. The 19-year-old must undertake the laborious task of evolving as a shooter at the NBA level, which is only achieved via repetition and thousands of jumpers when no one is watching. Defensive improvement takes effort and coaching; Ball possesses the frame to become a league-average defender, and will have to unearth the inner drive to achieve that standing.
— Lee Branscome
Dustin Barnes’ Player Profile
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.