How LaMelo Ball Fits with NBA's Worst Teams

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 16, 2020

How LaMelo Ball Fits with NBA's Worst Teams

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    No matter which team makes the No. 1 pick in June's 2020 NBA draft, LaMelo Ball will be in play. 

    He's back in the United States after a foot injury, having averaged 17.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.7 threes through 12 NBL games in Australia. 

    Each front office must discuss how he'd fit. A number of lottery teams already have lead guards, which should spark internal debate about whether Ball could maximize his potential on their particular roster. 

    We broke down the pros and cons of his joining teams with a 40.0 winning percentage or worse.

Golden State Warriors

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    Biggest pro: Golden State Warriors' culture and mentorship for development

    Biggest con: Fewer touches and shots

    Ball's potential fit in Golden State became easier to envision after the Warriors swapped D'Angelo Russell for a non-playmaking wing in Andrew Wiggins at the Feb. 6 trade deadline. And with Stephen Curry turning 32 in March, the team (and Curry) may benefit from an additional ball-handler. 

    Curry's ability to play off the ball, plus Klay Thompson's versatility to play the 3, would also help make room for LaMelo. 

    Arguably the most important benefit for the 18-year-old, who's been in the spotlight since early high school and has five-plus million Instagram followers, would be the franchise's professionalism and winning culture.

    How would playing for a losing team through his rookie contract affect his morale and coachability? The first few seasons of Ball's maturity and development will be critical. And having coach Steve Kerr, Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green mentor him could help shape Ball's approach. 

    The only negative of his landing in Golden State would be the lack of early shots and touches. He wouldn't have a path toward dominating the rock and putting up All-Star numbers. But that may also be for the better.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Biggest pro: LaMelo's passing fills a need 

    Biggest con: Team defense

    The Cleveland Cavaliers must draft the best player available, and that may mean taking another guard in Ball. 

    It wouldn't be the prettiest fit. Other roster changes would need to follow. In all likelihood, coach John Beilein would have to make Collin Sexton or Darius Garland the sixth man. Or, general manager Koby Altman could trade one to make room for Ball, who'd be the team's top prospect.

    Other than having three ball-dominant guards, Cleveland's biggest issue would be the defensive pairings. Opponents already love attacking a Sexton-Garland backcourt. Ideally, LaMelo would play alongside a tougher perimeter defender. 

    Offensively, he complements Sexton and Garland with his 6'7" size and passing skills—features the Cavaliers starters lack. Ball's playmaking will translate before his scoring, which will take longer to develop as he improves his body and shooting. Meanwhile, Sexton is already averaging 19.8 points per game, shooting 44.8 percent on spot-up, non-dribble jumpers.

    Garland's shot-making would be a plus next to Ball as well, but last year's No. 5 pick is also getting comfortable creating for others, averaging 6.0 assists over his last six games. Ball and Garland would give the Cavaliers more of a dual-point guard look. 

    Meanwhile, LaMelo, a terrific ball-screen guard, would benefit from having Kevin Love and Andre Drummond as pick-and-roll targets—one for popping shots and one for lobs. 

    Still, the Cavaliers are the NBA's worst defensive team, and a mix of Ball with Garland or Sexton, plus Love and Drummond, offers zero defensive upside. 

New York Knicks

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    Biggest pro: Spotlight and starting role

    Biggest con: Lack of supporting talent/shooters

    Is New York a good spot for any prospect to develop? Ball won't need the Knicks to extend or enhance his brand, and they can't give him talent to play off. 

    They can offer an immediate full-time starting job, which Ball would appreciate. And given his style of play and familiarity with the cameras, he'd presumably enjoy the extra attention that comes with joining the Knicks. 

    On the other side of the equation, general manager Scott Perry and expected president Leon Rose should target Ball. He would arguably be the Knicks' best player and fill a gaping hole at point guard that's seemingly been there forever.

    Ball's most distinguishable strength is his ability to create open looks for teammates. That's been a crippling weakness of Dennis Smith Jr.'s. Mitchell Robinson, who ranks in the 98th percentile on pick-and-rolls and the 97th percentile in transition, would welcome Ball to the lineup.

    However, Ball was just a 25.0 percent three-point shooter in 12 NBL games for the Illawarra Hawks. RJ Barrett is making just 1.1 threes in 30.5 minutes (31.8 percent) per game, and the Knicks rank No. 28 in three-point percentage.

    Drafting Ball wouldn't add to the problem, but the four other projected starters and the team's three top-10 picks since 2017 are shooting below 40.0 percent from the floor. Ideally, the Knicks draft Ball and make improvements around him. 

    New York has to start somewhere by drafting right and finding a legitimate star prospect to build around. It wouldn't be surprising if Ball wanted to be that guy, but from a scouting perspective, his development would probably benefit from a different environment.   

Atlanta Hawks

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    Biggest pro: Formation of a power backcourt with Trae Young

    Biggest con: Team defense

    Young's presence shouldn't deter the Atlanta Hawks from considering Ball. The guards may even help each other—and improve the offensive play of John Collins and Clint Capela. 

    With all the attention Young draws, he'd take pressure off Ball, and the two of them in one lineup would mean having a pair of elite passers on the floor. Ball also spent time playing alongside Aaron Brooks in Australia, so sharing the rock shouldn't feel too unfamiliar. 

    Young also grades out in the 98th percentile as a spot-up shooter. Playing with Ball could force him to continue to expand his off-ball versatility the way Curry has in Golden State. 

    For Ball, he'd have to improve his catch-and-shoot ability, but the bigger concern is a Young-Ball defensive backcourt. The Hawks are No. 28 in defensive efficiency, and Young ranks last among 490 NBA players in defensive plus-minus

    Capela should help, however, and Cam Reddish and De'Andre Hunter have flashed encouraging defensive potential. 

    The draw to a Ball-Young backcourt is all about the offensive firepower it can unload in the form of shot-making and playmaking.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Biggest pro: Offensive core of Ball, Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns

    Biggest con: Team defense 

    On paper, Ball and Russell could coexist offensively, thanks to Russell's size (6'4", 193 lbs) and versatility. The Minnesota Timberwolves' newly acquired lead guard would take pressure off Ball early.

    And after Russell shot 45.3 percent as a spot-up player and 42.0 percent off screens in Golden State, he should be able to work from the wing and allow LaMelo to play to his strengths as a transition and pick-and-roll ball-handler. 

    A Ball-Russell backcourt would give the Wolves a significantly different look than the one they had when Wiggins and Jeff Teague were in the lineup. 

    However, Minnesota's defense will continue to be a concern. In two games with Russell, the team has given up 252 points. Ball won't make the Timberwolves any tougher to score on early in his career. So could this rotation succeed with Ball, Russell and Towns—three likely negative defenders—as franchise cornerstones?

Detroit Pistons

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    Biggest pro: Ball fills a core need

    Biggest con: Franchise uncertainty

    The Detroit Pistons need a point guard of the future, so Ball figures to be a target. But should he want Detroit? 

    Drummond is gone. Blake Griffin turns 31 next month and is coming off knee surgery. The franchise's most exciting long-term piece is Sekou Doumbouya, who's shooting 39.5 percent. This won't be a quick rebuild.

    On the bright side, Ball would walk into a 30-plus-minute role in Detroit, where he'd have a green light to play through mistakes and the chance to match his NBL numbers of 17.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

    He'd also come close to the 37.7 percent he shot with Illawarra, based on a projected heavy usage, which his jumper and body aren't equipped for this early. 

Charlotte Hornets

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    Biggest pro: Roster features improving talent

    Biggest con: Backcourt logjam

    The Charlotte Hornets' roster will look a lot stronger before the 2020 draft than it did heading into 2019's event. Would Ball fit into it? And does it make sense for them to squeeze him in regardless?

    If he does go to Charlotte, he would likely begin his career on the bench behind breakout guard Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier, who'll make $18 million next season. 

    Ball might not like that idea, but being brought along slowly wouldn't be the worst thing for his development. Rozier only has two years left on his deal, and his expiring contract could be a trade chip in 2021-22. By then, Ball's body and comfort level would be stronger and closer to ready for full-time minutes, and P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges could look like a solid, established forward tandem. 

    An alternative is experimenting with a three-guard lineup in matchups against teams that feature a small forward who's closer to a 2. Ball is 6'7" and may be better off defending certain wings than quicker ball-handlers. 

    With Graham and Ball, the Hornets could have two dangerous ball-screen playmakers in the lineup. And Rozier has shown this year he's capable of off-ball scoring, making 40.7 percent of his combined shots off screens and spot-ups. 

Chicago Bulls

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    Biggest pro: Star point guard could unlock talented roster

    Biggest con: Teammates' injury history

    There should be mutual love between the Chicago Bulls and Ball. 

    Talent hasn't been the issue for Chicago. It's there for Ball to unlock with his slick passing and setup ability. Coby White's game is trending more toward a scoring/shot-making specialist or sixth man than lead point guard. 

    Ball should have an immediate path to the starting job alongside the 6'6" Zach LaVine, who together would pack a balanced mix of size, ball-handling, transition play, shot-making and passing. 

    And of all the projected lottery teams, the Bulls' defensive efficiency is the best. 

    Ball could play to his strengths in Chicago without having to force the action. There wouldn't even be an opportunity for his bad habits—overdribbling, hero shots, extra flash—to return in a lineup with LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., particularly under disciplinarian coach Jim Boylen. 

    If there's a hesitation about his joining Chicago, it's the Bulls' presumed commitment to a frontcourt made up of injury-prone forwards and bigs.  

Washington Wizards

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    Biggest pro: Playing alongside Bradley Beal

    Biggest con: John Wall's return

    Of all the starting 2-guards on projected lottery teams, Beal could be the most helpful to Ball. For a to-be 19-year-old rookie ball-handler, the transition game will come easier while playing alongside a 29.1-point-per-game playmaking scorer.

    Ball could focus on his strengths by passing and setting up teammates. As a scorer, he can take what the defense must give up to put emphasis on stopping Beal. 

    The biggest question when projecting Ball's fit with the Washington Wizards concerns John Wall's return from his Achilles injury.

    It's tougher to picture a happy, thriving Ball if the veteran gets back to 30 minutes per game. Even if coach Scott Brooks wanted to operate out of the box with a three-guard lineup, Wall and Ball together doesn't sound workable, given their projected defensive outlooks, preferences for handling the ball and unreliable jumpers.

    Brooks could load-manage Wall and have him share the role with Ball for the first few seasons—until either Wall's contract expires in 2023 (player option for final year), or he loses effectiveness, and Ball is more prepared for the starting job. That would be the most reasonable plan, even if it requires patience from Ball and a fanbase that wants to see its new playmaker fully unleashed.

    For the Wizards, Ball could be viewed as both the best player available and an insurance policy for the franchise's highest-paid player.

Sacramento Kings

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    Biggest pro: Talent in lineup

    Biggest con: Franchise instability 

    The Sacramento Kings aren't perfectly suited to jump-start Ball's development.

    Aside from the unflattering reports about management and a potential Buddy Hield trade request, the rock belongs to De'Aaron Fox in Sacramento. While Ball may be the best player available when the Kings are on the clock, their roster won't maximize his potential. 

    Fox and LaMelo are both better with the ball. Neither is a plus shooter, and Fox isn't going anywhere. There is no scenario in sight in which Ball would eventually take over. At least in Atlanta, Cleveland, Golden State and Minnesota, the starting point guard shows more versatility to spot up and shoot off screens. That's not Fox's game. 

    It may be beneficial to have another passer in the lineup next to the 6'3" Fox, who'd focus more on scoring in a lineup with LaMelo. Between the two, they offer a fair mix of balanced offensive skills and size. Plus, LaMelo did play off the ball some overseas. 

    The Kings could make a Fox-Ball duo work to a degree. But for Ball, the front office's instability is a big turnoff. 

Phoenix Suns

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    Biggest pro: Talent on roster

    Biggest con: Playing behind Ricky Rubio

    The Phoenix Suns took care of their hole at point guard by signing Ricky Rubio through 2022. Ball would need to accept a backup role early in his career, unless coach Monty Williams liked the idea of playing Rubio with Ball alongside Devin Booker at the 3. 

    There are still more pros than cons to his joining Phoenix, with Booker a fitting star to play off, Deandre Ayton's scoring efficiency and the Suns' growing list of shot-making wings. The franchise is moving in the right direction, and by the time Rubio's deal expires, Ball could be ready to help push it further.

    Just as Rubio has done for the Suns' leading scorer, Ball could continue to help reduce Booker's shot-creation and playmaking load.

    Unless Phoenix (22-33) collapses after the All-Star break, or it gets lucky during the lottery, he might be out of reach in the draft. In that case, Ball will be an appealing target to trade up for.


    Stats courtesy of ESPNSynergy Sports or Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.