If LaMelo Ball's objective in Australia's NBL was to reshape his image before the 2020 NBA draft, then mission accomplished. He demonstrated levels of maturity and competence that extinguished previous concerns over his style and professionalism during his time in high school and Lithuania.
But there are still holes in Ball's scouting report that he couldn't clear up through just 12 games with the Illawarra Hawks. Now lottery teams must make critical assessments—through an abbreviated predraft process—on how much stock to put into the 18-year-old's question marks, including a big one that could determine his NBA trajectory and where he's worth drafting:
How Worrisome Is His Shot?
Special passing, vision and IQ create a high floor for Ball, who averaged 6.8 assists in the NBL (second in league). The effectiveness and development of his shot will determine his ceiling.
His jumper represents an impactful swing skill for teams picking early and expecting a star. Gradual shooting improvement could elevate Ball into a high-scoring playmaker like Trae Young, but how dangerous would he be with just an average jump shot?
An average-shooting Ball could still be valuable enough to reach quality-starter status, given his 6'7" size, expanding athletic capability and signature ability to create for teammates. He can also generate transition offense and score on floaters and rhythm threes. But teams betting against his shot form and shooting probably won't have him ranked atop their boards.
On one hand, Ball hit 20 threes in 12 regular-season games after making four of six during an exhibition matchup in September. On the other, he finished at 25 percent from deep. He hit 11-of-43 pull-ups and 11-of-29 catch-and-shoot attempts in the half court, per Synergy Sports.
Though he's a threatening shot-maker with range and the ability to catch fire, his mechanics are unorthodox and raise questions about how well he can improve or translate to shooting off the dribble and catch. His left elbow flares out to the left of his body, and the right one goes right, the way they would on a chest pass.
Is his form conducive for quick, clean releases over NBA defenders? He'll hit shots, but at what rate?
Shot Selection, Showboating Concerns?
Ball toned down the showboating with the Hawks, and as a rookie and young NBA pro, he'll likely continue operating with relative restraint while trying to earn approval from coaches and teammates. But the flashiness will resurface. It's part of his identity and even drives some of his appeal.
Will it prevent him from reaching a certain level of efficiency?
Even though he stopped pulling up from half court when he got to Australia, Ball still showed a tendency to dance in place (while teammates watched) before launching a contested bomb. He likes to use dribbles for generating rhythm into jumpers, but he still seems to have an interest in splashing hero jumpers for highlights.
Teams considering drafting Ball will have to accept his loose style of play, which also features confident/risky ball-handling moves and fancy passes. The question is whether his brand is right for efficiently running an NBA team.
Though the sample size of film on Ball's defense was limited, the results were mixed, with more lapses in effort than ball-stopping quickness.
The positives showed him staying attached one-on-one or making plays from off the ball (1.7 steals per game). The negatives suggest he'll struggle early in pick-and-roll coverage, making reads and fighting through screens. He also got beat too easily on certain possessions, whether it was off the bounce or backdoor.
His defensive posture didn't scream "locked in," and there were too many casual stances and reaches.
NBA coaches will expect more from Ball defensively than his coaches did in Australia. And for teams that already have one defensive question mark in their backcourt—like the Atlanta Hawks with Young or Minnesota Timberwolves with D'Angelo Russell—they may have to think about how adding Ball would affect the defensive potential.
Fit with a Team That Has a Starting Point Guard
Among lottery teams, the Hawks, Wolves, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers either have a franchise point guard or recently drafted one.
Does it make sense to draft Ball to a backcourt that already has a ball-handler such as Young, Russell or Stephen Curry?
Ball did spend time playing off the ball overseas alongside Aaron Brooks, but he wasn't active in that role. Drafting him, only to use him often at the 2, forces him to play away from his strengths as a creator. While teams on the clock may deem him the best player available, they have to think about whether he can maximize his potential on their roster.
However, there is something appealing about a lineup that features two playmakers. Ball could take pressure off Young, who led the NBA in time of possession. He could allow Russell, Zach LaVine or Collin Sexton to focus more on scoring.
Otherwise, teams such as the New York Knicks or Detroit Pistons, who need an initiator, shouldn't have doubts about how Ball can help or fit.
Ball Versus the Field
Along with Ball, the No. 1 overall conversation includes Georgia's Anthony Edwards and long shots such as Memphis' James Wiseman, Israel's Deni Avdija or Dayton's Obi Toppin.
Positional size, translatable passing skills and soft touch paint Ball as low-risk. It's easy to buy his playmaking carrying over, and he should be a high-assist guard and triple-double threat at the least.
Lottery teams may feel similarly safe about Edwards' scoring translating. Where Ball could have an edge is with the perception that he has more potential to improve as a scorer than Edwards does as a distributor. In their primes, Ball has the chance to be the more complete player and one capable of making those around him better.
The upside kicks in for Ball if his shooting becomes more consistent and his body continues to fill out for finishing and defensive purposes.
Just over the past year, he has undergone a visible physical transformation in terms of height and athleticism. Rising above the rim looks easier for him, and he won't turn 19 until August.
Ball has been the No. 1 prospect on my board since November. Even if his shooting continues to be streaky, his shot-making should be threatening enough when paired with his elite creativity, facilitating and nifty floater/layup package.
It's also understandable why teams may question his scoring flaws, defense and fit for their roster.
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