Is LaMelo Ball a Better NBA Draft Prospect Than Lonzo at 19?
LaMelo Ball will be one of the first players picked in the 2020 NBA draft, just like his brother Lonzo was in 2017.
But teams aren't scouting the same player as they did when Lonzo was a freshman at UCLA. The report on LaMelo out of Australia's NBL is different. His identity as a player is different, as are his strengths and weaknesses.
We took a look at how the Ball brothers, both point guards, compared at the same age during the season before their respective drafts.
LaMelo's Physical Transformation
At UCLA, Lonzo was listed 6'6", 190 pounds with a wingspan in the range of 6'9".
While there are no official measurements for LaMelo, he's undergone a visible physical transformation over the past two years. The eye test and reports suggest he's now around 6'7", also in the 190-pound range with a suspected wingspan near or slightly longer than Lonzo's.
Neither Ball brother is an athletic standout. Their postures are relatively upright for point guards. LaMelo appears to have more quick-twitch movements offensively, which could make him tougher to contain off the dribble. Of the two, LaMelo is able to put more pressure on the rim.
Though both appeared coordinated with their bodies, hands and eyes, LaMelo showed a little more bounce leaping off his left when given space.
At the same age, he has a small size and athletic edge over Lonzo.
Lonzo's MPG vs. LaMelo's USG
Though the Ball brothers were both lead initiators during their predraft seasons, their roles and styles were different.
LaMelo shouldered a heavier workload for the Illawarra Hawks in generating offense. Lonzo played more (35.1 minutes per game), but he only registered an 18.1 percentage usage, compared to LaMelo's 27.7 percent.
Lonzo was also playing for a solid UCLA squad with current NBA pros Aaron Holiday and TJ Leaf. LaMelo ran the NBL's worst team. He had to make more decisions and take more contested shots and field-goal attempts in general (16.6 per game to Lonzo's 9.5).
While both are natural facilitators, LaMelo prefers to shot-hunt more for scoring, while Lonzo's identity revolves around ball-moving and taking what the defense gives up.
In terms of play-type distribution and signature sets, Lonzo generated most of his offense at UCLA out of transition (29.6 percent) and spot-ups (23.1 percent). In 36 games, he only received 49 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions.
Other than fast-break offense, LaMelo's bread and butter in the NBL was working off ball screens. Versatility didn't come as naturally to him as it did for Lonzo, but LaMelo is/was the more creative on-ball playmaker.
Only 1 Needs Another Creator
As a teenager, LaMelo's defining skill is passing, which was and still is Lonzo's. Special vision and basketball IQ set them apart, though they also have the skill level to deliver pinpoint assists, whether they're the length of the floor, cross-court, off ball screens, in crowds or with their off hand.
LaMelo registered a 36.9 assist percentage in the NBL. Lonzo's from UCLA wasn't far behind at 31.4 percent. Despite LaMelo's extra flash and usage, he turned the ball over at a lower rate (12.0 percent) compared to Lonzo at UCLA (18.6 percent).
LaMelo has shown more shiftiness off the dribble. His handles are more advanced in the speed and variety of his moves, plus his ability to incorporate hesitations. While both preferred transition and jumpers over driving at the same age, LaMelo is tougher to contain around the perimeter and better at creating offense out of nothing.
If both possess A-plus passing skills, IQ and vision, LaMelo's superior elusiveness may suggest he has more playmaking upside, although Lonzo's assist potential will always be held in check alongside Jrue Holiday.
However, because of Lonzo's limited breakdown penetration abilities, he may need a backcourt partner like Holiday to put pressure on defenses. LaMelo shouldn't need another creator next to him as much.
Higher Scoring Ceiling Is Clear
With LaMelo's Hawks more dependent on him to generate offense, he was the higher scorer during his predraft season, averaging 21.8 points per 40 minutes to Lonzo's 16.6 points per 40 minutes at UCLA.
While LaMelo excels at creating shots for teammates, he still needs work creating quality looks for himself in the half court. So did Lonzo, who relied mostly on transition, line drives and step-back threes.
Meanwhile, LaMelo leaned on east-west dribbling into contested pull-up jumpers, but he showed more wiggle off the bounce. He attempted 53 shots around the basket in the half court through just 12 games, compared to Lonzo, who took 69 shots around the basket in 36 games. LaMelo averaged 5.0 free-throw attempts per 40 to Lonzo's 3.1.
LaMelo has shown more scoring versatility at the same age, particularly with his touch shots off one foot. Neither was a stop-and-pop scorer in the mid-range, but Lonzo only made four runners his entire freshman season. LaMelo has a greater comfort level with his floater, and he seems to almost prefer it over planting and shooting a jumper off two feet once inside the arc.
While he has more issues with shot selection, LaMelo is further along as a scorer in creating and converting from different spots on the floor. Lonzo's struggles blowing by and making two-point jumpers and runners have limited his scoring ability in the pros.
Overcoming the Mechanics
LaMelo will have to answer questions about his shooting form entering the draft, just as Lonzo did.
While Lonzo released his shot near the side of his face, LaMelo has more of a pushing motion from his chest, with his elbows flaring out and feet sometimes off-balance. It can almost look as if he's tossing a jump-pass to the rim.
Lonzo was the more accurate shooter at the same age, having hit 2.2 threes per game at a 41.2 percent clip for UCLA. LaMelo left Australia just 20-of-80 (25.0 percent) from deep, though his 1.7 threes per game did reflect shot-making ability and range.
Lonzo had a signature step-back three, his go-to method for shooting off the dribble. He didn't attempt many dribble jumpers—mainly because of his unselfishness and form, which wasn't (still isn't) conducive for taking pull-ups moving toward the basket. But Lonzo hit an efficient 17-of-35 (48.6 percent) dribble jumpers in the half court (13 threes) as a freshman, even if he was stepping backward on most.
LaMelo shot 11-of-43 (25.6 percent) on half-court pull-ups, and they were typically of the dance-and-fire type. Part of LaMelo's poor percentage was because of his situation on a team that was frequently trailing and needed someone to make a play. Aside from LaMelo's mechanical issues, the inaccuracy was also a result of hero attempts and forces.
If LaMelo goes to a team that already has a quality starting point guard, whether it's the Atlanta Hawks with Trae Young, Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry or Minnesota Timberwolves with D'Angelo Russell, his catch-and-shooting becomes important.
Lonzo ranked in the 95th percentile in spot-ups at UCLA playing alongside Aaron Holiday. He shot 44.6 percent off the catch. LaMelo shot 11-of-29 (37.9 percent) on catch-and-shoots through 12 games. He wasn't as accurate as his brother, but when he was able to set his feet and generate rhythm, the results were promising.
Still, LaMelo is behind where Lonzo was as a shooter.
Strong at the Rim...but Don't Fear the Gym
Lonzo was one of the most efficient finishers in college basketball, having shot a ridiculous 72.5 percent around the basket and grading in the 97th percentile in points per possession.
LaMelo shot 55.0 percent around the basket, a fine number that trails only Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton's figure among NCAA guard prospects.
Lonzo did a better job picking his spots to attack, which was directly related to his finishing success. LaMelo was more reckless and risky when it came to driving. He'd enter the lane without a plan, or he'd try for the acrobatic layup. A lack of strength also held him back.
On the other hand, LaMelo still shows promising finishing potential based on his coordination, ambidexterity and improving body and athleticism. Meanwhile, Lonzo has struggled to finish since turning pro. Depending on how LaMelo fills out physically, he may be better suited to score around NBA rim protectors.
Highlights Don't Tell the Defensive Story—For Either
Questions started to pop about Lonzo's ability to contain NBA point guards after ewnding up on the wrong side of the highlights in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox exploded for 39 points against him and the Bruins in the Sweet 16, but overall, Lonzo had a fairly solid reputation for his anticipation, playmaking (1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks) and IQ.
Lapses in effort made LaMelo easier to pick on in Australia, as he wasn't difficult to beat or lose with a ball screen. NBA scouts are currently questioning whether he'll be a liability defending the point of attack, but there were enough sequences where he flashed the foot speed to slide and stay in front of his man when engaged. He also made some highlight reaction plays off the ball to average 1.7 steals.
While he wasn't always bouncing on his toes or eager to blow up pick-and-rolls, the Hawks' coaches probably weren't overly tough on LaMelo, given his heavy offensive workload and the importance of keeping the NBL's biggest star happy. Still, there appear to be more concerns about LaMelo's defensive outlook than there were about Lonzo's.
Ball Don't Lie: LaMelo Owns Highest Ceiling...and Lowest Floor
Lonzo felt safe out of UCLA. His positional tools, passing IQ, ability to run an offense and impact on winning pointed to a high floor. Concerns about whether he could beat defenders off the dribble or score with the pull-up and floater raised questions about his ceiling.
LaMelo isn't as polished as a decision-maker or team player as Lonzo was, but at the same age, his upside seems greater.
There appears to be more potential for teams to unlock from LaMelo's scoring that's fueled by more size, bounce, dangerous ball-handling shake and shot versatility around the lane.
Like Lonzo, he possesses similar playmaking instincts and skills that are highly likely to translate in a faster, open NBA. Worst case, LaMelo projects as a flashier version of Lonzo, one capable of matching his assist rate but not his efficiency.
Best case, he's another elite setup man like Lonzo who can also double as one of his team's top scoring options.