Ranking LaMelo Ball's Best and Worst Landing Spots in 2020 NBA Draft
LaMelo Ball will be high on NBA lottery teams' wish lists. But what are the most desirable landing spots for Ball?
Certain teams could provide him with the right balance of touches, patience and supporting talent. A select few could even start contending soon.
And then there are teams far away from competing who would give Ball an overload of work and not enough reliable scorers or defenders.
We ranked the five best and five worst lottery teams for Ball's development and career.
Fifth-Worst Landing Spot: Minnesota Timberwolves
A core featuring LaMelo Ball, D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns packs star power and exciting offensive upside. But would it be enough to offset the problems the Minnesota Timberwolves would have defensively?
Drafting Ball would mean building around three subpar defensive cornerstones. How far can the offense take them?
Ball and Russell should fit well enough and provide a balanced mix of scoring and playmaking. In Golden State, Russell shot 45.3 percent out of spot-ups and 42.0 percent off screens. He's versatile enough to play more minutes at the 2, with Ball the more natural setup passer and weaker shot-maker.
Together, they'd be able to put pressure on defenses from different angles and speeds. And with Russell and Towns, Ball wouldn't have to force shots himself.
Between Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie and James Johnson, the Wolves also have individual defenders to plug the holes.
Minnesota wouldn't be the worst situation for Ball, who'd likely start at point guard alongside two star-caliber scorers. But with a Ball-Russell-Towns core, it's difficult to buy into the team's ability to stop opponents from consistently scoring over 110 points.
Fifth-Best Landing Spot: Atlanta Hawks
One one hand, LaMelo Ball would help take pressure off Trae Young, who is leading the league in time of possession this season. Opponents would have to deal with defending two of the game's elite passers and playmakers on the floor at the same time.
But this pairing would require both players needing to adjust, particularly LaMelo. At least Young shot 50.6 percent out of spot-ups and 41.4 percent off screens on limited reps. Ball isn't the shooter that Young is. For LaMelo, playing off the ball means playing away from his strengths.
The Hawks could still run enough actions using Ball to create and set up teammates, specifically John Collins and Clint Capela, high-percentage finishing targets who'd receive even more easy-basket opportunities if the Hawks took the 19-year-old ball-handler.
Atlanta's offensive upside could be huge behind Ball, Young and Collins with shot-makers Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and De'Andre Hunter filling in gaps.
On the downside, the Hawks ranked No. 28 in defense, with Young checking in No. 513 out of 513 NBA players in defensive real plus-minus. A Young-Ball backcourt would have difficulty containing dribble penetration, though Capela should improve the team's rim protection.
Fourth-Worst Landing Spot: Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards won't be able to trade John Wall, so LaMelo Ball would be looking at a timeshare early for the league's No. 29 defense. They'll continue to struggle defensively with Ball guarding the point of attack. And the roster in general doesn't have much upside, even with Ball and Bradley Beal in the backcourt.
Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Jerome Robinson are fine prospects, though banking on them to quickly catch up to Beal's timeline seems unrealistic. And though Davis Bertans would be a helpful shooting target for Ball, he figures to attract heavy interest from teams in free agency, so counting on him back in Washington sounds premature.
Washington isn't the worst fit for Ball, particularly if Wall never reaches full strength, Beal sticks around, Bertans returns and Hachimura, Brown, Robinson and Thomas Bryant continue developing. But a lot would have to go right for Ball to successfully develop and start winning in a Wizards uniform.
Fourth-Best Landing Spot: Detroit Pistons
Winning may take time for LaMelo Ball in Detroit, and suggesting the Pistons are a fit for him requires an asterisk. They'll need Blake Griffin and Luke Kennard back healthy and good use of future cap space. But based on the current roster and where it excelled last season, Ball could have the right support system to develop in Detroit.
The Pistons rank top 10 in both defense and three-point shooting. While Ball wasn't always held accountable in Australia for not giving full effort defensively, he would under coach Dwane Casey. And between his own 25.0 three-point mark and special vision/passing, he'd benefit from playing alongside Kennard (39.9 percent 3PT), Svi Mykhailiuk (40.4 percent 3PT) and Tony Snell (40.2 percent 3PT).
Ideally, Ball would still be able to lean on feeding Griffin in the post and in ball-screen situations. Christian Wood returning (unrestricted free agent) would give the rookie point guard another weapon to take off pressure. And there is still a lot of hope for last year's first-round pick Sekou Doumbouya, who won't turn 20 until December.
Meanwhile, Ball should be No. 1 on Detroit's board, given his star potential and the team's need for a playmaker. It wouldn't hurt for him to spend one season learning from Derrick Rose.
In Detroit, Ball could have a mentor, plenty of minutes/touches, a strong team defense and enough shooting targets.
Third-Worst Landing Spot: New York Knicks
If the exercise was naming the top target for each team, LaMelo Ball should be No. 1 on the New York Knicks' list. But unless the Knicks luck out in next year's lottery or free agency, New York isn't the place for Ball to maximize his development.
There will be extra pressure there as well as a ton of uncertainty regarding the team's roster and potential to improve it.
As is, the Knicks' starting lineup includes RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. Throw Ball into that group, and that's four below-average shooters sharing the floor.
It's not even clear how strong of a prospect Barrett is after he shot 40.2 percent. Robinson is the player New York can feel safest about, and his pick-and-roll finishing and defensive upside would be good for Ball.
But the Knicks offense is too problematic and unfit for a 19-year-old to efficiently run. He'd be in a similar position as he was in Australia, where he was forced to take tough shots in a high-usage role without much talent around him.
The positive of going to the Knicks is Ball getting a full-time job for a big-market team that has cap space and picks. But until they cash in using that room and draft compensation—which is far from guaranteed—landing in New York would be a recipe for a low field-goal percentage and losses.
Third-Best Landing Spot: Chicago Bulls
There is a path for the Chicago Bulls to get back to the playoffs. They have plenty of talent, including some that's untapped with Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. And then they have established talent in Zach LaVine, whose production and style just haven't translated to winning.
LaMelo Ball could be the key to unlocking all of Chicago's talent and converting it into more efficient offense (than No. 27 in the league).
Ball creating and playmaking should naturally lead to a tighter shot selection for LaVine. And Chicago's bigs should start seeing more open looks off ball screens and penetration.
White could also be ideal in a Lou Williams-type role off the bench, given his streak shot-making and scoring mentality.
Ball in Chicago isn't the perfect fit. He and LaVine don't make the toughest defensive backcourt. But Chicago ranks No. 14 in defense this season. And the immediate priority should be improving the team's offense.
Relying on Tomas Satoransky to be the team's assist leader (5.4 per game) doesn't seem like a recipe for winning playoff games. While Ball would give Chicago the playmaker it needs, the Bulls should be able to provide Ball with enough supporting weapons to take pressure off him.
Second-Worst Landing Spot: Charlotte Hornets
The idea of LaMelo Ball joining Devonte' Graham, P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges is intriguing. It's a core that might win enough games to avoid being grouped in with the tankers. But this roster lacks upside, unless Graham can reach an All-Star scoring level and Bridges and Washington make giant jumps over the next few seasons.
It's a team that would be vulnerable to being stuck in no-man's land between competing and rebuilding—where Charlotte wouldn't earn playoff wins or quality draft picks.
Ball would elevate the No. 28-ranked offense, but he'd need more weapons around him. Malik Monk proving his final 13 games (17.0 PPG) weren't fluky would help, even if it's to give Charlotte a trade chip to try to acquire a wing or strong center.
Still, a rotation featuring Ball, Terry Rozier, Graham, Bridges and Washington would continue to struggle on defense, and no one acquisition would be able to help it enough.
Second-Best Landing Spot: Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns' chances of getting a top-three pick are dwindling with each bubble win. But it's at least worth thinking about how well LaMelo Ball would fit with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and the team's role-playing shooters.
He'd have to begin his career behind Ricky Rubio, which may frustrate Ball early but also benefit him long term. Rubio would serve as an ideal mentor. He similarly entered the league known for passing IQ and flash as well as having athletic and shooting limitations.
For Ball, it's important to think big picture, and the Suns' future appears bright based on the development of Booker, Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson. In Phoenix, the incoming rookie can lean on Booker for scoring, which for Ball comes second to his playmaking. He'd have solid passing targets, with Ayton in the pick-and-roll game and Booker, Bridges and Johnson around the perimeter.
It's a franchise headed toward the playoffs with its cornerstones— Booker (23) and Ayton (22)—under 24. Rubio will be 31 when his contract expires in 2022, and though it's possible Phoenix would want him back, Ball could be ready for his breakout third season on a competitive team in the West.
Worst Landing Spot: Cleveland Cavaliers
It wouldn't be surprising if LaMelo Ball's camp tried to avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers before the draft.
Aside from them drafting ball-handlers in the first round the past two years, the team has no set direction. It's a franchise in limbo. The Cavaliers seemed to be rebuilding until trading for Andre Drummond. And Drummond won't help them shake the title of league's worst defense.
Neither will Ball when paired with Darius Garland, Collin Sexton or Kevin Love.
The most sensible next move for Cleveland is trying to swap Love for prospects and draft compensation. But he's making $91.5 million over the next three seasons and turning 32 in September. He'll likely only draw interest from contenders with picks projected in the late teens or 20s.
Though Cleveland should want Ball for his special passing—since Garland and Sexton are closer to scorers than playmakers—the Cavaliers' situation isn't a good one for LaMelo's development and trajectory. It's tough to picture any shortcut route for Cleveland to climb. And given Ball's weaknesses as a defender and shooter and Cleveland's poor team defense and shooting, the Cavaliers aren't a suitable fit.
Best Landing Spot: Golden State Warriors
It's easy and lazy to question LaMelo Ball's fit on a team because of Stephen Curry's presence.
Sure, they're both considered point guards. But in 2018-19, Curry's last full season, he finished second in the league in possessions per game shooting off screens, and to no surprise, he graded in the 97th percentile. He also shot 44.8 percent out of spot-ups. And as he continues aging into his 30s, it makes sense for coach Steve Kerr to monitor the All-Star's on-ball reps and preserve his burst.
Meanwhile, though landing in Golden State would mean Ball would have to sacrifice his statistics early on, the Warriors offer a situation that would allow the 19-year-old ball-handler to play to his strengths as a setup passer.
He only shot 37.7 percent with in the NBL, a result of having to carry an offense. At this stage, Ball lacks a reliable jump shot and the strength to separate or consistently finish through contact. But in Golden State, he could focus on playmaking with Curry and Klay Thompson—two of the league's all-time elite shooters—running beside him on each wing.
They're going to make him a better point guard. Playing for Kerr with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, who has an aggressive leadership approach, should also deter Ball from slipping into old bad habits of over-dribbling or forcing hero pull-ups.
The Warriors had a top-10 defense in 2018-19 as well. Golden State has the best lineup to mask Ball's struggles containing penetration around the perimeter.
He would have to adjust mentally to a new type of role. But by the time he's eligible for an extension, Curry could be around age 35, and Ball's responsibilities and usage would increase. And at that point, after a few seasons in the league with playoff experience, Ball should be a more polished overall player on a winning team.