Best and Worst Fits for Potential No. 1 NBA Draft Pick LaMelo Ball
He's an interesting fit for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who'll consider the point guard with the No. 1 overall pick. But he's not a lock to go first, and the Golden State Warriors, Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls should all be considered suitors.
Nobody expects Ball to fall outside the top four. However, it is possible an unexpected team could trade up to grab the exciting 6'7" playmaker.
Based on Ball's strengths, weaknesses and mentality, as well as teams' rosters and styles, we pinpointed the best and worst fits, including franchises that could try to move up for him.
Best Fit: Chicago Bulls
Of the teams in range to draft LaMelo Ball without needing to trade up, the Chicago Bulls have the roster best suited to mask his weaknesses while creating a role that values his strengths.
In Australia, Ball struggled to contain his man in ball-screen situations and consistently defend with effort. Chicago ranked No. 9 defensively last year, and new head coach Billy Donovan has had the Oklahoma City Thunder ranked within the top 10 each of the past three seasons.
The Golden State Warriors could put a tough defense behind Ball, as well, but his fit there is a little tougher to picture offensively. In Chicago, Donovan could use Ball as the team's primary creator. The Bulls need a passer and could let the 6'7" playmaker work to his strengths as a setup man.
Having him facilitate on the ball would mean fewer tough shots for Zach LaVine and extra open looks and easy baskets for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
Despite the Bulls' lousy offensive efficiency, the lineup has weapons, including Coby White, whose microwave scoring ability is perfectly suited for a sixth-man role. Ball wouldn't have to force as many shots as he did in Australia.
It wouldn't be surprising if changes were made to the Bulls' roster, but between Donovan and new vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, plus the fact the franchise still possesses young talent and assets, Chicago remains an attractive landing spot for any prospect—and especially Ball.
Worst Fit: Minnesota Timberwolves
Fit might not factor into the Minnesota Timberwolves' decision at No. 1 if they feel LaMelo Ball is the draft's best prospect.
But there is a lot to question about a nucleus featuring Ball, Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, who the team just gave up a valuable 2021 first-rounder (top-three protected) to acquire.
One rival scout expressed his concern to Bleacher Report: "Will Ball's development be stunted by playing alongside other ball-dominant players? And the team composition sucks as far as defensive presence overall. How do you ever get past the first round of the playoffs with that starting five?"
For this to work, Russell would have to accept playing more off the ball while a rookie receives ball-screen possessions. Or, Ball would need to adapt to an off-ball role, which isn't playing to his strengths given his signature creativity off the dribble.
An optimistic way to look at Russell and Ball playing together focuses on the positives of having two point guards and passers on the floor. But given Ball's questionable jumper and Russell's presumed preference to run the offense, it's not a perfect match.
Defense is the bigger issue, though. Ball, Russell and Towns will all be 30-plus-minute players. How far can a Timberwolves team go with three starters serving as negative defenders?
Minnesota's identity would ultimately revolve around its scoring and offensive versatility, but it's tough to picture a high ceiling for a team with a core built around Ball, Russell and Towns.
Second-Best Fit: Golden State Warriors
LaMelo Ball doesn't come off as an easy fit for the Golden State Warriors. But it might be the best situation for him long-term if he doesn't mind sacrificing rookie and sophomore statistics.
Stephen Curry will turn 35 while Ball is still playing under his rookie contract. For Golden State, it wouldn't hurt to have a playmaker like Ball lined up for when the two-time MVP hits a wall. An older Curry should be able to coexist with another ball-handler, anyway, given his elite off-screen shooting.
For Ball, he'd land with an organization that has a winning culture, veteran leadership and good team defense relative to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets and any other lottery teams potentially interested in moving up.
While he wouldn't have as many touches early in his career, he would have two of the planet's premier shot-makers in Curry and Klay Thompson alongside him on the wings. As a rookie and sophomore, he could just focus on passing while waiting on open looks to score.
In Golden State, Ball could get immediate playoff experience, which he wouldn't likely receive in Minnesota, Charlotte or Chicago.
In the short term, it would be about developing good habits and playing to his strengths. It's tough to picture him getting away with over-dribbling or firing hero jumpers with Steve Kerr and Draymond Green there to hold him accountable.
But the draw to Golden State is Ball's fit a few years down the road when the Warriors could have a need for more pace, flash and playmaking in the backcourt.
Second-Worst Fit: Charlotte Hornets
Devonte' Graham and P.J. Washington create an intriguing fit for LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. But this group is too far away to be deemed a desirable starting point for a player used to being in the spotlight.
Charlotte finished bottom-six in the league in both offense and defense. Graham, the Hornets' leading scorer, shot 38.2 percent from the field, and the roster is missing both valued wing stoppers and rim protection, keys for building a tough defense.
The Hornets haven't been a free-agent magnet, either, so they'll likely have to bank on lucking out in the lottery or hitting on draft picks to improve the roster dramatically.
In terms of on-court fit, Ball would benefit from Graham's shooting and Washington's pick-and-roll/pop versatility. Their particular skill sets would complement the 6'7" point guard who'll earn his money by playmaking, and Miles Bridges would serve as an explosive finishing target in transition or on lobs.
Ball would have an opportunity to validate the hype and build his value in Charlotte, but the Hornets' roster doesn't have a ton of upside.
Best Trade Scenario: Phoenix Suns
Could a Phoenix Suns package of No. 10, Kelly Oubre Jr. and a 2021 first-round pick be enough to move into the top four? LaMelo Ball could hope so. He'd fit well in Phoenix even if it meant playing behind Ricky Rubio to start his career.
The arrow is pointing up for the Suns after their 8-0 performance in the bubble. They have a strong supporting cast for Ball, who'd play with shooters in Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson and a pick-and-roll/pop center in Deandre Ayton.
The Suns also improved on defense, which is a plus for any team that drafts Ball.
Rubio would also seem like an ideal mentor for Ball given how he similarly entered the league as a passer with limited shooting range. After a year or two, Ball could take over an offense that could soon feature multiple All-Stars with Booker and Ayton.
It's a stretch to think Phoenix can get a trade done with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Charlotte Hornets or Chicago Bulls. But sources tell Bleacher Report that Phoenix has made inquiries about trying to move up.
Worst Trade Scenario: Cleveland Cavaliers
At No. 5, the Cleveland Cavaliers can't feel confident about their chances of landing a star. And they need one to build around given the uncertainty about Darius Garland's trajectory, Kevin Love inevitably plateauing and Andre Drummond's questionable future and fit in Cleveland.
LaMelo Ball possesses star power and potential, and general manager Koby Altman may feel pressure to go after it. It's possible it will be easier to trade for a top-three pick in this draft than in any other year considering the best fits for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Hornets may be available in the Nos. 4-10 range.
But going to Cleveland wouldn't be an ideal outcome for Ball, a weak defender who'd be joining the league's worst defense.
Stuck between rebuilding and trying to compete, the Cavaliers are also in no man's land with a trio of young guards and expensive bigs on different timelines. Cleveland would presumably also have to give up one of its starters to move up.
With two scoring ball-handlers in Garland and Collin Sexton, it's easy to think Altman may want a passer like Ball. But Cleveland lacks direction and doesn't seem like a favorable destination for another rookie point guard.
Second-Best Trade Scenario: New Orleans Pelicans
It's unclear how willing the New Orleans Pelicans are to part with Jrue Holiday, but he's the most realistic star the Minnesota Timberwolves or Golden State Warriors could target in a trade for their pick.
Aside from the fact that LaMelo would team up with his older brother, Lonzo, the Pelicans have an exciting roster (assuming they re-sign Brandon Ingram) with young players on similar timelines to whom he could relate.
With Ingram back, there would be a go-to scorer for Ball to lean upon. He'd also have arguably the league's most dangerous finishing target in Zion Williamson, who'd also benefit from Ball's pace, vision and passing skill.
Ball would likely feel comfortable in a young and exciting lineup with Lonzo, Ingram and Williamson, but there would also be enough attention on the team to create pressure and focus. Plus, new head coach Stan Van Gundy would presumably hold Ball accountable on defense.
Compared to other teams outside the top four who may want to trade up for Ball, the Pelicans have both the assets to get a deal done and a suitable roster for the point guard to flourish.
Second-Worst Trade Scenario: New York Knicks
The New York Knicks will continue to be discussed as a team that could try to move up for LaMelo Ball even if there is no substance to the rumors. They need a point guard and a star, and Ball could give them both.
The Knicks also have assets that could help a team like the Golden State Warriors, who could use Frank Ntilikina's perimeter defense and Mitchell Robinson's athleticism and rim protection. It's unclear which players and future picks the Knicks would be willing to part with, but Ball might want to hope they stay put at No. 8, even if a part of him presumably wants the spotlight and full-time role.
The Knicks can't surround Ball with shooters. And as exciting as Robinson's shot-blocking can be, it doesn't translate to shutdown defense like Rudy Gobert's. There isn't one player on the roster the front office can feel confident about turning into a star, including RJ Barrett, who had a productive rookie season that also exposed worrisome weaknesses like his creation ability and shooting.
Going to New York would mean accepting losing without seeing a clear light at the end of the tunnel.