What NBA Scouts Do and Don't Know About LaMelo Ball

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 16, 2020

FILE-  In this Nov. 17, 2019, file photo, LaMelo Ball of the Illawarra Hawks squats during their game against the Sydney Kings in the Australian Basketball League in Sydney. The point guard from California who bypassed college and played overseas is expected to be one of the top picks when the twice-delayed NBA draft is held in November.  (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

NBA scouts have known about LaMelo Ball since he was 16 years old. But they still don't fully know him.

Despite becoming a celebrity long before turning draft-eligible, he has left teams with questions that the spotlight hasn't answered. On the other hand, he has shined enough light for a scout to feel comfortable deeming Ball the "most talented player in the draft."

Many NBA evaluators around the league believe he remains a good bet to go No. 1.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Charlotte Hornets and other franchises are currently debating whether to use a high lottery pick on the 19-year-old ball-handler who never played college basketball, FIBA or any high school showcase event that front offices typically bank on as foundational scouting opportunities.

Instead, teams are mostly basing their evaluation off 12 games in Australia. 

But there are reasons he's being considered with a top-five selection in the 2020 draft. 

Bleacher Report asked scouts what they feel confident in with Ball, and what they don't know about the polarizing point guard ahead of November 18. 

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Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

What scouts know

"Most talented player in the draft. I feel as good about his future as anyone else in this class."

Scouts know there is something special about LaMelo's combination of positional size, athleticism and the tricks he's able to execute with his ball skills. His creativity and passing remind many of Trae Young's, but Ball's growth spurt has taken him to 6'7", the size of wings and forwards.

In his 12 games of film, it's easy to see the talent and wizardry that generated so much noise overseas.

   

"Unbelievable offensive feel. Very confident player."

Talent and skill aside, Ball's basketball IQ and confidence were evident in Australia. He processes fast and demonstrates impressive vision on the move. He didn't appear intimidated as a teenager playing on a new continent alongside former NBA players, such as Aaron Brooks, and against pros, knowing he'd be a target for opponents, given his fame and flashy play.

Though he toned down his wild shot selection from the mixtape days, he still attempted to embarrass defenders in isolation with fancy dribble moves and hero jumpers. And he didn't shy away from big moments, including one on November 25 when he buried a game-tying three with five seconds left. 

   

"He's so dynamic as a playmaker. Spacing will be his best friend."

Playmaking with pace and creativity, Ball was on track to finish second in the NBL in assists. While there are questions about his scoring, there aren't any concerning his passing, particularly once he's given more space in the NBA.

The ability to set up teammates for open looks represents the signature strength that will drive Ball's NBA value, regardless of how well (or not well) the rest of his game translates. 

   

"Defensively in the playoffs, every team will look to isolate LaMelo."

Among basketball weaknesses, the one everyone seems to agree on is Ball's defense. His casual nature was obvious. He died too quickly guarding ball screens. He wasn't often low in his stance or on his toes off the ball. 

Given his age, skinny frame and effort, whatever team drafts Ball should expect opposing ball-handlers to isolate and target him often. 

Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

    

What scouts don't know

"He's dynamic with the ball in his hands, but will his development be stunted alongside other ball-dominant players?" 

LaMelo's on-court fit may be the No. 1 question mark for lottery teams. He's always dominated the ball. Can he play with D'Angelo Russell in Minnesota, Stephen Curry in Golden State or Devonte' Graham in Charlotte?  

Shooting off spot-ups and screens hasn't been Ball's forte. How will he adapt if he goes to a team that already has a veteran lead guard?

   

"He's every bit of a teenager; there is no maturity about him. His actions are age-appropriate, but I need a top-five pick to act the part of a franchise player."

"Having a sense of entitlement is the worst thing for young players. Can he be humble?"

Ball seems to have matured since early in high school, and teams aren't expecting a natural leader from day one. He's avoided trouble and remained quiet in spite of all the attention, but teams still worry about his professionalism, which is a debatable concern. 

Ball will have more followers on social media than most of his NBA teammates. At 18 years old, he was the most famous player in the NBL, and no rookie will generate the attention he does next season. 

Teams want to know how he'll respond to the cameras and coverage, and if he'll be more obsessed with winning or building his personal brand.

     

"Is he going to gravitate toward the younger players, which depending on your team could be a bad mix? That worries me."

The team considering drafting Ball will want to know how he'll mesh with the roster, not just on the floor but also off it. Will he want to learn from veterans or avoid their mentorship? Maturity questions always come up when discussing Ball, and a team with too many young players might allow him to develop bad habits and stall his growth. 

      

"Can he embrace being the best defender he can be? Can't save yourself for offense like he did in Australia."

Defensive competitiveness didn't make Ball's scouting report from Australia. Can he change the narrative about his effort level?

He was able to get away with nonchalance at times as a member of the Hawks. He won't in the NBA. We don't know if his casual defense was a result of poor conditioning, lack of interest or just an inability to lock in throughout shot clocks and games. Can he flip a switch? 

   

"From deep he has a weird release, like Lonzo."

Ball won't be the only one in the draft whose jump shot raises questions. However, the sample sizes of shooting for the other prospects are greater. Ball has unorthodox form and a 25.0 three-point percentage for teams to evaluate. 

How much stock should scouts put into his mechanics and ugly numbers? Can his jumper translate with the low release and flaring elbows, and if not, what is the likelihood of Ball improving to become a consistent threat?