Buying or Selling Hot Takes 5 Games into LaMelo Ball's NBA Career

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 2, 2021

Buying or Selling Hot Takes 5 Games into LaMelo Ball's NBA Career

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    LaMelo Ball was the lightning rod of the 2020 NBA draft. Hot takes about the flashy point guard have been flying since he was 17 years old. 

    And now he's finally in the NBA, after playing in high school and professionally in Lithuania and then Australia.

    Scouts, media and fans have floated strong opinions on everything from Ball's shooting and defense to his attitude and upside.

    Here's what I'm buying and selling after watching each of his first five games as a Charlotte Hornet.

Selling: LaMelo Can't Shoot

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    LaMelo Ball skeptics were quick to point out his 25.0 percent three-point shooting in Australia and unorthodox mechanics. "He can't shoot" was a popular take. But through five NBA games, he's 10-of-22 from behind the arc. And though he's bound to cool off and even finish the year with an uninspiring percentage, Ball can and will make outside shots.

    He just hit 4-of-5 threes in his fourth pro game. He's clearly a shot-maker with NBA range, regardless of how much his elbows flare out or inconsistent his footwork and landing are. 

    And while the extra off-ball possessions he's playing in Charlotte aren't ideal for his playmaking potential, it's teaching him shot preparation off the catch and to be an effective spot-up shooter. 

    Ball shouldn't have to approach 40 percent from deep to satisfy doubters or coaches. He just has to be threatening enough to hurt defenses when left open or set up his driving. And though the early sample size is tiny, it's an encouraging starting point that shows he's already capable with the jumper.

Buying: LaMelo Will Struggle to Score

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    "I'm not sold on LaMelo Ball's scoring," one scout told Bleacher Report before the draft. 

    When his jumper isn't falling, he'll definitely have trouble putting up points. While Ball creates at a high level for teammates, he's not an advanced self-creator. 

    His preferred method for getting himself a look is by using fancy dribbles to build rhythm into a deep pull-up. Inside the arc, he struggles to separate one-on-one and finish in traffic. 

    While there are differences between him and Lonzo, LaMelo will similarly struggle to score early in his career, especially in a Charlotte Hornets offense that's primarily running through Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham. 

Selling: The Charlotte Hornets Are a Good Fit for LaMelo

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Scouts and fans didn't seem high on LaMelo Ball's fit with the Golden State Warriors, who picked second. There was an idea that he was better suited for the Charlotte Hornets, where he could become the team's lead guard. But that hasn't been the case early, and based on the current roster, he might not have an opportunity to run the offense anytime soon. 

    So far, he's been put in fewer ball-screens situations than Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham. And running pick-and-rolls is where Ball is the most dangerous in the half court. 

    Coach James Borrego has him coming off the bench, spending a decent amount of time spotting up from the wings and corners—in a non-playmaking role. 

    It wouldn't be surprising if the front office kept this core intact with Rozier playing well, Hayward making $120 million through 2024 and Graham being a draft steal the Hornets developed themselves. It's a trio with a limited ceiling that's made up of players who like to handle the ball. 

    Can LaMelo maximize his potential sharing ball-handling duties with Rozier, Hayward and Graham? He'd have an easier and quicker path toward stardom on a different team that could offer more on-ball opportunities, both now and later.

Selling: LaMelo Will Be a Defensive Liability

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    With the Minnesota Timberwolves selecting No. 1 overall, one of the cons of taking LaMelo Ball was his defensive projection in a lineup with D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. "I struggle with a player who cannot defend his position, especially come playoff time," one scout told Bleacher Report before the draft.

    He'd been made out to be a guaranteed liability teams would need to hide. But that's not quite the case. 

    There are obvious things he needs to work and clean up on defense. He'll never make an All-Defensive Team or be viewed as a two-way player and asset at both ends of the floor. But just watching Ball's first five games, it seems like he's heard the criticism about his effort, a correctable problem for a teenager.

    Ball actually has impressive playmaking instincts and anticipation to get strips and blocks, especially from off the ball. He can make smart reads and rotations, which points to promising team-defense potential. 

    He'll have to get better defending the point of attack and fighting through screens. But taking his age, 6'8" size and evolving body into account, there is potential to improve. 

    The bar doesn't have to be so high, either, given his offensive value, as well as his knack for rebounding. Ball just has to avoid being a negative. And I'm selling the idea that he's locked into that outlook.

Buying: LaMelo Should Have Been No. 1 Pick

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    LaMelo Ball was picked No. 3, but there were scouts who thought the Minnesota Timberwolves should draft him first.

    He would have given their offense (No. 27 in the NBA entering Friday) a needed identity change. "When things weren't going our way, everybody goes playing selfish," Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio told reporters Tuesday.

    Ball would have given the Wolves a playmaker who'd be willing to primarily use his ball-handling touches to set up teammates. Anthony Edwards is the more explosive scorer, but Ball's passing could have helped optimize the Wolves' weapons and create more ball movement and open shots. 

    The predraft concerns about Ball—such as shooting and defense—aren't as problematic as they were made out to be. After a few years of fine-tuning his jump shot and building his defensive IQ, Ball, a 6'8" point guard, elite creator for others and dangerous shot-maker with range, could emerge as the class' top player.

          

    Stats via NBA.com unless otherwise noted. 

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