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We Tried to Tell You: LaMelo Ball Will Haunt Wolves, Warriors for Years to Come

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 4, 2021

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) drives to the basket while guarded by Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

As LaMelo Ball begins to pull away as the favorite for Rookie of the Year, NBA decision-makers who passed on drafting him should feel the first symptoms of regret.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors didn't make bad picks in Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman. They just weren't the right selections with Ball on the board.

Ball, the 2020 draft's No. 3 pick, is on pace to join Luka Doncic as the only rookie to average at least 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 threes per game. Since moving into the Charlotte Hornets starting lineup Feb. 1, Ball has averaged 20.8 points, 6.8 assists, 6.1 rebounds, 2.9 threes (43.0 percent) and 1.9 steals with 46.0 percent shooting.

Every strength on Ball's scouting report from Australia's National Basketball League has translated to the NBA. And fast. But the bigger takeaway is the overblown predraft concerns about Ball.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Ball has convincingly answered scouts' questions—shooting with comfort and accuracy, handling physicality, appearing coachable and grounded.

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Before the draft, every scout acknowledged his unique creativity and passing. He always seemed capable of climbing the NBA's assist leaderboard.

Bleacher Report (and others) ranked Ball as the No. 1 prospect because his perceived flaws weren't alarming or permanent. We looked past his 27.9 three-point percentage and unorthodox form to his dangerous shot-making skill. His skinny frame for finishing didn't bother me as much given the touch he had on his floater and how coordinated and ambidextrous he was around the rim. And skeptical scouts put too much stock into the immaturity narrative despite zero red flags from his stint in Australia. NBL executives raved.

Based on conversations with scouts who were hesitant before the draft and what we've seen so far from Ball in the NBA, it's clear there was overthinking by the doubters who questioned a small sample size of scoring inefficiency and lapses in effort.

Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

The Timberwolves must have viewed Anthony Edwards—6'4", 225 pounds, an A-plus athlete—as safer than Ball with as much or more upside.

The Warriors likely took needs and fit into account with Wiseman, a center whose enormous frame (7'0", 240 lbs), length, athleticism and skill set also pointed to All-Star potential.

But aside from (presumably) misevaluating Ball's jumper and wrongfully nitpicking his fit, neither team bought enough stock in his superior ability (compared to Edwards' and Wiseman's) to impact games, specifically by making scoring easier for teammates with his pace, vision and IQ.

The numbers highlight Ball's tremendous influence on offense relative to his peers. Ball stands 33rd in value over replacement player, while Wiseman ranks 467th and Edwards 491st out of 492 players.

Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges are shooting over 50 percent off Ball's passes. Last season, Washington, Bridges and Devonte' Graham shot below 37 percent off Rozier's passes. Off Graham's passes, Washington, Rozier and Bridges shot below 44 percent.

Aside from shot-making and distributing, Ball is finding other ways to leave his mark. He ranks just behind Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook among guards in offensive rebounds per game (1.5). He's fourth in steal percentage (2.7 percent), forcing turnovers with his quick hands and anticipation.

Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

Suggesting the Timberwolves and Warriors screwed up isn't to bash Edwards or Wiseman, who have flashed plenty of promise and possess paths to star-caliber value.

But wouldn't Ball be awfully useful for the Wolves, who rank 28th in offensive efficiency? And with Stephen Curry, who will turn 33 on March 14, leading the NBA in off-screen field-goal attempts and Ball showing he can play off the ball as well (32 percent of possessions at shooting guard), don't those questions about how they'd coexist seem silly? The Warriors' No. 21 offense has actually been 11.1 points better per 100 possessions when Wiseman is off the floor.

The Hornets wisely didn't worry about fit with Ball. They added him to a roster that had an established backcourt. They'll reap the benefits of two draft-night oversights and move forward with one of the league's premier two-way playmakers.

And don't sleep on this: Beyond his underrated jumper and layup package, Ball is showing unexpected hustle and intangible value, a factor that tends to separate good from great in the NBA.

                          

Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference.

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