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Through six weeks of NBL play, the narratives and questions surrounding LaMelo Ball have changed from “Is he a legitimate NBA prospect?” to “Is he the best point guard in the draft?”
His case just received a boost after he led the Illawarra Hawks to their second win Saturday. Finishing with 24 points, eight assists, six rebounds and five triples, the 18-year-old Ball fueled the team’s offense and put the Cairns Taipans away with late-game setup dishes and shot-making.
While Ball’s production coming into that game was already highly impressive, watching him outplay a pro team and carry his squad to a win was validating.
Concerns about his approach and style have quickly disappeared. He ranks second in the league in assists (6.1), regularly creating highlights that illuminate his ball-handling, passing skills and vision.
Operating with 6’7″ size off ball screens has proved to be advantageous when making plays in crowds or tighter spaces. Compared to the draft’s other point guards, Ball may have the edge as the top facilitator.
He has also stood out for his touch on floaters and finishes at the rim, where he uses angles and maintains balance bouncing off contact despite possessing a skinny frame and limited explosion.
Teams drafting in the top five will focus on Ball’s jump shot, the swing skill that might determine the magnitude of his scoring potential. He’s made 18-of-63 three-pointers, demonstrating a low, two-handed push release with the left elbow flaring out.
But this early in his career, it could be worth putting more stock into his made shots as opposed to his mechanics and inconsistency. Ball has hit multiple threes in four consecutive games, and there shouldn’t be any concern about his range, which he’s made a habit of trying to show off since early in high school.
Defensively, Ball will need to improve at keeping ball-handlers in front of him, as he gets cooked off the dribble too often. On the bright side, he has good playmaking instincts like his brother, Lonzo, as he uses his quick hands and anticipation to collect 1.7 steals per game.
Ball ultimately comes off as a high-floor, high-upside option in June’s draft. There seems to be little risk given his tools, elite skill level, basketball IQ and success in a pro league. He’ll remain a triple-double threat regardless of whether he can develop into a 35-40 percent three-point shooter.
The draft’s No. 1 point guard debate might come down to personal preference depending on the team picking and its roster. Either way, the eye test, numbers and encouraging professionalism suggest Ball deserves to be in the mix for both best prospect at his position and No. 1 overall in the 2020 draft.