Observations on LaMelo Ball in the Illawarra-Perth Game

December 5th, 2019

by Alan Lu

Illawarra’s 6-7 point guard, LaMelo Ball has been skyrocketing up draft boards after having put up back-to-back, triple-doubles in the NBL, and ESPN has made him their number one overall prospect on their draft board recently. On one hand, Ball is a tall, versatile playmaker who may possess enormous potential as a prospect for the NBA, and he has played fairly well in a tough professional league in Australia. It’s clear that his size, combined with his strong playmaking skills, and all-around skills makes him a tantalizing prospect, as he may potentially have the most upside among any player in the 2020 draft.

On the other, while Ball may possess adequate shooting ability, he has been prone to hoisting up questionable shots and to having defensive lapses, and he’s put up less than stellar shooting percentages overseas. Some have raised the counterpoint though, that other similarly talented prospects have not shot amazing percentages, either. In trying to reconcile these arguments, I set out to watch another LaMelo Ball game that seemed to be a composite of his performances since the last time I saw him play. This time around, I decided to watch him play against Perth in an October 27th game, with thanks to Facebook via NBL. Here are my thoughts on how he fared, and how his game may translate to the NBA.

People have been talking up LaMelo Ball's triple-doubles in the NBL lately, but his less than stellar shooting percentages have left others skeptical of whether or not if he should be the top pick in 2020.  (Photo: Getty Images and Craig O'Donahue, via The West Australian.)
Illawarra’s 6-7 point guard, LaMelo Ball has been mentioned as a possible top pick for the 2020 NBA Draft. (Photo: Getty Images and Craig O’Donahue, via The West Australian.)

LaMelo Ball is a very gifted playmaker that possesses strong passing and ball handling skills, and his size, court vision, and ability to make plays on offense really enables him to set up a wealth of scores for his teammates. He is a very good facilitator in transition, as he can weave pinpoint passes to his teammates, and he can throw no-look passes to find teammates on the move. He also throws crisp, interior passes, and he will patiently probe the defenses before kicking balls out to shooters to get them the basketball. He also is an agile, fleet-footed player that can split double teams to get to the hoop. However, sometimes he will try to be too flashy, as he would try to throw too many no-look passes, as a couple of them went astray and ended up being intercepted. Other times, he can occasionally mishandle the basketball, and he had a ball taken away after having exposed the ball when attempting a spin move off the dribble.

Ball also did a fairly good job of knocking down jumpers to space the floor for his team. He is a very good ball handler that can make tough shots, as his size for his position and ability to make long-range shots combined with his strong playmaking skills makes him a highly coveted prospect in this draft. Ball used a quick crossover and a step back move to make a nifty, pull-up three in transition midway through this contest. He also ran off of a ball screen to make a deep trail three off of a shovel pass in the fourth quarter. He did tend to hoist up quick threes early in the shot clock, and he was criticized for his shot selection late in the game, but Ball is a confident player that is unafraid to let it fly from downtown.

Ball also showed a good ability to score on hustle plays. He was able to use an off-ball screen to get open as he made a quick cut to the hoop, which allowed him to score off the glass. Ball also excelled at scoring in transition, as he has a good first step to the hoop. However, he also ran in and missed a tip-in after getting an offensive rebound, as he did not go in under control that time.

On the downside, Ball struggled to score consistently on drives to the basket. He did manage to score on a strong, right-handed drive off the glass, and he also drew free throws on a tough, off-balanced runner on a separate play. He can score using either hand, but Ball tended to miss on floaters as well as on shots in traffic, as he can tend to rush his shots, which would lead to misses.

Ball also did a great job of rebounding the basketball. He has a strong nose for the ball, and he would often fly in and leap up to get boards on both ends of the floor, and he would sometimes push the ball up the court after getting defensive rebounds.

Defensively, while he seems to be a little more focused on that side of the ball, and is a very good help defender, he will still need to improve his on-ball defense. For the positives, Ball is a rangy defender that excels as a roamer on the court. He was able to run in to quickly jump a pass to get a steal, and he also rotated to alter a floater off of a drive to force a miss another time. He will sometimes go around screens quickly, which would enable him to be in position to contest shots or to force his opponents to pass the basketball.

On the downside, he tends to gamble too much defensively, which would lead him prone to allowing scores to his opponents. Ball would sometimes be caught ball watching, which would cause him to be out of position quite often, leaving him prone to allowing his man to score on three-point shots or scores off of drives. Other times, he may pick up the wrong player on defense. Also, he sometimes will loaf while running back on defense, which allows his man to get open looks at the basket.

Overall, LaMelo Ball is a talented, but divisive prospect that may need to make more plays consistently to erase doubts about him as a potential top pick for the 2020 draft. On the bright side, he is a strong playmaker whose size and versatility may present him as a player that may have a lot of upside as a prospect for the NBA. On the other hand, he also tends to show bouts of bad shot selection and lapses on the defensive end, and he has shown bad habits in his decision-making process that could be tough to break for him. There is a lot of hype going around about LaMelo Ball, but maybe we should pump the breaks on it for a bit. Right now, he is a tremendously skilled player that will likely go in the top 5 of the 2020 draft, but he will need to be a more efficient shot maker and consistent position defender in games. If he can make these adjustments, Ball could thrive at the next level, as he is talented enough to be a multi-All-Star in the NBA.

Other Notes:

Illawarra’s 6-8, 1998-born swingman, Daniel Grida played fairly well in his team’s loss to Perth. He excelled as a shooter and scorer on offense, and he did a good job of making shots for his team after coming off the bench to play in this contest.

Grida did a very good job of making open, spot-up threes off the catch, and he was also able to knock one down off of a pick and pop play due to his ability to move without the basketball on offense. However, he struggled to make shots inside the arc, as he ended up missing on a close range jumper off of a put back, as well as on a rushed, reverse layup off the glass in transition another time.

He also displayed average at best playmaking skills. Grida was able to kick a ball to a shooter off the dribble to set up a scoring chance for his teammate. However, he threw a pass that was dropped that led his team to commit one turnover, and he also was called for traveling on a right-handed drive that led to another.

Though he didn’t grab many rebounds in this game, Grida was able to collect a board on each end of the floor. However, he also was called for committing a reach-in foul shortly after an opponent was able to garner a defensive board.

Defensively, he looked to be about average. Grida is a high-motor player that plays hard, as he will run back on defense, and he also was able to fight through a screen to stay with an opposing ball handler. He ran in to get a dropped pass to collect a steal due to possessing good instincts. Also, he rotated on a drive to force a miss on a separate possession. However, he had some trouble guarding in the post as well as off the dribble, as he lacks the strength to defend bigger players, and he also had some trouble guarding quicker opponents. Late in the game, he dove on the ground to try to get a defensive rebound, but he ended up committing a loose ball foul that also was an unsportsmanlike foul, as his hand reached around and hit his opponent below the waist.

Overall, Daniel Grida had a fairly solid game in his team’s loss to Perth. He has not played nearly as well in the NBL season though, and he’s really struggled to make shots this year, as his shooting percentages have been abysmal. On the bright side, he’s had some good games, and he is a high-motor player that has the ability to compete for a shooting specialist role at the next level. Most likely, he will probably be a role player in the NBL for the duration of his professional basketball career, but if he ends up making his way to the NBA, he could perhaps end up being a similar player to former Brooklyn Nets’ forward, James Webb III in the association.

Illawarra’s 6-11, 2000-born big man, Samson Froling also played in this game.   While he didn’t have a noticeable impact on the outcome of this match, he was able to show some inside scoring and rebounding skills when he was on the floor.

Froling struggled to make shots efficiently, as he struggled to score in the post, off the dribble, or on jumpers. On the bright side, he managed to score on a roll to the rim. Plus, he also scored on a turnaround jump hook after getting an offensive rebound, while also drawing an extra free throw afterwards. However, he would not always play under control, which would lead him to miss on tip-shots.

Froling was able to make one solid pass from the post, as he backed his man down, and threw a patient pass to find a cutter to notch an assist. Plus, Froling was active at crashing the boards on offense. He would run in to get offensive rebounds, and he also managed to leap up to get a defensive board. He also played fairly average defense. Froling would use his length to contest jumpers to force misses, and he also has good strength to hold his ground when defending in the post. However, he had trouble defending out on the perimeter, as he ended up getting beat off the dribble after hedging out on a screen, which later caused him to commit a reach-in foul afterwards.

Overall, Samson Froling didn’t have his best game, but he is an energetic, physical big man that showed the willingness to score, rebound, and bang inside. He will need to improve his face-up game and low post game, and he will need to show that he can guard more athletic players on the defensive end. Right now, he may be a long shot to be drafted, and he will probably remain a role player in the NBL for the duration of his professional basketball career, but if he ends up making his way to the NBA, he could end up being a fringe rotation player similar to former Golden State Warriors’ center, Chris Hunter in the association.

Illawarra’s 6-4, 1998-born guard, Angus Glover did not play nearly as well as his counterparts did in this game, as he missed all of his shots from the field, and he had trouble making shots off the dribble. He did show a willingness to move the basketball, and he also brought the ball up once. Glover also managed to leap up to get a defensive board. Defensively, he may need to improve on this side of this side of the ball. On one good play, he tried hard to fight through a screen, as his team helped force a miss on a long-range jump shot. However, he also tended to pick up quick fouls. On another possession, he was called for a reach-in foul when going for a steal in the backcourt due to over-aggressiveness.

Overall, Angus Glover did not have his best game, but he played hard when he was on the court. Right now, he looks to be a non-prospect for the NBA, and his lack of ideal size, physical tools, and elite skill may limit his potential for that level, and he hasn’t seen many minutes in the NBL throughout his career yet. Still, he plays with a lot of grit, and that could help him carve out a lengthy career as a role player in the NBL in the future.