Many basketball pundits consider LaMelo Ball to be one of the top picks in the 2020 NBA Draft in October. The 19-year-old has impressed in his young career, including his most recent action as a professional in Australia. But according to ESPN’s top college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who has been covering the NBA Draft since 2003, LaMelo Ball is good, but not worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. He explains why.
LaMelo Ball’s circuitous career journey around the world
LaMelo Ball has had an interesting start to his young basketball career, to say the least. At just 19 years old, Ball has already played professionally in three different leagues, including one in Lithuania and another in Australia.
After his junior year in high school, Ball made his professional debut in January 2018 with Prienai of the Lithuanian Basketball League. He stayed and played for four months before his father LaVar pulled him out of the league because he felt his son wasn’t receiving enough playing time. During his limited time there, he averaged 6.5 points and 2.4 assists in 12.8 minutes per game.
In May of 2018, Ball played for the Los Angeles Ballers in the Junior Basketball Association, a league created by his father as an alternative to college basketball. In his debut, he posted a triple-double of 40 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. In eight regular-season games, he averaged a triple-double with 39.6 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 11.5 assists per game.
After a brief stint playing high school basketball his senior season, Ball left the U.S. for Australia, where he played for the Illawarra Hawks of the National Basketball League. In Australia, Ball impressed, including a pair of triple-doubles in back-to-back games. After suffering a bruised foot, Ball was sidelined and sat out the remainder of the year. He finished the season, averaging 17 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game and was named the NBL Rookie of the Year.
Jay Bilas offers thoughts on LaMelo Ball
Jay Bilas knows basketball. That’s why he’s been an ESPN analyst since 1995 and has been part of the NBA Draft coverage since 2003. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, Bilas said LaMelo Ball is a special talent.
“Ball has positional size. He’s a legitimate 6-7 or 6-8. He’s insanely creative with the ball. He’s ridiculously talented. Just a fabulous passer; every bit the passer his brother (Lonzo, a point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans) is.”
Bilas said while Ball has a lot of upside, he has some notable flaws as well.
“He just doesn’t shoot it (well). He’s going to have to really work on it. He’s got an odd release. And worse than the odd release? It doesn’t go in. I think he can improve upon (his shooting) and become more consistent. But is he going to be like one of the Warriors guys that knocked shots down? I don’t see that. One thing the NBA has proven is they can take a below-average shooter and make you into a competent shooter. But I don’t know that many below-average shooters that become excellent shooters.”
Bilas said another knock on Ball is the youngster has to defend better.
“Everything got better while he was in Australia. He became a more focused player and really matured. But he’s another guy where he’s only played at one end of the floor. He’s capable of defending. He’s just got to knuckle under and do it.”
Jay Bilas’ top two picks are …
Jay Bilas said he believes the Charlotte Hornets will likely take LaMelo Ball with the No. 3 pick. Who will Minnesota and Golden State take at No. 1 and 2? He believes the Timberwolves will go with guard Anthony Edwards out of Georgia.
“Anthony Edwards is the most dynamic athlete in the draft. He’s kind of like an Eric Gordon or Dwyane Wade type of player, and he can really score. He averaged about 20 a game (in one season) at Georgia. He can really do it all on offense. He can go right or left equally well, which is unusual. He’s got really deep range and he can make challenged shots.”
As for Golden State, Bilas thinks the Warriors would be best served if they went with 7-foot-1-inch center James Wiseman out of Memphis.
“If this were 10 years ago (before the NBA’s increased emphasis on outside shooting and the three-point line), Wiseman would be No. 1. He’s a lefty who reminds me a lot of Chris Bosh when Bosh came out of Georgia Tech. He’s 7-1, very mobile and can step away and shoot it. He rebounds at a high rate at both ends. Can block shots. Runs well. The only question with him as to just how great he’s going to be is: Can he consistently knock down NBA threes? Can he be a real stretch-five?
“And that’s honestly why I don’t have him at No. 1, because I don’t know the answer to that. He shoots a really good ball and he’s a good jump shooter. But it’s not like a natural skill of his where he’s (Kristaps) Porzingis or something, firing 30-footers.”
Bilas’ assessment of the top three picks with Ball at No. 3 isn’t too dissimilar from other mock drafts. Whether or not Ball goes No. 3 or No. 1 is hard to tell. Wherever he goes, he will have a lot of expectations waiting for him when he arrives.