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Posted On: 12/6/18 9:56 AM
Like many of you, I have followed the Ball Family and the Big Baller Brand for the past few seasons. At times I have been critical of Father Lavar Ball’s decisions regarding his youngest two sons, but how I feel about that is neither here nor there.
I had the pleasure of watching 2019 LaMelo Ball and Spire Institute play Life Christian Academy at Virginia State University yesterday and everyone keeps asking me the same question: How good is LaMelo Ball in person? Well I’m going to break down some of his game, give you the good and the bad and my final, honest analysis and evaluation at the end. Below, I have attached the raw highlights from Ball Is Life, and will be referring to them at times throughout the piece. Enjoy!
As a legitimate 6’6″ guard, LaMelo checks all the boxes when it comes to height, length and athleticism. The fact that he has good feel for the game allows him to use his athleticism on both ends of the floor to impact the game on the glass, although he does seem more interested in crashing the offensive glass for points than he does the defensive glass. However, he does jump passing lanes well, he disrupts passers with his length and he finished a few plays way above the rim. He checks all the physical boxes for not just the college level but also beyond that.
When you look through his stats from the box score, you’ll see that LaMelo Ball finished with 13 assists and one turnover. While I typically don’t do this, I’m positive he had more than one turnover (tape don’t lie), but Ball was pretty rock solid with the basketball and made good decisions for the most part. His ability to pass with both hands is something very underrated about his game. Take a look at 3:25, 4:45 and 6:56 in the video above. All are simple, correct passes to make, and he does so effortlessly and correctly with his left hand. Throughout the video you’ll see Ball make both simple and tough passes and he makes them look very easy doing so. As a drive-and-kick guy he got into the teeth of the zone well and found his shooters with regularity and ease. Take a look at about 10:35 in the video. On a broken down play, LaMelo gets the defender off of his feet, gets into the middle of the zone where he has a good look at a floater from about 10 feet out. Instead, he sees Terry Lockett who hit four three-pointers in the game wide open in the corner and he finds him at the last second for an easy look. Elite vision and passing ability from Ball was one of the more impressive things about him throughout the game.
Pick your spot in the second half of that video above and don’t tell me Melo doesn’t have the entire package when it comes to finishing around the rim. You want finesse? 4:55, 6:24 on the alley-oop or 7:30 with the three-point play? You want power? Check out his second half with the put backs at 7:55 and 11:33, both were relatively easy for Ball who crashed from the outside and got way above the rim for the throw downs. The most impressive part about LaMelo’s finishing ability is his footwork and ability to finish with both hands around the basket. While he can play above the rim, he often finds ways to finish below the rim against bigger defenders using either hand or putting spin on the ball. Check out the clip at 11:00, where he snakes into the teeth of the defense, using a little ball fake to freeze the defender then finishes with his right hand on the left hand side, using spin on the ball just in case to avoid the block. While he makes it look very easy, that is not an easy play to make.
Like many I was under the assumption that LaMelo Ball’s best attribute was his ability to shoot from deep. I mean I watched the kid grow up on YouTube going for 91 points and pointing at half court and hitting it like it’s a step in three. However, when talking with other people and watching him yesterday, much like his brother Lonzo, LaMelo’s shooting can be described at best as “streaky.” I’m not going to get into his form because all of the Ball’s have their unique way of shooting the ball, I’m just going to break down his points. If you see in the video, Ball hits two threes in a short period of time toward the end of the first quarter, hitting a catch-and-shoot three from the corner at around 3:55 then hitting a deep three off the bounce after dribbling it out at about 5:07. He hit one more three in the second half, but the numbers show Ball was much more effective inside the arc. He finished 11-for-20 from the field, and eight of his nine misses came from behind the arc.
While Spire didn’t exactly play a super tight zone, watching the tape will show that Ball often just floated in the zone looking for steals or leak out opportunities. The fact that Spire even played a zone was frustrating because it was tough to gauge how Ball would be as an on ball defender. He did shoot passing lanes, often got back defensively and contested shots at the rim, but all too often he seemed okay with making one attempt at a deflection or steal then letting his team play 5-on-4. I would like to see Ball in a situation where he has to guard the opposing ball handler or two man to see if he’s capable of turning the switch on defensively against high level competition.
I’m not one to harp super heavily on body language, because in times I’ve seen kids get labeled as “not playing hard” when really they just aren’t a “rah-rah” kind of guy as I like to put it. However, too often we would see Ball disengaged and look like he did not care whether or not his play affected his team in a good way or not. Since he played at such a high level it didn’t have much of an outcome on the game, but if things aren’t going his way and he comes off the way he did that could feed over into his teammates and have a negative outcome on the game.
You ever play pick-up with someone and you wonder why they take some of the shots they do? Even the guy who makes three in a row will then take a terrible shot and may say something like “heat check!” Ball had multiple moments in the game (many of them not on the tape), that were just like that. After hitting those two threes in the first quarter, Ball had a play in the second quarter that made me literally shake my head. He caught an outlet pass that took him too far under the basket, and with a defender crashing he decided against shooting the layup. With teammate Rocket Watts, arguably Spire’s best shooter, wide open for an easy three from the corner, Ball opted against the easy pass for another possible assist and dribbled out right to where Watts was, where he took an off balanced three from the corner that he air-balled. There were numerous times he caught the first pass on the break and didn’t hesitate to fire it up, which was bad because Spire, and LaMelo in particular, did a great job for most of the game moving the ball and finding the open man for an easy shot. At times it was almost as if Ball felt like he had to shoot the basketball.
Building on his shot selection, sometimes Ball seemed to be playing more for the highlight reel and stat sheet than he did to help his team win. While it isn’t in the video, Ball caught a pass against the press with a little over 1:30 left, and while he was wide open his team was up double digits and would have been fine running the clock out. Instead, he fires up a three-ball, which didn’t impact the outcome of the game but was unnecessary and felt like he only did it to pad his stats and give him more highlights. The same thing can be said about the dunk toward the end of the video at 11:25. With Spire up by 10 with less than a minute left, they broke the press by throwing it ahead to Ball. Instead of holding the basketball with LCA’s subs in, he attacked the basket hard, throwing down an impressive but unnecessary dunk, standing in the middle of the court pointing at the defender under the basket and basking in the glory of the crowd going crazy. I’m not against putting an exclamation point on the game, but the way he did it and acted afterwards felt like it was just for the many camera men and women underneath the basket.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if LaMelo Ball is allowed to play college basketball he can play it at the highest level. If he were to be ranked nationally, I believe he’d be conservatively ranked between 10 and 25, depending on the service that’s ranking him. The fact is, Ball is probably one of the top five most talented players in the country. He checks all of the physical boxes, he can play both guard positions, he’s a dual threat scorer and distributor with the ball in his hands and he’s played against high level competition throughout his career.
The questions for Ball are in the intangibles. Can he play hard for all four quarters? When it gets down to the wire and the game gets gritty, can you count on him to make the right play? Is he more concerned with how he looks to the public than he is about his team winning basketball games?
If these things are in fact a problem, it could hold him back when it comes time for him to enter the NBA Draft because they aren’t things that NBA coaches want to fix or have to deal with. While he’s a lottery talent, he comes with the baggage of a Father who has already had issues with an NBA Coach and owner, and he’s been in the national spotlight for a long time and seems to enjoy it. Only time will tell, but for now here’s my take.
College Level (if he’s eligible): HM-Blue Blood
NBA Draft Spot: Mid-Late 1st Round
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and be sure to check out LaMelo Ball and the rest of Spire when they come to your town, you won’t want to miss it!