Column: LaMelo Ball is underrated for the 2020 draft class

Photo: Sean Logan/Arizona Republic
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LaMelo Ball was an average, everyday 13-year-old. He was far from average in his basketball talent, but plenty of child phenoms burst onto the scene and rise through the ranks like any others.

Countless teen sensations have played high school basketball, go to college and on to the NBA if they are lucky. As a freshman at Chino Hills High School, this looked to be LaMelo’s path.

Yes, his fame exceeded that of many basketball proteges his age, as his star-studded basketball team spearheaded by his brothers, Lonzo and LiAngelo, but he was a basketball player. Nothing more, nothing less. LaMelo’s freshman and sophomore went as expected, filled with basketball excellence.

After his brother, LiAngelo Ball, graduated in his sophomore year, LaMelo Ball was supposed to inherit the keys to Chino Hills’ squad. He was supposed to eviscerate the high school and AAU scene for another few years, enter UCLA as a top recruit and leave a season later as one of the first names called at the 2020 NBA draft. It was all supposed to be so simple.

Yet, as we all know, this is not LaMelo’s path. Largely due to his boisterous father, LaVar, the Ball Brothers’ fame exploded. No longer was LaMelo Ball a normal kid who happened to be insanely good at basketball. He was a kid, with Lamborghinis and Rolexes and hundreds of thousands of fans. He was a kid with a reality show. A kid with his own signature shoe. A kid who was the face of an off-shoot basketball league, which ultimately flopped.

As a result of all of these off-court shenanigans, Ball’s on-court path veered away from the quotidian. After LaVar pulled him out of high school, he played eight painstaking games in the Lithuanian LKL, where he struggled on the court (16-year-olds should be expected to struggle in one of the world’s better domestic leagues) and off of the court, failing to assimilate with European life. He toured the world with the JBA All-Star team. Finally, he returned to the high school scene, enrolling at Spire Academy in Ohio.

Through a combination of his father’s antics and the polarization of his brothers — many fans are down on Lonzo Ball in the pros and LiAngelo Ball can’t secure a contract playing basketball anywhere, despite his dad’s claims he’s better than Zion Williamson — LaMelo Ball has slipped into the shadows. As the Ball family has fallen out of fashion, so has LaMelo. He’s not wholly invisible, as the 40th overall recruit overall per RSCI, but the hype surrounding LaMelo is nothing close to what many would have expected when he was a freshman.

Quietly, LaMelo Ball has dominated the high school basketball scene. The undeniable talent he flashed as a cub back in California has come out in full force. LaMelo Ball is not a joke. He is as serious an NBA Draft prospect as they come, with a rare combination of size, IQ and skill. In his youth, many prognosticated LaMelo Ball would be a better basketball player than Lonzo.

In some ways, that prediction has come to fruition. Playing with the Illawarra Hawks of Australia’s NBL, Ball will have the chance to prove he is more than just a name. LaMelo Ball is a special prospect; let’s dive in.

Scoring Creation/Shooting

LaMelo Ball shares a few traits with his brother, Lonzo Ball. One of those traits is not scoring creation, where LaMelo is leagues ahead of Lonzo despite being 17 years old. Few players as tall as Ball — likely somewhere between 6’6 and 6’8 with potential to grow even more — possess his intersection of skill and size. True, dynamic point guards as big as LaMelo are hard to come by and often become stars or good NBA players at the least.

A few aspects of LaMelo ball’s offensive package make him a truly remarkable self-creator. Despite lacking a high-level first step or vertical explosion, Ball is an advanced and deadly slasher. His handle is elite and unbelievably fluid, with sticky ball control and the ability to beat defenders with craft and pace, rather than pure athletic gifts. LaMelo can play fast and slow; he loves hesitation and hang-dribbles, freezing defenders before accelerating past them into the lane. Probing the defense, LaMelo dribbles with intent, blowing past his defender before banking in the lefty floater.

Read the story at Rookie Wire for more!

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