One of the most polarizing players in the past few years is eligible to be drafted this upcoming June, but many people are wondering, is he an NBA player? Or is he just the product of hype manufactured by his family? After being a YouTube sensation since he was 13, the youngest Ball brother now stands at around 6’7” just 5 years later. Not only has he grown physically, but so has his game. If you have not watched him lately, the sheer difference in his playstyle will shock you, and I will cover that in this piece. So let’s answer the biggest question in basketball right now, how good is LaMelo Ball?
As mentioned earlier, LaMelo has been a YouTube star since he was a 13 year old playing on the Chino Hills basketball team alongside his two older brothers. At this time, he was a tiny shooting guard who chucked shots with absolutely no remorse. His jumpshot was ugly as he was not strong enough to shoot it with regular form, and his offense was limited to the 3-point line and looked as if he had no real shot of playing real basketball beyond the high school level.
I was not a fan at all of his playstyle and his tiny frame made me believe he would not grow much to become a real threat. However, that is when it seemed people really gave up on him and have not watched him since. That was the most successful year for Chino Hills as all three ball brothers were together and lead their school to a state title alongside two other D-1 players in Onyeka Okongwu and Eli Scott.
Lonzo was the real reason why they succeeded as the current-day Pelican made a giant impact on both ends of the court, but everyone else did help too. After Lonzo went to UCLA, the team still did well but never regained the throne as state champions. The playstyle of me-first continued throughout his days at Chino Hills as their offense needed someone to take shots, and Melo was ecstatic to get that opportunity. However, LaMelo only had one more year of staying here before the real circus started for the Ball family.
Going Overseas and the Struggles
Now for those who still watched LaMelo play, his early pro career is what really turned scouts and fans away from him. Melo looked overmatched when going against Europeans in the LKL, as he was insanely inefficient and was largely overmatched.
The coach was not a fan of him either and the only times LaMelo looked like a true basketball player was in exhibition games. These struggles continued on to the JBA that was essentially set up to showcase Melo and LiAngelo. Yeah, he put up insane stats, but considering it was a league to showcase offensive and the actual gameplay was disgustingly horrible, it meant basically nothing. Both of these leagues actually helped Melo develop a ton, as I believe it showed him what could become if he never put his mind to the game of basketball.
He did have struggles around this time, seeing his mother deal with health issues, his oldest brother deal with injuries in the pros, and his other brother get arrested and see his potential slowly evaporate. The JBA ended up falling apart, but this seemed to be the turning point in Melo’s career.
Becoming a Worthy Star
After what was a failure of a pro career, LaMelo went back to high school, this time opting for SPIRE Institute in Ohio. SPIRE was not a true basketball powerhouse, but former NBA guard Jermaine Jackson was leading the charge and was a perfect leader for Melo to learn from.
Jackson did get a few years in the pros, but made his living fighting for spots overseas and being the true face of persistence. Jackson tutored Melo around what it meant to be a pro both on and off the court. I am a huge fan of the Ball family and have been watching their reality show for a few seasons, and the amount of time and effort that was put into Melo truly paid off.
Jackson would show Melo the rough area that the former pro came from and demonstrate to Ball that not everyone is as fortunate as him. This wakeup call really helped him see that what was always promised of his incredibly successful career could be flushed away. On the court, Jackson also mentored LaMelo and turned him from a me-first chucker into a true floor general. Yes, he still did take ill-advised shots and talked trash fairly often, but seeing how he played in Ohio makes one think that he has a real chance to be an NBA star. Currently, Melo is playing in the NBL, and really has only played preseason games, but he looks like a much different guy who can fit into a system. Anyways, let’s start the actual analysis.
LaMelo has a ton of positives to his game, and nearly all come on the offensive side of the ball. While his release is ugly, it is quick and has unlimited range. I am not one to try and break down a specific player’s form and determine if he will become a good shooter or not — as we have seen players succeed with revolting releases — and shooting is about making it first, looking good much further down on the priority list. Melo is a threat before he crosses half court, and this allows him to help with his team’s spacing.
Outside of his threat of scoring from deep, Melo is also a very good finisher despite his frail frame. He won’t finish over or through anyone, but his soft touch and elite body control makes him a weapon while going to the rim. Larger players can certainly weaken this ability, but Melo is still able to find his way to the rim and complete plays at a good rate.
Going along with his good control, LaMelo is a solid ball handler who can be a point guard from day one. He won’t become the next great AND1 legend like Hotsauce, but he is able to get past his defender with his change of pace and length. Melo’s control also works well with his playmaking, where his soft touch can find his teammates all over the court, whether it be on lobs, cross-court pocket passes or even the occasional leak out pass.
I think this is easily his biggest asset to a team, where his tall stature allows him to find great shot opportunities and make his teammates better. His development as a playmaker also shows me that he will not only improve more, but he will look better with greater offensive weapons around him in the NBA.
Size and Upside
Coming from a large family, Melo seemed to be the odd one out early in his high school career. It seemed he was only around 5’10” when he was a freshman, and the reports that he would be as tall as Lonzo seemed preposterous. Give it a few years, and the reports that he might be 6’8” are here and everyone is surprised. I am not going to nitpick what his real height is, but he is certainly at least 6’6” when comparing him to his 6’5” brother LiAngelo. For point guards, any size over 6’5” is elite height, and Melo will be one of the tallest to ever man the point in the pros. And while he is still fairly thin, he does have what appears to be a good wingspan that can help his below average strength. Throw in the fact that both his brothers and his father are all fairly strong and well-built, and I can see Melo gaining solid weight and not having his strength be his weakness. He certainly won’t turn into Ronnie Coleman, but his frame reminds me a lot of another tall, thin point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie.
I do see Melo as having a lot more to prove in becoming a better player than what he has showed so far.
Considering he has already had such a rollercoaster of a career by the time he is 18, and he is still able to perform says quite a bit about him. He only recently began to learn what a point guard is, and with even more focus upon this with more coaches, and I can certainly see him being an elite playmaker. His all-around game can improve more as he fully grows into his frame and really knows how to utilize his body better. This can also help him defensively, as he has good instincts now, but he struggles against stronger guys as he is pushed around fairly often.
To keep it blunt, Melo is an atrocious defender. I won’t even try to find a clip to prove my point as any time he is playing, he only plays offense and defensively he takes the time off and tries to be the free safety. To be fair, this is probably more schemed more than anything, as his offensive burden is where his energy is spent — and trying to spend it on defense will end up only harming himself and his team’s scoring. Regardless, his lack of effort is concerning, especially when he does “try” and it does not look much better. I doubt he will ever turn into an even passible defender, similar to Trae Young. His decent foot speed and length should be more impactful than the Hawks’ point guard, but I am not going to say anything until I see it.
Intangibles & Athleticism
While Melo does have good instincts offensively when it comes to playmaking, when he does not have the ball it is certainly not as intriguing. He still drifts and is a non-factor, similarly to someone like Russell Westbrook or John Wall. These guys are so good at creating plays, they don’t know how to be a threat for others as they never learned how to do so. His intangibles also show as he still does love to make highlight plays, when the easy one is available. Going for crazy oops and flashy plays are fun, but sometimes a simple pass can be more impactful. I do think this has been improving as of late, but it is still there and can take away opportunities for him.
While he is an incredibly smooth athlete, LaMelo’s explosion is fairly weak and he may struggle to get past the true NBA lockdown defenders. While some of this can develop when he gets more strength, you usually do not see someone develop from a smooth athlete to an explosive one who regularly beats people off the dribble and finished over and through defenders. Maybe he can learn from guys like Paul Pierce who regularly got around better athletes, but this was due to his strength and incredible IQ. I am not saying Melo is a bad athlete, but he does need to work on his strength and IQ to really make the next jump as a pro.
I am incredibly high on LaMelo as he seems to be groomed to be the true star from the Ball family. His playmaking, size and scoring mentality make him a scary sight for opposing players, and considering he is only 18, I can only see him turning into a bigger weapon.
His defense and IQ needs improving, but all things being considered, the good highly outweighs the bad. I can see him as a Spencer Dinwiddie-esque player, who can shoot it from anywhere and uses his good size to be a real threat offensively.
Melo is a much better playmaker and has a good chance of becoming a bigger offensive weapon as his game develops. Both struggle defensively, but similarly to many other offensive superstars in the NBA today, you will take a dud there when on the offensive side of the court you are getting such an elite prospect. I expect Melo to be a top-5 pick in this year’s draft, and depending how much growth he shows in Australia, I would not be surprised if he climbs to the top of many boards.
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