NBA Draft: LeMelo Ball’s Season Over in Australia; Can He Be No. 1 Pick?

LaMelo Ball, top NBA Draft prospect

LaMelo Ball, top NBA Draft prospect

LaMelo Ball’s adventure Down Under is coming to an end because of a foot injury and despite some highlight moments from his season with the Illawarra Hawks, NBA teams are left with as many questions as answers about where Ball stands as a prospect in the NBA and how to evaluate players who forgo college to participate in Australia’s NBL.

ESPN reported on Thursday that Ball was being shut down after having been out since the end of November with a bone bruise. In the report, Ball’s manager Jermaine Jackson said that “the doctor’s policy” is that an injury keeps a player out six weeks requires six weeks of subsequent rehab.

Ball is ready to begin rehab but if he was to rehab for six weeks, the Hawks’ season will be over when he returns. Now, his focus will turn to the NBA Draft in June.

LaMelo Ball’s Up-and-Down Australian Season

Ball averaged 17.0 points in 12 games with Illawarra, to go with 6.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds. In his final game with the Hawks, on November 30, Ball had 25 points with 10 assists and 12 rebounds. In his previous game, he had 32 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.

But his shooting, projected to be one of his strengths, was never particularly good for Ball this season. He shot 37 percent from the field and 24 percent from the 3-point line. That’s a concern for scouts who counted LaMelo’s shooting as a big advantage over his brother, Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball.

Maybe the bigger concern, though, is that the Hawks were not a very good team under Ball’s direction. They are 5-17 now and were only 3-9 when Ball played.

“He’s got everything you’d like to see in a point guard because he is so big,” one scouting executive told earlier this week. “He is probably going to be 6-8 and that kind of size, that sets you apart. But they have had NBA talent there, Josh Boone, they had Aaron Brooks, David Andersen is older now but he is part of that team. There are times if you watch him where it looks like (Ball) is collecting his own numbers and not helping the team win. For a point guard, you don’t want to see that.”

Ball Shows NBA Draft Prospects’ Difficulties Overseas

But that’s part of the tricky business of being a prospect playing overseas in a professional league like the NBL. The rest of the roster is likely to be made up of veterans who are trying to win games and earn a living—they’re not there to help a teenager improve his draft stock.

“The situation that he is in, I don’t know that LaMelo could do much more,” the scout said. “He has to be selfish because he needs to put up numbers and keep getting attention. But if that hurts the team then that hurts his stock, too. He’s going to be hard to evaluate that way. You don’t want to pick a point guard in the Top 5 wondering if he’s a selfish player or not.”

Still, the upcoming draft is uncertain at the top. It’s likely that Memphis’ James Wiseman, who has left the team, and Georgia’s Anthony Edwards will be among the Top 3 players chosen. Ball is in the mix among those guys and, depending on what teams land where in the lottery, he could be the No. 1 pick.

It will depend, though, on how the teams making those picks view his very uneven record in the NBL. “The whole draft is like that this year,” the scout said. “It’s beauty in the eye of the beholder.  I think Wiseman is the best player, I would not take LaMelo. But someone else is going to see it differently. It’s that kind of draft.”

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