Should the Knicks Pursue LaMelo Ball?
[LaMelo is the tenth prospect in the 2020 draft that I've done a breakdown on. You can read about Cole Anthony here, Deni Avdija here, Tyrese Haliburton here, Anthony Edwards here, RJ Hampton here, Killian Hayes here, Onyeka Okongwu here, Obi Toppin here, or Devin Vassell here.]
LaMelo Ball can get the basketball from Point 'A' to Point 'B'. Yes, even if there are four defenders in between points 'A' and 'B'. Yes, even if he can only use one of his hands and is making the pass off the dribble, or if he isn't looking where he's going to pass to, or if he's in mid-air after driving left and his teammate is open in the corner.
The 6'7" point guard most recently of the Illawarra Hawks has spent the last several years in the spotlight. From a 92 point game at Chino Hills in 2017 to being compared to a Kardashian by Corey "Homicide" Williams, it is likely quite easy for Ball to find himself in headlines wherever he might look. He used to be known more for his last name than his actual talent, but his recent showing in the NBL proved to scouts why he deserves legitimate consideration for the top spot on teams' big boards.
As an Illawarra Hawk, Ball averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per contest. His efficiency was certainly a cause for concern, considering that he shot 37% from the field (42.5 EFG%), but his elite passing, ball handling, and touch suggest that he can certainly be a productive member of a good NBA offense: it just might not be as a leading scorer.
Between his adept hesitation moves and speedy crossover dribbles, Ball is able to get past defenders with an artful combination of speed and show; he is able to maintain his own tempo even up until the final moments of his attack towards the rim, at which point he would utilize his soft touch to try and convert the attempt. LaMelo is currently not the best at using his notable size to seek out contact and finish through it, and instead opts for too many floaters/runners. If he becomes more willing to attack the rim directly, he could receive a large boost in his scoring numbers simply due to spending much more time at the free throw line.
Ball's shooting form is unorthodox, similar to his brother Lonzo's. His form shows no consistency; he really just launches the ball at the hoop. Out of his 6.7 three-point attempts per game, he made only 1.7 on average - good for 25% of his attempts. It is worth noting that many of those attempts came late in the shot clock, due to his teammates consistently choosing him as the unlucky player forced to hoist a last-second three at the basket with time expiring. Ball did convert 72.3% of his free throw attempts successfully, showing that his shot, with some major technical changes, might have a vast amount of potential to unlock. You can read about how the Pelicans and LaMelo's brother Lonzo Ball worked to re-work his jumpshot here.
When off the ball, LaMelo stays active and knows when and how to cut to the basket. He gets himself in good positions to get the ball outside the arc as well, usually making a quick move off the dribble - whether it was a shot or a pass - shortly after. In terms of his distributing ability, as I mentioned, LaMelo is an elite passer; he, as scout Spencer Pearlman said, is already on the level of Luka Doncic and Trae Young in that aspect.
Defensively, Ball leaves a lot to be desired. He rarely stays in a true defensive stance and usually doesn't get a hand up when contesting a shot. He prefers to switch instead of fight over/under a screen and finds himself getting caught up gambling for steals too often for me to not notice a general lack of defensive effort. As a part of an NBA level defensive system, this might change - but you'd obviously prefer to see the effort shown at any level.
When LaMelo puts effort into a defensive play, he proves to be a versatile defender who, because of his height if nothing else, can certainly guard a player at either guard position. His lateral movement looks fluid and quick, but his strength and lack of physicality (which also shows itself on offense) will work to prevent him from being a true impact defender unless addressed.
Drafting LaMelo Ball would certainly serve as a solution to both the Knicks' point guard woes and the general directive to take the best player available in the lottery, or with any of your draft selections. Ball is my #1 prospect in this draft class; I simply cannot put anyone else over him due to his passing ability, natural feel for the game, Kyrie-esque ballhandling ability, and potential as a scorer and defender due to his size and touch. I believe that although his fit with RJ Barrett may not be optimal due to both of their shooting struggles, passing up on Ball's talent would not be advisable even if it were to select a better shooter.
If the Knicks don't wind up with one of the draft's earliest selections, then having LaMelo on the team is simply not a possibility. His talent, regardless of how many teams he might refuse to work out for, has him in a situation that will not result in him falling out of the top three picks, in my opinion. If the Knicks do land any of the top three picks, I believe there is some combination of LaVar Ball antics and overall finagling that can assure that LaMelo will be heading to New York this fall.
History would suggest the Knicks might not necessarily move up in the lottery this year. However, they do possess the assets that would be necessary to attach to their lottery pick to move up into the top three. If a team who was not in love with any of this year's top prospects wanted to instead have multiple chances at finding productive players from the middle range of talent, the Knicks could offer three of the draft's first 38 selections in exchange for LaMelo Ball's services. This is a price that I would personally be absolutely fine paying; whether the Knicks would consider moving up or not will likely come down to the general thoughts of Leon Rose, Walt Perrin, and Scott Perry on Ball and how he's performed relative to his classmates.