New York Knicks: A Scout and a Non-Believer Talk LaMelo Ball

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WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 12: Lamelo Ball of the Hawks stands during a timeout during the round 15 NBL match between the Illawarra Hawks and the South East Melbourne Phoenix at WIN Entertainment Centre on January 12, 2020 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Brent Lewin/Getty Images)

A scout and non-believer talk LaMelo Ball:

1. As someone who’s high on LaMelo, what weakness or question mark in his game are you most concerned about?

SPENCER:  The biggest thing is the shot. Though I buy it, it’s far from a sure thing. The reason I buy it, though, is because of his touch in the paint, the form improvements over the last few years (though it still needs work), and his current percentages from above the break on the PnR / DHO.  Above the break is where you make space as an engine G, so him shooting 33% (11/33) from there gives me hope. In addition, if you clean up the shot selection (which should come pretty easily playing with better talent), the numbers should improve.

After that, it’d be defense. Though he’s a smart player on offense and has had legit nice rotations on D (both reasons why I think he can be a good overall defensive player), he has to improve his focus, footwork, and finishing the possession. He is prone to playing too close to his man too far from the action and not contesting after making a nice read (most often in the paint where he’ll swipe at the ball instead of going straight up), but these things can improve with focus improvements. It’s important to keep in mind that this was essentially the first time in his life he was asked to play defense. His footwork can improve with technique work, but I doubt he’ll ever be as technically sound as Frank is at the point of attack. Defense is heavily scheme-based, and no matter what scheme you’re in, team defense is always more important than individual. So if he cleans up the PoA footwork a bit to where he won’t be exploited *that* often, and his rotations become more consistent (again, he’s had flashes), there is a path to LaMelo being a good defender. He has the IQ – just needs the off-ball focus and footwork improvements.

2. The non-scoring floor general is near extinction. Today, the overwhelming majority of initiators – especially on good teams – are scorers. Even guys you’d still describe as pass-first (Chris Paul, for example) are great shooters/scorers. You talked about the jumper, and other scouting reports point to LaMelo’s finishing in the paint (due to “average” athleticism) as a weakness, too. So how does a pass-first player who struggles to score efficiently become elite in today’s NBA? How good of a scorer does he need to become to maximize his playmaking, and how confident are you that he’ll get there?

SPENCER: I actually don’t think the finishing is an issue. He’ll get stronger, which will help him absorb contact, but he’s shown this year he can finish in the paint and through contact. His ability to finish with either hand is a big plus also, especially considering many players his age can’t. And again, the touch.

Answering your question, though: I don’t think he has to be an elite scorer – he just has to be a threat and be aggressive (within reason), which isn’t something we’ll have to worry about. He has deep range now, and, again, the above-the-break 3, he shot 33% on 33 attempts (which is a solid base to go from). If the percentage continues to improve, which I think it will, defenses won’t be able to go under the screen – even at 33% on solid volume, defenses might not be comfortable doing that. He has shown flashes of pull-ups also, and his quick transition from handle to shooting forces the defense to be ready for a shot all over the court. I really think he just has to be a willing scorer and someone who is *around* league average TS% – that’s really it.

Because I think that’s the base, I’m pretty confident. If you want an example, look at Ricky Rubio – elite passer, questionable scorer all-around, and never eclipsing league average efficiency. However, he’s still a big positive impact player on offense because of the passing. If you take Rubio, take it a step up in terms of passing (though maybe that’s pushing it), and give him a more aggressive scoring mindset with around league-average efficiency, that’s a big + on offense…in theory, of course.

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