Breaking down why the Knicks should be cautious in trading up for LaMelo Ball.
As the 2020 NBA Draft approaches, LaMelo Ball recently indicated that he has only granted two teams a pre-draft interview: the Golden State Warriors and the New York Knicks.
While the Warriors hold the second overall pick, it is a bit odd for the Knicks to be the only other team to have interviewed the top prospect as they own the 8th pick and Ball is projected to be drafted no later than where the Warriors pick. So the only way the Knicks could acquire Ball is if they trade up.
Interestingly enough, that scenario looks possible as the teams with the top two picks, Minnesota and Golden State, are in win-now mode. But just because it’s a possibility doesn’t mean it’s the right move for the Knicks.
Let’s discuss why.
Ball Family Hype
Why is everyone so enamored with LaMelo Ball? Last I checked, most Knicks fans are not following the Australian Basketball League (NBL). Even the most knowledgable Knicks fan doesn’t know the name of the team he played on. While Ball has produced some nice highlight clips, the real reason he is so popular is because of his family. The sad part is that his dad is just as popular as his brother, Lonzo, an actual NBA player.
Before we get into the reasons why I feel the Knicks should think twice about trading up for LaMelo, let’s review the top two picks from the last 10 drafts. The results are telling.
2010 – 1st. John Wall, 2nd. Evan Turner
2011 – 1st. Kyrie Irving, 2nd. Derrick Favors
2012 – 1st. Anthony Davis, 2nd. M. Kidd-Gilchrist
2013 – 1st. Anthony Bennett, 2nd. Victor Oladipo
2014 – 1st. Andrew Wiggins, 2nd. Jabari Parker
2015 – 1st. Karl-Anthony Towns, 2nd. D.Russell
2016 – 1st. Ben Simmons, 2nd. Brandon Ingram
2017 – 1st. Markelle Fultz, 2nd. Lonzo Ball .
2018 – 1st. Deandre Ayton, 2nd. Marvin Bagley
2019 – 1st. Zion Williamson, 2nd. Ja Morant
Out of the 20 players selected with the top two picks in the last 10 NBA drafts, only 7 are considered star, franchise players. Victor Olapido did make two All-Star teams, but it wasn’t until he was on his third team in five seasons.
Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell have also made All-Star teams, but their defense is the reason their teams don’t win. DeAndre Ayton has been good, but is not a star yet.
Regardless, the results show having a top two pick doesn’t guarantee you a star. Of the ones considered stars, they all have something in common, they are all physical outliners. They have great size and athleticism for their positions. So if you go by that logic, then Anthony Edwards is more likely to turn into a star, then LaMelo Ball.
LaMelo vs. Lonzo
While LaMelo has good size for a point guard, he is not a great athlete. In fact he is considered less athletic than his brother Lonzo, the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 draft. According to NBADraft.net, LaMelo is rated slightly below his brother in athleticism. As for their overall pre-draft rating, Lonzo was rated a 98, while LaMelo’s a 96.
Fans forget how highly-touted Lonzo was coming out of UCLA. His stat line was impressive. He averaged 16.8 ppg, 8.7 apg, and 6.8 rbg. While LaMelo’s numbers look similar, Lonzo did it in an amazingly efficient manner. His 2P% was 73.2%, and his 3P% was 41.2%. He had an assists-to-turnover ratio of 3.1 and averaged 2.1 steals per game.
To be fair to LaMelo, the level of play in the NBL is better than the NCAA and his sample size of games is smaller.
The Thibs Fit
Aside from the athletic ability and shooting, the other cause for concern is fit. LaMelo doesn’t strike me as a Thibodeau guy.
The Knicks have a history of pairing their leader (coach/executive) with the wrong star player. In 2005, the Knicks brought in Larry Brown to coach Stephon Marbury even though their experience working together on USA basketball was a disaster. In 2011, they traded for Carmelo Anthony who wouldn’t buy into Mike D’Antoni’s offense. The 2014-15 season was the start of the Phil Jackson era. After three seasons, it ended in the same manner, as Carmelo didn’t buy into Jackson’s philosophy. Then in 2017, the Knicks replaced Jackson with Steve Mills, who happened to be the person Kristaps Porzingas distrusted the most in the organization. As you can see, having your star aligned with your organization’s leader is paramount.
Given but not Earned
When you look at LaMelo Ball’s basketball journey, you will notice that his dad, LaVar, has been manipulating the situation from the beginning. He sent his kids to Chino Hills high school, which wasn’t a good basketball program, so they could shine. He forced the coaches to play fast and let LaMelo cherry pick in order to get easy baskets. LaVar also coached LaMelo’s AAU team.
Chino Hills break up
When Dennis Latimore was named head coach before LaMelo’s junior season, he changed the team’s philosophy, emphasized defense and made fellow draft entry Onyeka Okongwu the focal point of the offense.
Instead of staying and dealing with adversity, LaVar tried to transfer LaMelo to another school. When that didn’t work, he preferred to send him overseas. In Lithuania, the Ball family ran the show. Even with preferential treatment, he was still openly criticized by his teammates for being lazy.
Then LaMelo returned to high school to play at the Spire Institute. While there, many teams canceled games over concerns about Ball’s amateur status. There were also complaints about LaVar trying to profit from his son’s fame. As an example, charging $10,000 appearance fee for a tournament.
After LaMelo was not allowed to play college basketball, he joined the NBL. He just so happened to join the Illawarra Hawks, the worst team in the league. While he did impress, he only had a 37.5% FG% and shot 25% on 3-pointers in 12 games.
Now compare that to R.J. Hampton, who was also highly-touted coming out of high school. He joined a much better team in the NBL, the New Zealand Breakers. His draft stock has been hurt by playing on a better team which didn’t give him free rein. Why should the player that took the easier path be rewarded more?
How is LaMelo going to handle adversity? That is the true indicator of how a player’s career will turn out. A lot of talented players are drafted every year, but most don’t make it. The main reason is knowing how to deal with failure.
The players who don’t give up and continue to work hard to improve are the ones that break through. Coach Thibodeau is a demanding coach who isn’t known for being very personable. Is LaMelo the right player to deal with the bright lights of New York and the intensity of Coach Thibodeau? That is the question..
Even though he doesn’t have final say on personnel, let’s go with what Coach Thibodeau says. He was a former point guard and knows how to maximize their talents. When Derrick Rose was hurt, he ran his offense through John Lucas III and Nate Robinson. So if Coach Thibodeau believes in LaMelo, then go get him.