NBA

NBA Draft 2020: LaMelo – the best of the Ball brothers?

By Sports Desk November 18, 2020

LaMelo Ball is expected to be the first name called out during the 2020 NBA Draft.

Lonzo Ball was drafted second in 2017, but younger brother LaMelo is projected to go first on Wednesday, like Zion Williamson, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James before him.

LaMelo Ball excelled in one of the best professional leagues outside of the United States – the NBL via its Next Stars program.

The 19-year-old was crowned the 2019-20 NBL Rookie of the Year during his stint with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia, where he averaged 17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 12 games before a foot injury cut short his season.

Matt Flinn knows Ball better than most, having coached the emerging guard during his time with the Hawks and he provided an insight into his brief but successful period in Illawarra.

"The first thing that came out for me was how enthusiastic he was and how much he actually loved the game," Flinn told Stats Perform News ahead of the NBA Draft. "That sounds obvious, but some people play the game because they're good at it, some people play the game because they're actually good at it but they genuinely love it and identify with it.

"That's the first thing that struck me with Melo. That's a cycle that he operates on, a simple formula that the more you love something, which he clearly does, the more he does it. He works out a lot, he is like a gym rat. The more you work out, the better you get. The better you get, the more you love it. It goes into this simple formula and style but ultimately it works for him. It was just his joyfulness for the game, and that's infectious, it rubbed off on his team-mates and coaching staff.

"There was an obvious aura about him when he first came in, that was defined a little bit by the celebrity status and attention he was getting outside of practice. We had 100 people lined up outside the gym at the first practice he was at. That was surreal for us in Illawarra. We shut all the doors, we didn't let Facebook in. I was really strong with that. I wanted to establish a clear line that 'okay Melo, you are who you are outside, but inside these walls, we're going to do our very best to treat you like everyone else'. I think he actually appreciated that and it built some trust. We were allowed to get to work. There was a fair bit of work to do. It's not sexy when you're grinding all the time and working as we all do, a lot of repetition and drills.

"All I ever really wanted from Melo was for him to get better in a team environment because that was the real unknown factor from everyone. We know he can play, with these great attributes and skillset but how he is going to survive in an elite practice environment and elite team environment in games? At 18 years old, I'll be honest right at the start before he even trained, I had question marks how he would adapt to a very physical league with FIBA rules, every team is scouted really well, how is he going to adjust to that and how will I adjust if he can't adjust?

"It became really clear in the first few weeks of practice that this kid can flat out play. How do we now push this into a team environment and teach systems, schemes etc."

The Hawks endured a forgettable season, ending the campaign 5-23 but Ball was a standout prior to his injury.

Ball became the youngest player in NBL history to record a triple-double after posting 32 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds against the Cairns Taipans in November last year, while he also had three double-doubles.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are set to pick first midweek, ahead of the Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Hornets.

"Sometimes in elite teams it's not always going to be about you, you have to find ways to contribute. Sometimes you have to take a backseat, some other guy might be doing better and contributing to a matchup problem. I'd like to think that some of those instances or scenarios that he's had with us will help prepare him for the next level," Flinn said.

"I think he's going to be way better in the NBA than we saw because the freedom of movement, it's a high scoring, run and gun, more athletic league. You have more rim protection, which allows you to potentially gamble more. Better coaching, more support around your schemes.

"He's always had this ultimate goal to develop his game to be at the ultimate level. I think whoever gets him, if the coach is right and I'm not saying you have to bow down to him, but if you're going to make a significant investment in a kid like this, you're going to have to continue to teach and nurture it.

"I think Melo was lucky that although a lot of people say rookie coach etc, he was lucky that he landed with me because I'm a teacher. That allowed me to maintain some sort of positivity and constantly be on him about a team learning environment and I think that will be accelerated again. Student of the game, he just has a natural thirst for the game of basketball. The next level for him, no one can deny his skillset – his passing, length, quickness, split on balls, throw no-look passes, see things before they happen – the next corner for him to truly become of the greats is to work on his body and be a student of the game."

Lonzo Ball was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, though the 23-year-old – who averaged 11.8 points, 7.0 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game last season – now finds himself with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Even according to Lonzo, LaMelo is seen as the most talented Ball brother and when asked to compare the siblings, Flinn said: "No disrespect to his brothers, but I think he will be the best out of the three. He is 19, it's ridiculous."

"You're a product of your environment and what I've seen from LaMelo is a gracious kid, positive and happy kid… we're still in touch today as he is with most of his team-mates from that team," he continued.

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