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  • Mamadou Tall

Third Time's the Charm

Time seems to fly by doesn’t it?

It was like just yesterday we saw a 16-year-old LaMelo Ball drop 92 points in a high school basketball game. Fast forward and now he is a projected top three pick in the 2020 draft.

His last name, which is the focal point of his family’s “Big Baller Brand,” brought some enormous pressure that his older brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo have struggled to live up to. From Lonzo who didn’t live up to the hype that the Los Angeles Lakers threw his way in his first two seasons in the NBA. To LiAngelo who is struggling to crack an NBA summer league roster; for some time it seemed that LaMelo was headed down a similar path.

The youngest Ball brother saw his path to the NBA almost erased as he left his high school, Chino Hills, to play professionally in Lithuania. The inconvenient path wasn’t enough to hide and tarnish the talent that the young 18-year-old has. Two years later, LaMelo Ball is playing in Australia’s National Basketball League for the Illawarra Hawks. As of today he is a projected top three pick in the 2020 draft.

It is undeniable that the third Ball brother is the best of the three. For starters, LaMelo has taken the gifts of his two older brothers and combined them to create his game. He has Lonzo’s amazing vision and passing paired with LiAngelo’s sharpshooting all in a 6-foot-7 lanky frame.

LaMelo’s unconventional path might have been the best thing for him and his draft stock. Playing against grown men versus playing against college kids, is a no brainer. Having a professional strength and training regimen versus college strength and training, is also a no brainer. The ability to invest all your time into basketball because versus splitting your time between class and basketball gives him an upper hand.

Ball’s very few games with the Illawarra Hawks has showcased a much more mature and seasoned player. He’s no longer the young kid that hoisted up 30 shots a game while cherry picking more than half of it.

Ball’s stats of 13.5 points per game, 6 assists per game and 5.5 rebounds per game doesn’t jump at you immediately, but the beauty in his game goes far beyond just a box score. His swag on the court immediately stands out to those watching. His calm, cool, collected approach to the game is a thing of beauty. His pocket passes are seldom off target, while his no look baseball passes mirrors the show stopping passing that his brother Lonzo has shown in the NBA. His play style is a perfect fit for today’s NBA game of “pace and space.”

Ball’s purpose for going to hoop in Australia wasn’t about putting up outrageous numbers. He first made his decision public on ESPN’s “The Jump” in June saying, “I’m trying to be the number one pick for the 2020 draft and I heard they have great strength and conditioning over there.”

As his body is starting to evolve and his physicality is starting to catch up to his skill, he has shown small glimpses of the athleticism that he has, probably the most slept on part of his game. His bounce and hangtime doesn’t always end with ferocious dunks at the rim but instead he gives us acrobatic and hanging finishes around the rim.

LaMelo Ball has been able to stand out and carve out a lane for himself in the NBL (Photo Credit: The Mercury)

His focus on strength and conditioning puts him ahead of many of his peers and the fact it will be a professional strength and conditioning program is even better. Adding some strength and muscle to his tall and lanky frame will make sure he is able to take the bumps and bruises that come along with the NBA’s 82 game season. Anyone with eyes can see that LaMelo has the skills and potential to thrive in the NBA, so getting a head start in developing his physical tools will put him on a level his peers in college can’t match.

One of the things that coincides with Ball’s resurgence as a potential top three pick in the 2020 draft is the silence of his father, Lavar Ball. It seems as if Lavar has learned from his mistakes in handling Lonzo’s and LiAngelo’s careers and the youngest Ball has been a direct beneficiary of that. Two years ago it seemed like Lavar Ball did all the speaking and decision making for the Ball brothers. Now LaMelo has decided to take control of his career forcing his father to just watch and support his son. This is no more evident than in the family’s reality show “Ball in the Family”, where we saw LaMelo make the decision to take his talents to Australia instead of China (Lavar’s suggestion). We have also seen LaMelo reject sticking with the Big Baller Brand and electing to hear offers from bigger sneaker companies, something that his older brother Lonzo didn’t do under the guidance of his father.

Being the third Ball brother has seemed to benefit and shape LaMelo’s path to the NBA. He saw his oldest brother Lonzo take the conventional route of high school, college and the NBA. Then he saw LiAngelo forgo college and go to Lithuania and struggle to even make a summer league team. He gets to see where his abnormal path of dropping out of high school, going to Lithuania, attending prep school and playing in Australia will take him. Skeptics were unsure of him for a while due to route he took, but his journey is what has gotten him to this point. Some NBA executives and scouts are saying he is a potential first pick and this is all thanks to his brothers journeys and his.

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