It’s never too early to look ahead to next June’s draft. Hey, let’s face it: for about 20 NBA teams, there is no hope of competing for the 2020 NBA championship, which means looking ahead to next June and July is going to be about the only thing that gives hope.
LaMelo Ball is currently on the board at +420 at FanDuel Sportsbook to be the No. 1 pick next June, with no other players listed on the board as of yet.
LaVar’s youngest son will be playing in the NBL in Australia this season for the Illawarra Hawks, and he is currently projected to go No. 3 in the 2020 draft by Jonathan Givony of ESPN’s Draft Express.
“We’re nine months away, and it’s a wide-open group,” Givony told TheLines.com in a phone interview. “His season starts this weekend, and he’s in the mix with about five or six other guys.
“He’s a great kid. I spent a lot of time with him recently in Australia, and guys love playing with him because he makes the game easy,” Givony said. “He can make every possible pass, he’s creative, unselfish, and he can make shots off the dribble with range. He just turned 18, so there’s a lot of room to grow physically.”
Givony currently has incoming University of Memphis center James Wiseman projected at No. 1, and Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards No. 2.
Why scouts love LaMelo
Of course, mock drafts tend to change quite a bit based upon what transpired over the course of any given college basketball season. A year ago, for example, R.J. Barrett of Duke was projected No. 1 only to drop to No. 3 as Zion Williamson dominated for the Blue Devils.
Still, the +420 odds on Ball are enticing given his pedigree and talent.
In his first season at Chino Hills, he won a state title with his brothers and shared MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year honors. As a sophomore, he repeatedly drew national attention, including and especially for a 92-point game. Entering his junior year, a coaching dispute prompted Ball to leave high school and sign with Lithuanian team Prienai.
In 2018, he played in the Junior Basketball Association (JBA), a league created by his father, before returning to high school as a senior with SPIRE Institute. A former UCLA commit, he chose to forgo college basketball amid eligibility concerns and play in Australia.
"I'm trying to be the No. 1 pick for the 2020 draft."
— ESPN (@espn) June 17, 2019
Former Seton Hall and Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez said playing in Australia with older players could work in Ball’s favor.
“The thing I’m very impressed with is his basketball IQ, and intelligence level on par with Luka Doncic or Jason Kidd. He plays at his own pace, he’s never hurried, has a great feel, and always makes the right pass at the right time.
“He has the stuff you can’t teach.”
No clear top pick … yet
NBA scouting officials contacted for this column would not speak on the record, citing NBA tampering rules, but echoed the consensus that Ball is a legit contender for the No. 1 pick. Several said to keep a close eye on Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Deni Avidja as a player who could be the next Doncic. (Maccabi is 70-1 to win the Euroleague at DraftKings.)
The start of the college basketball season is still a month away, with Michigan State (+700), Duke and Kentucky (+800) and Virginia (+900) the four top teams at DraftKings Sportsbook to win the title. Over at FanDuel, Kentucky is +750, Michigan State is +800, Duke is +900 and Kansas is +1200.
Duke has four projected first-round picks, according to Givony, while Memphis has three and Kentucky has two.
Coach Gonzalez said Wiseman is probably the best bet to be No. 1 overall in the 2020 draft.
“He’s a long lefty, runs, blocks shots, shoots 3s … a freak of nature, just ridiculous upside,” Gonzalez said. “But still, it’s so subjective because it’s very, very early.”
Whatever the case, there are going to be hoopheads watching a lot of Australian basketball this season to get a better feel for LaMelo. The Ball family never gets uninteresting, safe to say.