Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If you want to gain insight about LaMelo Ball's season in Australia, you talk to Corey 'Homicide' Williams. As an analyst for the National Basketball League, Williams watched Ball closely last season. He spent time around the Ball's team and the teams and coaches competing against the 18-year-old.
And Williams' basketball opinions are informed.
This isn't like asking Bob Costas to break down a players' strengths and weaknesses. (No disrespect intended to Bob Costas).
Williams won NBL MVP in 2010, played for several NBA teams in Summer League and preseason and is a New York City streetball legend (Ron Artest listed Williams as one of the best players he's faced).
So Williams' perspective on Ball's play in Australia is instructive.
Initially, Williams thought Ball's NBL stint wouldn't work out well.
"I was not a believer. As a New Yorker, we don't believe in highlights, we don't believe in fluff. We don't care who you are, where you're from or what walk of life. Prove it to us. If we don't see it, we don't believe it," Williams said in a phone interview.
"And on top of that, I was turned off by LaVar. For me, he talks too much. And it became distasteful. I'm all for parents pushing their kids. ... However, at some point, you've got to turn the s--t off and let the kids play. So the more he talked, and treated it, I felt, like AAU -- that's when it started to become a little bit too much and it turned everybody off. But I'm going to talk about me.
"As a straight shooter, sometimes this country (Australia) gets tired of me. And I'm nowhere near LaVar. So I'm thinking that if the baby is coming over here -- LaMelo -- and the dad is coming, no way this is going to work. I don't want to hear his mouth and the whole country doesn't want to hear his mouth. It would have been an epic fail."
But Williams changed his mind after seeing LaMelo Ball play in a game early on against the Perth Wildcats and guard Damian Martin, a six-time NBL defensive player of the year.
"That's the benchmark for me," Williams said of Perth. "Any import point guard who thinks they're good, all we say is this: let's see what he does against Perth and Damian Martin. They're physical, they play extremely hard and they're picking you up full court…. (But) Damian Martin couldn't do anything with (Ball). They began doubling him, getting the ball out of his hand. Never seen that, ever."
Ball had 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in the preseason game. He hit four 3-pointers. Williams, and the dozens of NBA scouts/front office personnel in attendance, came away impressed.
"I said then, that's the No. 1 pick in the draft. This was (September)."
Ball had previously been pegged as a late first-round pick in some mock drafts. But after playing 12 regular-season games for the Illawarra Hawks, Ball is a consensus top-five pick.
The Knicks have him rated as the top point guard in the draft. Most NBA teams probably do. LaVar Ball would like to see his son in New York. Others in LaMelo's camp -- outside of LaVar -- would also like to see the 6-7 guard in New York, per SNY sources.
Of course, we won't know if the Knicks can land Ball until we get to the NBA Lottery. (New York currently has the league's sixth-worst record).
But Williams, who earned fame as a streetball phenom in New York City and has NBA experience, believes Ball can handle the Big Apple spotlight with ease.
"This kid's got New York written all over him. It wouldn't be nothing (he couldn't) handle," Williams said. "He's always been in the spotlight. He's famous like a Kardashian but he actually has talent."
Williams cited Ball's donation to Australian wildfire relief when talking about his mentality and ability to thrive in the spotlight . He also cited Ball's experience with fame (he has 5.3 million Instagram followers) as evidence that he can handle all the attention that would come with playing in a big market.
"He's grown up in it. so you ain't gotta worry about him blowing (money) or losing his f----g mind," Williams said. "This is a NBA franchise's dream. We don't have to worry about this kid with newfound fame? He grew up in it. He ain't no different than Kylie Jenner or Kendall Jenner."
Williams sees the same flaws in Ball's game as other evaluators (outside shooting, shot selection and defense). But Williams also saw Ball's work-ethic first-hand. He credited Ball's manager and mentor, Jermaine Jackson, for the 19-year-old's professional approach to his craft.
"For him to come over (to Australia) with Jermaine Jackson, that was the best thing that could have ever happened. (Jackson) understands the culture of international basketball, he understands how to be a pro, how to carry yourself, the do's and don'ts. The unwritten rules and laws of this," Williams said of Jackson, an NBA role player (including a stint with the Knicks) who had a strong international career.
"All of these things that he's learned and he's seen, he's implemented it all into this young fella. If it was not for Jermaine Jackson, the season wouldn't have went for LaMelo the way it did.
"One game, there was defensive lapses early in the season. Even though they won the game, Jermaine had him in the beach in the sandpit working. "He wants to get better (defensively). And I saw him get better."
Ball finished the season averaging 17 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. He shot 38 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc.
It's logical to question Ball's NBA readiness based on those numbers, but Williams' confidence in Ball stems from the progression he saw over the course of the season.
"This was his first time having to play real defense and be held accountable," Williams said. "To look at it from that perspective and to where he's come during his NBL season, he's come a long way. He's still got a long way to go but it's effort, wanting to get better. And that's there."
Williams believes Ball's assist numbers would be higher if he were surrounded by NBA-quality shooters and big men who can finish.
"I believe that because of the team that he had, he's giving them the ball in the right places (to score and they weren't converting) and he got bored. I believe he got bored," Williams said.
There will certainly be scrutiny around LaMelo Ball if he ends up in New York. Media and fans will be dissecting everything about LaMelo and wondering if LaVar Ball will become a distraction for the club. Based on what he's seen over the past few months, Williams doesn't think any of that would derail Ball's path to stardom in in the city.
"As a native New Yorker, I know talent -- and I know what I saw," Williams said. "You're not going to find a kid his age with a basketball IQ like that, you're just not. And I know he's just going to keep getting better."