02/03/2024
Lamelo Ball. Picture: Erik Drost/Flickr.

Lamelo Ball. Picture: Erik Drost/Flickr.

After being taken at number three in the 2020 NBA Draft, did LaMelo Ball legitimise the NBL to NBA pathway?

The LaMelo Ball pre-draft extravaganza ended on Thursday as the Charlotte Hornets selected the prodigiously talented point guard with the third selection in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Two slots down from the number one selection that Ball had coveted, it was still higher than a lot of his detractors – or Ball Baggers as I like to call them – had predicted heading into one of the most difficult drafts to predict in recent memory.

The pick made Ball the highest-selected American-born draftee to bypass college ball for overseas play in history, making him the likely target for the cringe-worthy moniker of ‘Aussie LaMelo’ in the process.

It’s been a long journey for LaMelo to get to the big time, including stop offs in professional leagues on opposite ends of the globe.

Ball’s Bumpy Road

It hasn’t been the traditional path to NBA superstardom for Ball, whose globetrotting pathway may never again be replicated by a potential NBA prospect.

A stint in Lithuania as a 16-year-old where he was completely under-prepared to play against fully grown men, Ball then found a home in the NBL with the Illawarra Hawks in the NBL.

Make no mistake, this stint in Australia was more about image rehab for LaMelo Ball than it was about underlining is undeniable skillset.

Prior to his stint with the Hawks, draft experts had Ball well outside the lottery, but after settling in soundly to his new home, as well as displaying the on court prowess executives always thought was there, Ball bumped into the top three by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

Make no mistake, this stint in Australia was more about image rehab for LaMelo Ball than it was about underlining is undeniable skillset.

The other college prospect taken in the 2020 draft was RJ Hampton, who also bypassed the collegiate system to suit up for the New Zealand Breakers.

Hampton was selected at 23 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.

So that begs the question – did LaMelo Ball legitimise the NBL to NBA pathway?

What did Ball’s pathway tell us about the NBL?

Between potential Covid restrictions and the difficulties associated with sending teenagers halfway across the world to play professional basketball, it is still a wait and watch on the NBL to NBA pathway right now.

What we do know is that Ball at three and Hampton at 23 showcases that if you’re good enough and you believe the college system isn’t for you, playing in Australia isn’t going to hurt your chances in the slightest.

It has been rare in the past for players to look beyond the collegiate system to get ready for the rigors of NBA, but Ball has shown that being exposed to a professional environment at a much earlier age can be hugely beneficial to certain players, especially those who have had question marks placed on their ability to fit in at the highest level.

While we shouldn’t expect to see an influx of prospective NBA talent coming down under any time soon, LaMelo Ball has shown that the NBL can be the league for players looking for an alternative to the college game while still wanting to be taken high in the draft.

And if more players become aware that they don’t need to be exploited by the NCAA to become NBA players, that’s a very good thing.

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