The cavalry has arrived in the form of two new import signings with Darington Hobson and Billy Preston, but Next Star LaMelo Ball might be not be available to play alongside his new Illawarra teammates in the coming weeks.
According to a report from ESPN's Jonathan Givony and an official release from the Illawarra Hawks, Ball will miss approximately four weeks of games with a bruised foot that was sustained during practice last week. It was suggested that rest be taken, on advice from a local foot specialist. Ball is expected to make a full recovery, with rehab conducted in Australia, and continue to play for the Hawks in the remainder of the season on his return.
NBA representatives, who were expected to head down to Australia and assess both Ball and fellow Next Star RJ Hampton, might have to reschedule their trips and plan for January instead. Timing-wise, this could potentially prove tricky for NBA scouts and executives, given NCAA college games will be in full swing from January.
The Athletic's John Hollinger discussed the concept of flight risk in a feature last month, and why in-person scouting, especially for LaMelo Ball, is so important.
While many execs got eyes on Hampton during the New Zealand Breakers’ tour of the U.S. during the NBA preseason, Ball is a different story. He’s largely been hidden from sight since age 16, after a botched plan to play professionally in Lithuania followed by brief tenures with a few different stateside outfits of varying legitimacy. Additionally, the scouting challenge for Ball is more complicated – teams really want to understand his body language, behavior in timeouts, and coach/player interactions after some of the stuff that went down in Lithuania two years ago. You’re not getting good info on that from grainy tape.
As Jacob Doole discussed last week, Ball has more than proven himself this season, and furthering this season could possibly impact his draft stock. Obviously, there are valid reasons for Ball to commit to the season and play it out, just to prove that he's worked through his weaknesses and come out of the NBL season, the better for it.
That would surely be the biggest motivator for Ball to end his season early; his draft stock can only go down from here. While his time in the NBL has helped to highlight his many strengths, the high standard of play across the league has also uncovered some weaknesses. Ball is shooting just 24.4% from three, and his defence has been lackadaisical at best and awful at worst. Spending more time on the court may just allow scouts to pick apart the holes in his game, while it’s hard to imagine their opinions of the things he does well, moving any higher.
The Illawarra Hawks play Melbourne United at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Monday night.