What if LaMelo Ball was on the Warriors?

Mar 11, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) reacts after a long three point basket against the Detroit Pistons during the second half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When LaMelo Ball flashed the number two on his Instagram right before the draft, it appeared that the Warriors were going to draft the 18-year old phenom. His unselfishness and overall feel for the offensive end seemed to be an excellent match for the Warriors’ ball-movement style. Jalen Rose recently asserted that the Warriors told LaMelo they were going to draft him. 

Instead, the Warriors drafted James Wisemen. While he possesses great tools as a rim-runner, the center position is primarily a role player position. There are the top-tier offense threats in Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Karl Anthony-Towns, but James Wisemen isn’t at that level yet and hasn’t shown those types of flashes consistently at any level. Since the Warriors are chasing a title on the backend of Curry, Klay, and Draymond’s career, his development isn’t the ultimate priority. That might end up limiting Wisemen’s ceiling.

Ball, on the other hand, is the runaway rookie of the year so far. He’s averaging 20.7 points, 6.7 assists, and 6.2 rebounds as a 15-game starter for the Charlotte Hornets. The Warriors’ decision could dramatically alter the franchise’s course for the next decade and a half.

But what if the Warriors selected LaMelo? How would he fit? Unfortunately for the Warriors, the answer is perfect.

How LaMelo Ball fits with the Warriors

February 26, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the second quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors were so dangerous during their championship run because they had multiple guys who could make a play. Their “death lineup” comprised of five high I.Q players. Ball could come in and fill in the vacancy left by Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. He’s a decisive decision-maker at 18 years old and can be trusted with the ball in his hands. At this stage of his career, he’s already a better shooter than both of them as well. That would open up more optionality for the Warriors on offense.

The Warriors of today are trying to play the same way they did during those runs: lots of ball movements and actions to open up looks for Curry. They’ve improved throughout the season, but they often are forced to revert to Curry pick and rolls. He’s put up great numbers, but it takes away from Curry’s elite impact as an off-ball player where he can set back screens and cut to get himself open.

Ball could also play off-ball. He is also a great cutter and has a knack for finding tiny openings in the defense when his teammates drive. Look at the unselfishness that rubbed off on the rest of his teammates on the Hornets. That culture is already established in Golden State. It would only amplify Ball’s impact there.

LaMelo doesn’t need the ball

One of the cornerstones of the Warriors’ philosophy is not letting the ball stick. Ball fits that criteria perfectly. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer NBA show brought up that Ball does lead the Hornets in touches at 87 per game. However, Hayward and Rozier are not far behind with touches in the 60s, meaning the Hornets are spreading the ball. He’s also averaging only 3.7 dribbles per possession, which is extremely low comparing to other lead playmakers in the league. On a limited time of possession, Ball is still able to impact the team on offense positively. That style of offense is more attractive to other players. It keeps guys engaged on offense, but as well on defense. 

Ball doesn’t need to pound the rock like Luka Doncic or Trae Young for maximum effectiveness. He’s a star that excels when the team moves the ball. That formula matches precisely how the Warriors want to play.

Ball helps the Warriors’ in the short-term

For Wisemen and most young bigs, there is a learning curve on both ends of the court. If the Warriors intend to compete now, Ball would still be a significant contributor on a championship-level team. It will probably take Wisemen a few years before he is a playable big in the playoffs.

The trend the past couple of seasons doesn’t favor Wisemen as well. Bigs who can’t guard on the perimeter were run off the floor as teams targeted them on switches. The Warriors are best when Draymond Green is at the five. He can switch at that spot and is a floor-general on offense. Wisemen in that lineup is another non-shooter (under playoff standards) and doesn’t add much defensively at this point.

Ball, on the other hand, has closed games as the Hornets’ lead creator. In this clip, Ball blows by a tough defender in Jae Crowder during crunch time. The Suns are also one of the best teams in the west.

What people missed on Ball

There were a few main criticisms of Ball coming into the NBA. They assumed he would bring over his bad shot selection and lackadaisical defensive effort. However, teams seemed to miss the context in which he played in. He was on the least talented team in the NBL in the Illawarra Hawks. On that roster, the team needed Ball to be the lead scorer in a true professional league. It’s hard to ask Ball to excel in these circumstances. It was a feat in itself that he helped them win some games. He looked like he belonged in those games.

Those who followed Ball since his high school days know he’s an unselfish player. He isn’t the diva teenager that some made him out to be. His playstyle rubs off on his teammates.

In the summer before he went to the NBL, he played in the Drew League. At 17-years old, he was the engine to a team filled with overseas professional and current Division One players. They all gave him the keys to the team.

It wasn’t Lavar Ball forcing the team to be built around him either. At the practices before the season started, he earned the respect of much older and experienced players. His No Snacks coach, Gary Clark, only had positive things to say about Ball as a player and person. The Drew League is an obscure place to look at prospects, but anyone who saw him then knew what he could be.

Where does James Wisemen fit with the Warriors?

Mar 4, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (right) drives to the basket against Phoenix Suns forward Dario Saric in the first half at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The general trend for bigs is that it takes longer to get acclimated to the NBA. Wisemen also didn’t play much college basketball either due to the NCAA ruling him ineligible. He hasn’t had that much experience against high-level competition.

He’s an intriguing talent, without a doubt. There are times where his athletic tools overwhelm players attacking the rim. He can grab a defensive board and push the break. He falls in love with his jumper at times, but the comfort of taking those shots is there.

The Warriors never had a solid interior presence on their roster. Their go-to lineup was to play small with Draymond at the five. While there’s a lot of talk about “small-ball” in the NBA, the skill for taller players is catching up. To get out of the west, teams need size to match Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis. Wisemen may not fit that mold right away, but he gives them a shot to compete in the frontcourt.

The issue is that his development may not match the timeline of the Warriors’ core of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Green. They are in the latter half of their career. By the time Wisemen might come around, those guys might not have enough left in the tank.

LaMelo Ball or James Wisemen?

Mar 3, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) drives to the basket while Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) defends in the third quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The skepticism around Wisemen partially stems from the hype around LaMelo at the start of his career. While LaMelo on the Warriors would make some fun basketball, he doesn’t increase their championship odds by that much in the short-term. Down the line, if he turns into a Luka Doncic or Zion Williamson-level impact player, it would significantly increase their odds.

Ball and Wisemen’s comparison is this: Ball fills in a need that Iguodala and Livingston vacated. It’s a crucial role to fill to complement Curry and Thomson. He would be a luxury for Steve Kerr to have at his fingertips. However, don’t count out Wisemen yet. He has the potential to fill a gap for the Warriors that would continue their run. Bigs who’ve shown flashes of skill and defensive anchor potential are too enticing to pass up. Wisemen could end up being that type of player and would usher in a new era for the Warriors as the skill catches up with the length.

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