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Draft Express reports that NBA executives expect LaMelo Ball to go No. 1 overall in this month’s NBA draft. If he’s not selected by the Wolves, who possess the No. 1 pick, teams are likely to trade for the pick to land Ball. So much for those “unimpressive interviews” that LaMelo Ball had last month.
If the report is true, who would be in the running to acquire LaMelo? Some teams come directly to mind.
This news could always be a smokescreen. The Wolves could feign interest in Ball so that other teams would offer them a substantial trade package in exchange for the No. 1 pick. The Wolves could then give away the No. 1 pick and use the trade package to select the player they really want. For the sake of this discussion, however, we’ll assume NBA executives are telling us the truth. LaMelo Ball is a ball-handler. If he pans out, he’ll be a home run pick.
LaMelo has had mixed reviews, but so did Steph Curry when he came out of Davidson in 2009. The Golden State Warriors now look like wizards for scooping up Curry, a future hall-of-famer, with the seventh pick. The New York Knicks instead look like they wet the bed, failing to trade up a single pick to acquire Curry. There have to be some teams wondering if LaMelo just might be the Steph Curry of 2020.
That’s probably a stretch, but LaMelo could still be a game-changing player. If a team can make a trade that lands them an impact player, then they make it happen. Which leads us here:
Who should trade for that pick to grab LaMelo?
Those who quickly follow the No. 1 overall pick are the teams that have the most draft capital. Most of the teams looking to acquire LaMelo through trade come from small markets. Organizations like OKC and Detroit are not on any free agent’s radar. If they want to acquire top-flight talent, they’ll need to draft some. That’s what makes these trades so compelling to small market teams. Major market competitors like the Lakers or the Clippers can just go grab a LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard during the off-season. Smaller markets look to the draft.
However, small market teams are not the only ones eyeing Ball. The New York Knicks, who have the No. 8 overall pick this year, don’t want to make the same mistake they made in 2009. Then, they scoffed at the possibility of trading up for a 6’3″ point guard out of Davidson. Curry was said to project terribly into the NBA as a defensive liability, and Ball is rumored to have the same problem.
New York could use their No. 8 pick as the center piece of a deal with Minnesota to move up. Is it risky? Absolutely. The Knicks could assume that the Wolves are pretending to be much more interested in Ball than they truly are. If they call Minnesota’s bluff correctly, they’ll be able to give up far less to move into the No. 3-5 range and get their guy. We don’t envy whoever it is that has to make this decision.
Flip a coin
NBA prospects are nothing more than a crapshoot. Anyone claiming they know how LaMelo will turn out is kidding themselves. It was hard to find defenders of Steph Curry in 2009, just like it is hard trying to find LaMelo defenders on Twitter. Whoever trades up and grabs Ball is taking a major risk. Sometimes the risk pays off. Jerry West of the L.A. Clippers made a similarly risky decision when he traded for Kobe Bryant on draft night. The Hornets had selected Bryant as the 13th overall pick but traded him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. It’s easy to claim now that Kobe was always going to be a sure thing and that West took little risk in trading for him. Hindsight is always 2020.
LaMelo Ball could become a star, or he could become the next Kwame Brown. Good luck to these NBA executives on this decision. It could cost some of them their job.