LaMelo Ball is 22 years old, has improved his scoring average in each of his three NBA seasons, launches (and makes) 30-footers at a higher rate than most other players, throws passes that nearly shatter the simulation we exist in and already has an All-Star appearance under his belt.
So why does most of the NBA world agree that he’s still a borderline star, and not yet the full-fledged franchise cornerstone he’s clearly capable of being?
In one word (a curse to some) it all comes down to Ball’s efficiency. He’s never produced highly efficient buckets like the upper-echelon point guards – Damian Lillard, Steph Curry and recently Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – consistently do. Rather, Ball’s efficiency has been middling (a 54.7 career True Shooting percentage isn’t exactly alarming, but it doesn’t satiate either.)
Ball has actually been a good three-point shooter his whole career (37.7% on 7.5 attempts) and nearly 50% of his shots over the past two seasons have been from deep, but the shooting inefficiencies start to become apparent as he gets closer to the hoop, bucking conventional wisdom that tells you the closer you get to a basket, the easier scoring should become. But there are large men standing in there, so maybe that has something to do with it. I don’t know; I just write words.
Anyway… according to Cleaning The Glass, Ball has shot 53%, 54%, and 54% at the rim (within four feet) in his first three seasons, respectively. That’s hovering around the 25th percentile of all point guards, not where you’d expect – or hope – a player of his size and craftiness to be.
Being a bad rim finisher, on its own, is not a flaw that will nullify a player’s potential to be an elite scorer – just look at Trae Young, who has been a mediocre rim finisher most of his career, but compensates with an incredible floater. The problem for Ball is that he’s more likely to attempt a shot at the rim than he is to attempt anything from the midrange, even though he’s shown some proficiency in the midrange area:
Even more LaMelo Ball: makes Chris Duarte disappear with this quick spin + the iso finish and touch to get it over Turner at the rim, again pic.twitter.com/pOv2d6c80U— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) December 30, 2021
In his first two seasons, Ball was in the 61st and 56th percentile for all midrange shots among point guards, according to Cleaning The Glass. (His midrange numbers dropped pretty drastically across the board last year, but that can mostly be blamed on three ankle sprains that limited him to 36 games).
In the “short mid,” which is from four-to-14 feet, Ball was right in the middle of the pack (55th percentile as a rookie and 52nd percentile as a sophomore). From the “long mid,” he’s been even better, shooting 45-of-111, good for the 62nd percentile of all point guards his sophomore season. None of those numbers are jaw-dropping, but they are far better than his numbers at the rim.
But despite the solid numbers from the midrange, Ball was only in the 20th, 36th and 20th percentile, respectively, in midrange attempts among point guards his first three years. Essentially, he’s good in the midrange, but doesn’t shoot from there often.
He should shoot there more often. At 6-foot-7, Ball possesses a mix of size, touch and creativity that very few other players do, and the deep floaters, runners and funky fadeaway midrange jumpers are all perfect examples of that creativity.
LaMelo has absurd range on his floater pic.twitter.com/q2yiibCl7h— Brett Usher (@UsherNBA) August 11, 2023
LaMelo's dexterity is elite. The ability to transition from dribble to floater with one hand the entire way while his other hand fends off Claxton requires tremendous skill. pic.twitter.com/Hnm8XAAi6J— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) October 25, 2021
So, the key to Ball making another leap as a scorer could rely on him keeping his rim attempts about level with his rim attempts from last season (48th percentile, about four attempts per game) while increasing the midrange attempts to career-high levels. He doesn’t need to be leading the league in midrange shots per game, but getting up to around the 65th percentile of midrange attempts among point guards could do wonders for his efficiency – assuming the actual shooting percentages stay the same with higher volume.
Ball shouldn’t completely eliminate his rim attempts is because 1) he should keep working to improve skills that he struggles with, obviously, and 2) Ball driving consistently does still yield positive results a lot of the time. Last season, Ball was 10th in the NBA in assists on drives, according to NBA.com. (Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, Tyrese Haliburton, Darius Garland and Young are some of the names in front of him on the list).
Driving to the rim with the threat of a pass is an area Ball excels in, and if there’s no chance that he’ll take a drive all the way to the rim and attempt a shot, then defenses have one less outcome to worry about when he has the ball. Ball’s ability to draw defenses and then find teammates on dropoff passes is always a treat to watch:
one of the man ways lamelo ball is unlike any other passer is how he manipulates the ball, defenders just have no idea where he is gonna pass when he dangles the ball in front of them pic.twitter.com/P4EIlRZ2tK— ben (@bjpf_) February 25, 2023
LaMelo Ball driving creates good things, and he should continue to put pressure on the defense by getting into the lane. But by decreasing the frequency of actual rim attempts, and increasing the frequency of his midrange prowess – even including shots that are bad looks for most, like one-legged midrange runners or floaters from the free-throw line – LaMelo can help himself evolve from a volume scorer into a rounded, efficient scoring weapon.