It was the moment that basketball fans across the globe have been waiting for, as LaMelo Ball made his regular-season debut Sunday for the Illawarra Hawks. While the Hawks lost, it was a solid performance for the 18-year-old Ball, playing in his first regular-season game down under.
For details on the game, plus everything that happened off the court these past few days, here is this week’s “Melo Watch.”
A Solid Debut for LaMelo Ball in Defeat
In his highly-awaited debut, Ball largely lived up to the hype in front of a crowd of 3,700 people at the WIN Entertainment Centre in Wollongong, New South Wales. While the Hawks fell to the Brisbane Bullets 90-81, Ball showed flashes of why NBA scouts are quickly falling in love with his game.
On the afternoon, Ball finished the game with a stat-sheet stuffing 12-point, 10-rebound, five-assist and four-steal debut.
That included one especially lethal assist that left his defender on the ground – twice!
At the same time, Ball also showed signs that he is still a player who just recently turned 18 years old, going against grown men. While Ball did get those 12 points, they came on just 6-of-17 shooting from the field. He also went 0-for-5 from three-point land.
Unfortunately, shooting woes and offensive struggles were kind of the story of the day for the entire Hawks roster in their Round 1 loss. Overall, Illawarra shot just 37.5 percent from the field (30-of-80) and an abysmal 4-of-25 from beyond the arc.
It left first-year Hawks head coach Matt Flinn shaking his head and ready to move on to next week.
"I feel like tonight was just one of those nights,” Flinn said, according to Fox Sports Australia. “We shot 16 percent from three (and) 64 percent from the free throw line. I don't think that's going to happen again.”
For Illawarra, the third quarter was the difference in the loss. The Hawks trailed by just one at the half but were outscored 22-14 in the decisive third frame. They were able to cut the lead to as little as three points late, before Brisbane pulled away.
Outside of Ball, the bright spot in Game 1 for Illawarra was the play of Aaron Brooks, a guard who played for seven different NBA teams over the course of the last 11 years. The 34-year-old Brooks finished with 24 points off the bench, already leading to speculation that he could be moved into the starting lineup alongside Ball when the Hawks return to the court on Friday.
Up & Down Week for Ball Off the Court
While it was an up-and-down regular-season debut for Ball in that Round 1 loss, it was an up-and-down week off the court for the youngest of the three Ball brothers as well.
On a positive note, Ball’s strong start in Australia continues to pique the interest of NBA teams. After a solid showing in the season-opening NBL Blitz exhibition a few weeks back, ESPN.com pegged Ball as a potential top-five pick in next year’s draft. That buzz continues to trickle back to the States, as more NBA teams are slowly starting to gather information on Ball in the lead-up to next June’s NBA Draft.
According to Forbes.com’s Adam Zagoria, the Portland Trailblazers, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, and New Orleans Pelicans (home of LaMelo’s older brother Lonzo) have all reached out to Spire Academy for background on the youngest Ball. Ball of course played at Spire last year, after spending the 2017-2018 season overseas in Lithuania.
Unfortunately it wasn’t all positive for Ball and his family this week, as the legal woes that have fractured the family continue to pop up in a very public way. This week, Ball’s father Lavar was counter-sued by his former business associate Alan Foster, with Foster claiming that the patriarch of the Ball family embezzled $2.6 million for personal use from the Big Baller Brand and other companies associated with the family.
Foster, of course, is the former Ball family business manager who was fired in March, after being accused of stealing over $1.5 million from the family.
Lavar Ball called Foster’s claims “unfounded and devoid of any truth.”
Ball Returns to the Court Twice Next Week
With Round 1 done, it’s time to turn our attention to Round 2, with Ball and Illawarra taking the court twice in the coming week.
The Hawks will open Round 2 on Friday night against the Perth Wildcats, before returning home on Sunday to take on Cairns Taipans.
Perth is coming off a 94-93 season-opening win over Melbourne United, while Cairns fell to 79-71 to the Sydney Kings in their opener.