I can’t escape marks of history. Especially when they are so fantastic to watch. And especially, especially, when we can learn something from them at the same time.
Last week it was Steph cooking for 62.
This week it was LaMelo Ball roastin’ the Atlanta Hawks and becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple double…at age…nineteen.
Yes – you don’t have to tell me – triple doubles are arbitrary. When, in 2017, Russell Westbrook’s 38 triple doubles in a single season beat out Oscar Robertson’s long-standing record of 34, the accomplishment was heavily litigated:
“But were they winning? Did they make his team better?” (Not really).
“Were they legitimate statistics?” (Rumours swirled that the bigs had to let RWB grab rebounds).
“Isn’t the number 10/10/10 random?” (Yes, but aesthetically pleasing [if I do say so myself]).
I know we can’t declare LaMelo some kind of second-coming of Magic Johnson, but the feat deserves major attention nonetheless. He did, after all, get 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists…at age…nineteen.
Besides, other than ogling the deliciousness of decadent basketball play, LaMelo’s style of play serves as a lesson to us players.
His ability to score, pass, and rebound at such a young age speaks to a greater understanding of basketball.
It also illuminates the very very very important need to have a well-rounded game.
Glimmers of greatness don’t come from simply going Ghost-Pepper-hot in a game and scoring 50 – wink wink like two former Toronto Raptors hopefuls, Terrence Ross (51) and Charlie Villanueva (48). Rather, you see it best in a game like LaMelo’s where he, and his teammates, are scoring because of the different ways LaMelo attacks.
Having a balanced game is as much about how you can score as it is about getting your teammates buckets. Figure this out, and then it becomes all the more easier for you to score again, and again, and again.
As you will see below, LaMelo’s primary focus is on getting the ball to others; as a by-product, he leverages that success to cash in for himself.
1. A Passer First
LaMelo was drafted third overall this year because he’s a passing wizard casting spells and summoning evil spirits all over the court. His knack for passing is something that comes as naturally as Lebron’s balding pattern. You can’t necessarily teach it, but players can turn their attention towards it.
For example, most players who get into the lane are immediately looking to score. Not LaMelo. I have not talked to him myself, but I am pretty sure if you asked, his priorities rank accordingly:
- Beat the defender.
- Find the open guy.
- Find the second open guy.
- Think about passing to the kinda-covered third guy.
I’m exaggerating. But check it.
Right off the bat, he delivers an utterly dazzling pizza pie. It’s a semi-fast break; there is really only him and two other Hornets with five Hawks hovering. He could attack the left side with an unimposing Trae Young in his way, pull it out, or drop pass the trailer. Nah. He spears the narrow window on Rozier’s backdoor with a left-hand fastball ZOOP!
Then there’s this one. Caleb/Cody (they are identical twins forgive me) Martin had just hit a three previously. Looking for the hot hand, LaMelo is already finding *insert identical twin here* wayyyy before he even gets near the paint.
LaMelo ended with 11 assists, but he also had a number of unrecorded hockey assists (the pass to the pass that makes the basket) too. Which are just as valuable and often what initially gets the defense out of whack.
Here, it looks like an intentional play – ignoring Biyombo toppling over – but, still, LaMelo draws three defenders as deep as he can possibly go and, at the last minute, WHOOSH! sends a hook pass to the curling Devonte’ Graham who swiftly swing-passes it to a Martin Twin for three.
2. Using Passing First to be a Scorer Second
The challenge with guarding Steph Curry is you know at any moment he can jack. The problem with guarding Kyrie Irving is at any moment he’s going to cross you, then re-cross you, then spin around you. It looks like the headache LaMelo is going to cause dudes for at least a decade, is his devastating ability to find the open/not-really-open player.
What that does, ultimately, (take note here players on how passing to your teammates makes you a better scorer!) is it limits help-side players from helping or at least makes them think harder on what the right move is.
Here LaMelo scores on his own accord. But look at how Kevin Huerter, on the switch, plays way off LaMelo and angles his body toward the screener to prevent LaMelo’s passing option. Cam Reddish, on help-side – and doing a poor job of it – stays home worried about the baseline kick to Terry Rozier. ZIIIPPPP! Straight to the tin for two.
Then, this time, Kevin Heurter does the exact same thing as Cam (I wonder if coach said “Stay Home” on LaMelo penetration or maybe Kev just wasn’t feelin’ it).
3. Rebounding At Both Ends
I won’t bore you with rebounding videos. But something I noticed with LaMelo, is he is in the paint a lot. After every shot you see him gravitate towards the rim. One advantage of being a primary rebounder as a point guard – which is quite Westbrookian – is that you become your own immediate fast break. Ok, I lied, here’s a video of what happens when he does that.
He also crashes on the offensive end too. LaMelo is six-feet eight-inches and uses his height and length over smaller guards defending him. When he does grab an offensive board, his Predator-scan finds the immediate best option.
For all you players out there uncertain of your game, LaMelo serves as a lesson for you.
Despite lacking explosive athleticism, a consistent shot, and any muscle, he becomes a constant threat by looking to find his teammates and by rebounding on both ends of the floor. That’s not necessarily a skill as much as it is about intelligence and determination.
And for all you scorers out there confident about your game. Let this also be a lesson.
A rising tide lifts all boats. You will only be able to maximize your own game, if you are willing to maximize your teammates’ games too.