It wasn’t long after UCLA’s 85-76 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 on March 24 that star freshman guard Lonzo Ball announced he was headed for the NBA. Ball erupted on the scene for the UCLA Bruins this season, averaging close to 15 points and eight assists per contest while dazzling with smooth passes, quick crossovers and deep shooting range. His father, LaVar Ball, fueled the freshman’s campaign with his over-the-top statements and aggressive predictions. Since the younger Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft, the older Ball will more than likely be pumping Lonzo for No. 1. But will Ball be among the top draft picks this summer? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this question.
UCLA guard Lonzo Ball passes the ball against Kentucky forward Edrice Adebayo in the second half of an NCAA college basketball tournament South Regional semifinal game Friday, March 24, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Riley: Ball’s athleticism at the point guard spot separates him from the other top prospects and will make him the top pick. He’ll only receive competition from talented Washington point guard Markelle Fultz but between the two lead guards, Ball simply has that flare that draws fans. He’s definitely going to bring a large crowd with his father promoting him at every turn. So, for a franchise looking for a shot in the arm, Ball is the answer.
Green: The extracurricular activity off the court from Ball’s dad could be a blemish when it comes to teams deciding between Ball and Fultz. The latter averaged more than 23 points and nearly six rebounds and six assists per game. He did it on the defensive end as well, averaging over one block and one steal per contest. Fultz has a little more size and an NBA-ready frame. It’s going to be a close battle, and I think Fultz wins. Both players are talented but Fultz is the safer pick without the distraction of a talkative father.
Riley: Fultz is the more conservative player between the two but Ball’s flair for the dramatic will be taken into consideration. Ball routinely had the audience at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion dazed and amazed at his every move while he impacted the team. UCLA finished 15-17 the prior season before exiting the Sweet 16 with a 31-5 record. Washington was 19-15 last year before going 9-22 this year with Fultz at the helm. The individual numbers were for Fultz but he had nowhere the team impact that Ball had. Ball’s a winner, and that trait coupled with the fancy game will be the tiebreaker.
Green: Ball is simply not a lock to be chosen No. 1. It’s too close and it’s a strange year where a loaded playoff contender in Boston could possibly draft first thanks to a previous trade with Brooklyn, who currently has the highest chance of selecting first overall this summer. The Celtics already enlist all-star guard Isaiah Thomas and might prefer the bigger and more polished Fultz or a forward like Duke’s Jayson Tatum or Kansas freshman forward Josh Jackson—should he declare. There will be a lot of deciding factors this summer as this draft doesn’t possess a clear-cut dominant guy. Ball is talented but he’ll be one of the top-three guys coming out this year.