LaMelo Ball has never lacked confidence, in his game or how he expresses himself. On the eve of the NBA draft, that hasn’t changed. The youngest of the three Ball brothers, the 6-foot-7 LaMelo believes he should be the top pick Wednesday night.
“I feel like I’m born for this,” the talented point guard said over Zoom on Tuesday.
It remains to be seen if the Timberwolves feel the same way. There is still uncertainty about who will go No. 1, likely Ball or Georgia one-and-done shooting guard Anthony Edwards. Ball, whose older brother Lonzo plays for the Pelicans, has worked out for the Timberwolves, Pistons, Warriors and Hornets.
“I feel like I’m just the right man for it,” Ball said, referring to the No. 1 pick. “Like I said, I feel like I’m born for this whole thing going on, so that’s pretty much my answer right there.”
He’s had a circuitous journey to get to this point, opting to play professionally in Lithuania and Australia instead of going the college route. This past year, he averaged 17 points and 6.8 assists for the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian National Basketball League in 12 games before a foot injury sidelined him.
“I feel like it worked out very well for me,” he said.
Deni Avdija, a well-rounded 6-9 combo forward, is set to make history Wednesday night as the highest draft pick from Israel. The only other Israeli ever selected in the first round was Omri Casspi, who went 23rd overall to the Kings in 2009. The youngest player to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv’s senior team, the 19-year-old Avdija is expected to get picked early in the first round, most likely in the middle single digits.
“Israel is a really small country. We haven’t provided a lot of players like other places. For me to put the flag wherever I go, it’s super important. I’m proud I can do that,” Avdija said. “It’s for sure going to be exciting. This is the biggest stage for a basketball player in the world. And what are the chances for any player in the world to get drafted? It’s not a high percentage. … I didn’t think about this at the beginning.”
Barring a major surprise, there will be three New Yorkers drafted in the first round for the first time since 2005. Forward Obi Toppin, who grew up in Brooklyn before moving to Florida and returning to Ossining, N.Y., for high school, is expected to be the first local taken, possibly as early as fourth to the Bulls. Point guard Cole Anthony of Manhattan and forward Precious Achiuwa from Queens could also go late in the lottery or fall into the early 20’s.
“I feel like a lot of people in New York look up to us, just because of what we’re doing and where we’re going,” said Toppin, the National Player of the Year in college last season at Dayton. “Us having that name behind us, especially New York being a basketball city, we have a lot to live up.”
Back in 2005, Charlie Villaneuva of Queens went seventh to the Raptors, Harlem native Julius Hodge was picked 20th by the Nuggets and Francisco Garcia of The Bronx went three picks later to the Kings.