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Ovie Soko says LaMelo Ball will rise to challenge of playing NBA basketball

Soko also shares his views on high school star Jalen Green signing on for NBA's Pathway program

LaMelo Ball in action for the Illawarra Hawks in the NBL
Image: LaMelo Ball in action for the Illawarra Hawks in the NBL

Ovie Soko expects top draft prospect LaMelo Ball to make a major impact in the NBA and believes the young guard can have "the biggest year of any player in the 2020 rookie class" next season.

Ovie Soko in action for Great Britain
Image: Ovie Soko in action for Great Britain

'LaMelo has the talent to back up father's big talk'

NBA Draft prospects RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball in action during an NBL clash between the New Zealand Breakers and Illawarra Hawks
Image: NBA Draft prospects RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball in action during an NBL clash between the New Zealand Breakers and Illawarra Hawks

LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton are two really talented prospects but what makes their basketball journeys so interesting is the route they have taken, playing professionally overseas early in their careers instead of going to university in the US.

With social media and the accessibility of watching international basketball, young players can take this route knowing they will be seen by scouts. Playing overseas - seeing what life is like in a different country, seeing what games look like in different leagues - has become an attractive idea for young guys who know they have NBA talent.

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There is no player in the 2020 Draft class who has had as much publicity around him as LaMelo Ball and I am very excited to see what he brings to the NBA. He has a confidence that you can't teach. He doesn't really talk much but he doesn't shy away from big moments in games. Without question, he can play in the NBA. Now everyone wants to see how his game translates.

We have known how highly skilled the young Ball brother is for a long time. He is a streaky shooter and he passes the ball extremely well. People have questioned his character, his shot selection and his defensive effort at times but he is a competitor and I think once he gets into the NBA he will understand he cannot afford those mental lapses or act like 'Mr Cool Guy'.

LaMelo Ball attacks the basket for the Illawarra Hawks
Image: LaMelo Ball attacks the basket for the Illawarra Hawks

The challenge of entering the NBA will bring out a different side of him. Will LaMelo rise to the occasion or not? I think he will. When you take away the noise and just watch him, you see how he does a lot of things very instinctively, very naturally. He has that quality, that feel for the game. Yes, he has some bad habits that make everyone cringe but that's just immaturity and I believe, once he is on an NBA team, he is definitely smart enough to eradicate those and raise his level of play.

Ball has grown in size and improved his athleticism, too. How many NBA point guards are 6ft 7in? His combination of skill and size makes him such an interesting prospect. Even if he struggles with discipline on defense, his height and wingspan (6ft 10in) will allow him to gamble and find ways to have an impact on the defensive end of the floor. The NBA will challenge him to learn how to use his advantages to get the better of opponents who may be more explosive.

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I feel Ball could come into the league and have the biggest year of any player in the 2020 rookie class.

LaMelo's celing is definitely higher than that of his older brother Lonzo, who is a good player in his own right. LaMelo has the talent to back his father Lavar's big talk - he's the best of the three Ball brothers, for sure.

RJ Hampton elevates to the rim for the New Zealand Breakers
Image: RJ Hampton elevates to the rim for the New Zealand Breakers

RJ Hampton doesn't have LaMelo's upside and he still has a lot of growing to do. I see him as more of a project than someone able to come in and make an immediate impact in the NBA.

He is athletic and he makes eye-popping plays that jump out at you. He has really good body control when he is in the air and does a good job finishing at the rim.

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But I do think it will take him a couple of years to learn what his role in an NBA system will be. He isn't a pure point guard but he isn't a lights-out scorer either.

Hampton has shown good signs, though. I did see what he was able to do (for the New Zealand Breakers) in the National Basketball League (NBL). It will take him some time but he has the ceiling to become a really solid guard on an NBA team.

Green Pathway coup great for G League

Jalen Green rises to dunk during the 2019 Slam Summer Classic
Image: Jalen Green rises to dunk during the 2019 Slam Summer Classic

Jalen Green is special, he is a stud. He is athletic, smooth and has a good feel for the game. He makes it look very, very easy. At the elite level in sport, the easier someone makes it look, the more special they are as a player.

Green committing to playing for a newly-formed elite development team is good for the G League and a really good option for guys who would have been, up until now, one-and-done college players.

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The poster boys of college basketball generate so much money for their universities and they see so little reward for that. The money they lose out on is ridiculous. What was Zion Williamson's worth to Duke when he was in college? People tuned in all over the world to see him play in their rivalry game against North Carolina.

Now, the Pathway program gives these types of players a new option to not only get a piece of the value they are generating but also work full-time on the skills they will be using for the next number of years.

Jalen Green 2:03
Quentin Richardson feels that Jalen Green's signing will be a 'game changer' for the G League and young elite players

The fact the players will also learn life skills and have the option of a college scholarship if they complete the programme and ultimately don't go pro, I love it. It's fair.

I am really happy NBA commissioner Adam Silver has gone down this route. I applaud the move. It is another example of Silver putting his own stamp on things. He is not afraid to do things his own way and he is shaking stuff up.

To implement something new into an organisation with so much tradition, you have to be very willing to listen to everything going on. The fact that Silver is so willing to listen as well as innovate shows you what a great job he is doing.

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