Will Weaver, head coach of the Sydney Kings, is one of the few NBA coaches to watch — and play against — projected first round picks LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton in Australia. While noting the two have “remarkable skills,” the former Nets assistant thinks both will need development, particularly with their shooting, before becoming useful NBA players.
As Weaver put it on the Wingspan podcast, there is a reason to be “excited” by the tools displayed by the two American teenagers in their play this season in Australia’s NBL. In particular, the former assistant to Kenny Atkinson cited Ball’s offensive package and Hampton’s potential as a defender.
While the 6’7” Ball is seen as a top three pick, the 6’5” Hampton has been linked to Brooklyn by numerous draftniks. Weaver didn’t say what he’s told Nets brass about Hampton but you be assured he’s talking with his former bosses.
For the former Long Island Nets coach, both Ball and Hampton have NBA skill sets that only need some honing before they will make a big splash in the league. He did, however, tamp down immediate expectations.
“I think that those of us that have had the opportunity to sit, get to know, work with, and try to maximize the odds of that happening for a number of talented youngsters appreciate what a hard climb that is but in LaMelo’s case, specifically —and throw R.J. in the same category — the tools are remarkable,” Weaver said.
Weaver, who spent time with the 76ers before joining the Nets in 2016, , said he believes the two players’ mental and physical make-up will permit them to develop.
“I think there is a reason to be excited about both of those guys but the arc of development is long and the context both of these guys go into matters so much,” Weaver said of Ball and Hampton who went from high school to the NBL. “Everything I have heard is very positive about their likelihood of taking advantage of those opportunities.”
Ball, the younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, served as the poster boy for high schoolers wanting to bypass college and play professionally in Australia.
Weaver even put Ball’s name in the same category as former prospects with very bright professional futures comparing his potential with that of of Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson.
“I think there are not a lot of people of LaMelo’s size and quickness that can play the game as he does at his age. Anthony Davis was really good as a senior in high school. Zion Williamson was really good as a senior in high school and that is what we are really looking at with LaMelo and this thing. Those guys tend to end up being really good when they are 24 year-olds, 28 year-olds, and 32 year-olds.”
Ball’s versatility and playmaking sticks out to the Kings head coach. Weaver believes his “physical aspects,” which includes a 6’7’ frame and a 7’3’ wingspan, will open doors for the 19 year-old to be a great defender, an area of his game Ball has been heavily criticized in draft analysis.
“I think that what is exciting about LaMelo is the versatility he has,” Weaver said. “The ability to be a playmaker and learn not only to be a dynamic but a great decision-maker. I think he’s well and truly on the path there and some of the physical aspects he has means that he has a chance to become a good defender.”
While Ball took the spotlight in the NBL, fellow 19-year-old Hampton had a successful season with the New Zealand Breakers. Weaver believes Hampton has great physical gifts ... one that could make him a solid defender.
“R.J, I would say, his athletic traits are even stronger,” Weaver said. “Where he goes and what his ceiling is like as a defender I think is quite high.”
The hyper athletic 6’5” wing has in fact been the player most associated with the Nets pick at No. 19 in recent mock drafts, although some have him as high as No. 10. The Knicks may even have interest in the Texas native at No. 8.
Despite strong showing from Ball and Hampton respectively, 3-point shooting was a struggle for both teenage stars Down Under.
Although Ball finished his season shooting 46 percent from 2-point range, the guard shot only 37.5 percent overall and 25 percent from three-point range. Ball took 6.7 attempts per game from beyond the arc.
Hampton shot at around the same pace, that is not great, in his stint in Australia, finishing at 40.7 percent overall but only 29.5 percent from deep and he attempted far fewer three’s per game (2.9).
To Weaver, a perimeter player needs to be able to knock down a shot but he’s high on both players developing a consistent shot.
“The exciting thing for both of them is that their shooting can improve a lot and that is something you of course have to do in basketball to be successful, especially at a perimeter position where there is not much hope if you can’t knock in a shot.”
The NBA Draft is scheduled to be held virtually on November 18 and will be conducted via ESPN’s broadcast facilities in Connecticut.