On Wednesday, UCLA landed a big commitment from 6-foot-5, 170-pound Chino Hills (Calif.) point guard Lonzo Ball, Scout.com's 21st ranked prospect in the 2016 class.
In a class that looks to be absolutely loaded with point guards, UCLA got on the board first with Ball and he's a player that has a very high talent level, although is a very unique prospect at the same time.
Ball arrived on the scene in July of 2012 playing for his QJZ Elite team in a local AAU tournament. He was about 6-foot-2 at the time and hit several NBA three-pointers in the game. When you saw his size, length and youthful appearance, it was easy to predict he would grow and become a very good prospect.
A year and a half later and Ball has grown a few inches and become one of the most talented - yet debated - prospects out west, with more hyperbole attached to his name than probably any other basketball player in the region.
With Ball's size, significant length, stroke and deep range with elite level vision, it would be very difficult to imagine a scenario in which Ball ever leaves the Top 25, although he still has two and a half years left in college so anything can happen.
He has ridiculous range on his jumper and the imaginary NBA line on a high school court means nothing to him; he will pull up and shoot from beyond it at any point and hits at a respectable percentage. It's probably not a shot many college coaches would want a point guard to take, but it's impressive he has that range.
Ball's vision is truly elite. He's an unbelievable outlet passer and it forces defenses to really adjust the way they play because he sees everything on the court. He's also a very good passer in the half court setting and if there's an open man, he'll use his long arms to pass it right over the defense and into their hands.
The sophomore is a pretty good athlete, although he's probably better vertically than laterally. He's still slight physically and how his athleticism improves as he gains strength is going to be something to watch.
While Ball probably projects as a point guard because of that vision, there are areas for him to work on between now and then. He doesn't handle ball pressure well, struggles creating separation against athleticism sometimes, doesn't seem to like contact, takes bad shots and often leaves his feet to pass when driving into the lane. All of this is fixable and he has a long time to correct it.
In a worst case scenario for Ball, he probably never becomes the ball handler and decision maker to be a full time point guard but is still a 6-foot-5 guard who can play on and off the ball who is a big time shooter that also has a floater. Basically, a lot of similarities to Zach LaVine, except with elite vision although not the same type of athlete.
On defense his high school team mostly plays zone so Ball doesn't get the responsibility he could probably use defending other guards in man to man. And while most high school guards aren't exactly the most fundamentally sound defensively, Ball falls in that group, often never getting in a defensive stance, allowing the opposing guard to pass him and using his long arms to try and knock the ball out of the driver's hands when he passes him.
Word from those around Ball is that he is an elite worker who loves basketball, and none of the criticisms above are necessarily huge concerns at this point. Given he has a long time between now and college, it's going to be interesting to see how he expands on his strengths and works on his weaknesses between now and then.
If Ball shows a commitment to making strides in the areas where he's currently deficient, he has an extremely high ceiling. You just don't see many kids with his size, length, shooting ability and vision. He's a very unique prospect and without question a very big commitment for UCLA at this stage.
How He Fits into UCLA's Roster -- Greg Hicks
While it's difficult to know exactly what UCLA's roster will look like in 2016-2017, it's pretty safe to say the Bruins will likely need a point guard that can distribute the ball. They don't have anyone currently on the roster that you'd describe as a good distributor (Kyle Anderson will obviously be long gone). They also don't currently have any 2014 point guards in their sights. One would assume that they'll be in the market for a possible transfer at the conclusion of this season or possibly a 2014 kid that gets out of an NLI due to a coach leaving. Before anyone asks who that 2014 kid might be, we're just talking about a hypothetical – we don't have any specific prospect in mind.
In 2015, the Bruins have Tyler Dorsey as their #1 target at point guard. However, while Dorsey is a very gifted scorer, he's certainly not a pass-first point guard. Many people think he's not a point guard at all and strictly a shooting guard. Aaron Holiday, another talented 2015 guard being pursued by the Bruins, is more of a combo guard than a point guard. He's more suited to defending the one than Dorsey is, and he may have a little more of a passing mentality as well, but he's a long way from being a true point guard. Even though Ball is a very good scorer, his best attributes are his instincts, his vision and his passing ablity.
In 2016-2017, UCLA will likely have guys that can score. Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford should be on the roster and it's possible that Daniel Hamilton will be a Bruin as well. All three of those guys really like to shoot the ball. In the front court, Thomas Welsh is a guy that's very accurate out to 15 feet or so. In a few years, he figures to be a very solid face-up shooter, possibly out to three-point range. The Bruin staff hopes to add either Stephen Zimmerman or Chase Jeter from 2015 and both of those guys will be offensive weapons in college. So it's likely going to be very important that the Bruins have a passer that is not only willing, but able, to get the ball to all of the various offensive weapons on the roster. Assuming he makes it to Westwood – the 2016-2017 season is a long ways away – Lonzo Ball should fit in very well with the Bruin roster.