When LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball signed contracts with BC Vytautas last month, many scouts expressed doubt that either brother was prepared for the competition they would face against upper-echelon teams in Lithuania’s professional league.
On Saturday, we began to see why.
Neither LaMelo nor LiAngelo scored a single point in their first Lithuanian league game, BC Vytautas’ 95-86 road loss at Lietkabelis. LaMelo misfired on all four shots he attempted in five minutes off the bench, while LiAngelo logged nine minutes and went 0-for-3 from the floor.
The scoreless performance came only four days after the Ball brothers combined for 29 points in their pro debut against the Zalgiris junior team, an opponent whose roster consisted only of 16-18-year-old Lithuanian prospects. LaMelo, 16, demonstrated flashes of creativity and court vision off the dribble in that game, while LiAngelo, 19, used his strength to overpower younger players on the block.
Saturday was a major step up in competition as the Balls faced grown men for the first time in a game that counted in the standings. Lietkabelis entered Saturday’s game in fourth place in the Lithuanian league and has now defeated BC Vytautas six straight times.
BC Vytautas coach Virginijus Seskus did not play LiAngelo or LaMelo as many minutes Saturday as he did Tuesday because he couldn’t trust them under the circumstances. LaMelo has the talent to play at this level someday, but his poor shot selection and tendency to gamble too frequently for steals are signs of immaturity, while LiAngelo lacks the size to defend grown men in the paint or the quickness to stay in front of wings on the perimeter.
It certainly wasn’t fear of the moment that hampered LaMelo on Saturday night. Mere seconds after he came into the game, the 16-year-old hoisted a 28-footer that missed badly wide right.
LaMelo did have a couple deflections and a steal while providing some energy off the bench. LiAngelo would have scored a basket but his 3-pointer was waved off because he stepped on the sideline just before releasing it.
To nobody’s surprise, LaVar Ball wasn’t thrilled with how his sons were used in Saturday’s game. The world’s most outspoken basketball dad criticized Seskus, insisting the team would have fared better if LiAngelo and LaMelo had played together more often.
Before his father yanked him out of Chino Hills High School last fall following a dispute with his coach, LaMelo was considered a consensus top 30 prospect in the Class of 2019. He has a chance to someday follow in the footsteps of older brother Lonzo, though he will have to follow a nontraditional path to the NBA.
LiAngelo isn’t considered the same caliber of prospect as either of his brothers. Most scouts believe he would have gone to a mid-major college had UCLA not signed him as part of a package deal with Lonzo and LaMelo. He was likely to be a fringe rotation player for the Bruins before his shoplifting arrest in China led to an early end to his college career.
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