Gwynneville, Australia – The Illawarra Hawks, featuring LaMelo Ball, have had a rocky start to the 2019-20 NBL season. The coach, Matt Flinn has so far struggled to perfect his lineups. Today, against the Perth Wildcats, he elected to start former NBA veteran Aaron Brooks who was previously coming off the bench, alongside Ball.
The Hawks started well which was attributed to an increase in pace of their play, as so far this season they have struggled at times with energy when running sets. Ball contributed to the game early making some nice passes. With the introduction of Brooks as a starter, Ball was a little quieter than normal in terms of pick and roll action or penetrating and passing.
Perth managed to match Illawarra’s early efficient scoring until both benches rolled in. Then when deploying a 3-guard lineup Illawarra displayed good ball movement to find open perimeter shooters.
In the second quarter the Hawks went cold shooting the ball, which was largely due a large discrepancy between the pace played with in the first quarter. Ball was tasked with guarding the taller but less athletic wings at times, as so far this season he has struggled against faster opposition. However, when he did face the opposing point guard Damian Martin, for the most part he stayed in front and contested shots.
As the Hawks got their rhythm back it was due to the defensive presence of Tim Coeenraad and David Anderson, as well as some beautiful passing from Ball and Brooks. After a few back to back empty possessions, Ball in isolation took matters into his own hands with a dribble combination to step-back 3-pointer which got the crowd going. Prior to this he had not taken a jump shot and at times gave up good looks from drives to kick to the perimeter.
To start the 3rd quarter the Hawks were trailing by single digits and the game remained close. There were some great defensive plays among ball movement which reached open shooters on the perimeter. Ball looked fantastic when he rebounded and took off – reaching top speed he showed off his passing ability with a slick bounce pass in transition to Brooks who was unable to finish. However, in the same possession following an offensive rebound Ball looked to throw a no-look pass which resulted in a live-ball turnover. Understanding when to use his flashy passing as opposed to being fundamental is something he still needs to work on.
Anderson’s presence on the defensive end kept the Hawks in the game. However, Perth’s Bryce Cotton started to bring some energy after throwing some nice passes, scoring in the paint and following that up with a 4-point play.
In the fourth quarter Brooks did not return due to injury as the Hawks trailed by four points. LaMelo again showed off how dangerous he is as a passer in transition after he found an open teammate in the corner following a spin move through traffic in the paint. Within the last six minutes of the game Ball controlled the offence well considering Brooks didn’t return. At the under four minute mark he knocked down a 30-foot 3-pointer to bring the game within three points.
Perth (5-1) looked a bit shaken up out of a timeout with three minutes to go with players looking confused. Illawarra kept the game close with good ball movement and at one point Ball was fouled and knocked down two free throws to bring the game within one point. Despite a valiant effort Illawarra (1-6) was not able to hold out the firepower of the Wildcats guards and wings and were defeated 81-76.
Ball filled the stat sheet and finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists shooting 35 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point land. He looked improved on the defensive end in tonight’s game, something he has struggled with previously.