Detroit Pistons: LaMelo Ball is Penny Hardaway 2.0

Why the Detroit Pistons potential first round pick could be better than Hardaway and what that would mean for Detroit. 

The date for the NBA Draft Lottery has been set for August 25th. Finally, the Detroit Pistons and new GM Troy Weaver will know the fate of where they will pick.

Pistons fans and pundits have been playing the what-if game for months since the season was put on hold due to the Covid-19 outbreak. With the team not being invited to the Orlando playoff bubble, the speculation for next season is something to make anyone interested in the Pistons hopeful.

Much of that hope resides on the potential for the Pistons to draft LaMelo Ball. The Pistons have a 10.5 percent chance to land the number one overall pick which is the 5th best odds out of the lottery bound teams.

The Pistons would fill a need with a unique point guard not often seen in the NBA. Ball stands at 6’7″ and 181 lbs. That size compares greatly to former All-NBA point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

The size that the two players possess is easy to compare, but in NBA history the list is pretty short when it comes to true point guards with such length. Being that tall at the position presents mismatches all over the court for opposing defenses.

Hardaway had a stellar two year college career at Memphis then was drafted 3rd overall by Golden State who later traded him to the Orlando Magic for Chris Webber in the 1993 NBA Draft, which happened to be held at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Penny skyrocketed to superstardom alongside Shaq with the Magic. And like a comet it was all gone within 4 years as Shaq went to the Lakers and Penny fought injuries that would make him a shell of the player he was.

For those 5 or 6 years (including college) Penny was special. He was First Team All American, 2 time First Team All NBA, Third Team All NBA, 4 time All Star, and made an appearance in the 1995 NBA Finals.

Before injuries Penny was the second coming of Magic Johnson or Magic Johnson 2.0, a more athletic updated version.

It is difficult to compare Hardaway and Ball’s numbers with Ball taking a different route to the NBA, but we will look at their first years as professionals.

Penny Hardaway as a 22 year old rookie had per 36 minute numbers of 15.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 2.5 steals with 46 percent FG, 27 percent three-point, and 74 percent free throw splits.

LaMelo Ball, 18 years old last season playing for Illawarra in NBL Australia had per 36 minute numbers of 19.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and 1.8 steals with 38 percent FG, 25 percent three-point, and 72 percent free throw splits. Granted he only played 12 games, but you still get an idea of their similarities within the numbers.

The film of the two players make it a more obvious comp. Watching their YouTube highlights and from my own memory of watching Penny play here is how their skills compare:

Shooting

LaMelo’s low percentages surprised me. He will become a much better shooter as he matures. Penny didn’t have great shooting numbers early in his career, but the three pointer was less prevalent in the 90’s than in 2020.

Ultimately I believe LaMelo will have better percentages in the NBA as he is confident in taking shots and driving to the hoop which will draw fouls and send him to the line. As long as he stays confident he should eventually become a better shooter than Hardaway.

Rebounding

I give LaMelo the edge. The argument that would be made for Penny is that he had Horace Grant and Shaq in his frontcourt, but just at this early stage in their careers it seems like LaMelo has been stronger on the boards.

Point guards that can rebound and create a fast break bring advantages on the offensive end and LaMelo has been able to shine in that aspect.

Passing

This is a category that is best referred to on film because part of what made Penny great was his exceptional passing ability.

In the ESPN 30 for 30 This Magic Moment, Penny talked about how he was able to get his teammates, namely Shaq, the ball before the defense was able to set up. He would push the pace and played with a style suited for an up-tempo offense.

Considering all that, LaMelo will be a better passer. LaMelo’s vision is special especially for someone his age.

He is able to find the open player with an array of passes that are even more difficult to defend because of his height. LaMelo might have the reputation as a gunner, but he looks to pass more often than not.

Defense/Physicality

Penny has this category, but it remains to be seen. Again, it is difficult to compare the two at different ages.

LaMelo is still growing and hasn’t developed his adult body yet. Once he does he could end up being a more physical presence than Penny ever was.

Penny had a good post-up game, learning to use his height in the blocks where he could abuse opposing guards. Give LaMelo a couple more years and it is easy to believe that he would add post moves to his offensive arsenal.

Ball has been compared to Penny Hardaway by many talent evaluators before because visually and stylistically it is the best comparison.

And Pistons fans see how he well he would fit in with the team. Looking at The Bball Index numbers for perimeter shooting and off-ball movement show how Ball could greatly enhance these numbers:


Acquiring Ball could fast track the Pistons into Eastern Conference relevance again. Putting Ball alongside Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Christian Wood, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway (free agent), Svi Mykhailiuk, Bruce Brown, Sekou Doumbouya, and Tony Snell is a step in the right direction for the franchise.

And it would be a lot of fun to watch.

The Pistons being able to draft Ball requires luck and this is all a hypothetical. They have had good fortune with the backcourt in the past and Ball would be another in a long line of great Piston guards.