Well it appears the cat has finally caught the mouse. The cat being the Charlotte Hornets and the mouse being a player that we may consider a face of the franchise that is. Hornets fans around the globe will remember the 2020 draft night for a long time. For the first time in forever(?), things finally went our way and for most people, we got the guy who we thought was the best player in the class. That player being LaMelo Ball of course.
The question at hand is, can he live up to this hype?
Personally speaking, while I do have high expectations for Ball, I recognize that he also has his limitations and may not be a true #1 option on a contending team, feel free to prove me wrong of course. I think he’s your #2 guy. This isn’t a bad thing, all I’m saying is he may not be THE guy who you can look to when it’s a 1 point game with time expiring. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the potential to be an absolute stud. He does. It’s weird. I’ll break it down some more in the later paragraphs.
We all know his story by now, if you’re a basketball fan and you don’t, then you’ve been living under a rock. At just 19 years of age the kid has 6x the amount of instagram followers as the actual Hornets instagram account. Thats also more than Mavs superstar Luka Doncic, also right on the heels of back to back MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo. While only playing four preseason games, this kid can already be considered a “star” in terms of media presence. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Hornets highlights on big media sites this often before. Again, four preseason games. He hit back to back 3s the other day and that YouTube video has more views than Kemba Walkers best scoring highlights.
However this isn’t an article about Ball’s instagram followers and how many likes he can get the Hornets on Twitter. This is about what he can bring to the court and what we should expect this in his rookie season. Already laying the foundation of his stardom, it’s easy for some people to be blinded by who he is as a player. Talking to some people, you can infer that they haven’t seen Ball play since he was in high school. Thinking that he’ll have easy success from three point range, or that scoring at an extremely high clip is to be expected from him.
When in reality, most of us probably understand that just isn’t his game anymore. Although… he may think that it is at times. The first exhibition match against Orlando showed that he is not afraid to put some shots up and it truly was a joy to watch. He posted 18 points on 41%, going 4-9 from deep. That’s not too bad at all. It seems with each preseason game he’s got more of a feel for the pace of an NBA game.
In his first game against Toronto we saw him command the boards and dazzle us with his passing ability. Reeling in 10 rebounds and adding 4 assists. His ability to attack the ball at its highest point and immediately transition that into a fast break is extremely elite. Apologies for the quality, but it’s the only clip I could find. See below.
Raptors do a good job of getting back on D there but, he’s going to catch plenty of teams off guard starting breaks like that. Through these four games, Ball hasn’t exactly jumped off the stat sheet in terms of assists, but that’s not really his fault. Preseason sloppiness and unit rotations are likely playing a big role in that, once he inevitably gets into the starting lineup box score watchers may be very pleased. He processes what’s happening in the game very quickly. You can see on those football passes he just takes 1 quick glance and knows where to place it.
I’m not entirely sure he knows how to pass without adding flair to it.
The behind the backs and the alley-oops have all just been fun, and I love it. Scoring is probably the main that thing that I have some concern over. This is the reason why I stated he may not end up being a true #1 primary initiator, but it may not be as bad as I initially thought. He may not be lethal (yet) but in these past couple games, especially in the first Orlando game he’s shown that when he is set, he can get his shot to fall, as I said earlier, knocking down 4 deep balls.
Playing with Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier more than in the first two games worked pretty well for Ball. Having a guy on the court like Graham forces the defense to pay him more mind than Ball at the moment, giving him openings like above. The below 3 instances are probably the closest thing we have so far to him “creating” his own shot. Michael Carter-Williams lets him take that 3 pretty much but I’ll personally count that as a shot off dribble.
While everyone raved about that ugly jumpshot falling, I was more impressed by these three finishes at the rim.
Those are three layups that I honestly expected to see in games 1 and 2. While Ball was in Australia, I felt like I had seen enough to believe that he could be an OKAY finisher around the rim even though most people thought otherwise. With such a long and skinny frame he’s able to manipulate his body into odd angles to allow him to finish such difficult layups, but other factors cause him to not be able to create more of these opportunities. I feel like those layups should NOT go in, but he’s able to make it work and has done so before.
This may be what propels him into actual stardom. When that shot isn’t falling, can you still find other ways to score? So far, his floaters look horrible. It’s okay, we’ll work on that, but having the ability to get layups like those to go at such a young age I think is huge. Hopefully he can do so with some consistency.
Moving over to the defensive side of the ball I’m actually pleasantly surprised with him so far. Labeled as unwilling to play defense coming into the draft (for good reason), so far he has at least shown that he is willing to buy into James Borrego’s system and try on defense. It hasn’t been pretty at times and I feel he tries to play hero ball resulting in some open looks, but you can say for certain that he is active. He plays defense like he’s a high school free safety.
Loved this sequence from the Orlando game.
So that’s pretty much what I mean when I say he tries to play hero ball on defense. He’s over-helped and left Cole Anthony who was cooking from 3 wide open in the corner. He did this plenty of times during this game and got burnt for it. On this occasion it works and he gets the offense moving full speed in transition. If Cody Zeller doesn’t trip up that’s probably 2 points. On one hand I love the aggression but he has to be careful with who he tries to bait down there. Leaving MCW wide open in the corner is one thing, Cole Anthony is another.
He’s also been horrible in navigating screens, but that’s something we can work as he bulks up and just get more PT. Overall though, much better than anticipated. You would have to believe that his high basketball IQ allows him to play defense the way he does. Knowing when to swipe or knowing when to get in lanes can be beneficial, but smart players will kill him. He can’t leave a man like that playing against the leagues best. Also at 6’8 I would bank on him being at the very least a capable on-ball defender, being able to guard both the 1 and 2 and hopefully the 3 later into his career once the weight starts to come.
So what can we expect this season from LaMelo Ball? I would say what you already know. Get ready for a fun year. It’s going to be flashy, it may not be pretty at times, but this will be a league pass favorite for some non-hornets fans. His ability to push the ball quickly, extravagant passes and crafty finishing will leave many mesmerized.
On the other hand box score watchers may be put off. I wouldn’t expect a high scoring average from him. I could see around 12-14 PPG, 6 assists, 5 rebounds. I think that’s a pretty solid rookie season. I am in the camp that thinks he’ll win rookie of the year, but that may just be me homering. I think there’s going to be games where he just goes ballistic and drops an absurd amount of points, which will have voters making their minds up off of those few performances. Again, it’s only the preseason and his highlights are EVERYWHERE.
With all that said. Where can I buy some Big Baller Brand gear?