The Charlotte Hornets did not end their season the way they anticipated with an ugly loss to the Indiana Pacers in the play-in tournament, but it was a special one regardless. The Hornets were fun to watch and have a bright future ahead of them thanks to the dynamite play of Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball.
Before his injury, Ball was a walking highlight every time he touched the ball because of his all-around impact on the game. Something spectacular always seems to happen every time he touches the ball, and the Hornets made sure to hand him the keys to their franchise early on.
There is a lot to unpack from Ball’s first season, but here are five big takeaways from it.
1. Elite playmaker
Despite only being 19 years old, LaMelo Ball has already shown that he is one of the best passers in the league. Ball dished out 6.1 assists per game in his rookie campaign, which placed him 17th in the NBA. Ball, T.J. McConnell and Ricky Rubio were the only three players in the top 10 who didn’t play over 30 minutes per game. Impressive stuff for a rook who spent the beginning of the season coming off the bench.
Ball made life a lot easier for Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward (when healthy) to get easy looks around the basket and uncontested jumpers around the perimeter. Both Rozier and Hayward averaged around 20 points a game in large part to Ball setting them up. Also, guys like Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington have taken strides on the offensive end because of the easy alley-oops and rhythm shots they get around the bucket. When LaMelo has the ball, everyone seems like they are open.
2. Elevates his teammates
Since Day 1, LaMelo Ball was able to elevate those around him because he is a pass-first player. As mentioned above, Rozier is fresh off the best season of his career thanks to Ball. The other young players on the team have found their niche and are looking to take bigger strides. Bridges is one of those guys who did not have a defined role within the offense.
This season, Bridges showed he can be a solid third option for the Hornets moving forward and not just a dunker. Guys like Jalen McDaniels and Cody and Caleb Martin also stepped up and had an impact. Ball will be a staple in this organization for a long time, especially if he can continue to help his teammates find their roles.
The NBA is filled with superstars. LeBron James, Stephen Curry and several others help this league generate money and millions of fans around the league. However, a lot of franchises might not have a bona fide star who helps out their market.
Fortunately for Charlotte, LaMelo Ball appears to be on his way to being a top-tier talent in this league. If he wins Rookie of the Year, his star power will increase even more. He is already must-see tv and a fan favorite. The Hornets are sure to generate a ton of money off his jersey sales alone, not to mention the amount of money that they could make off ticket sales.
Ball could find himself in commercials as well, maybe with his brother and father. The sky is the limit for his popularity and the adulation he will receive as he continues his career.
4. Future Star
As a starter, LaMelo Ball averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 5.9 rebounds. Those numbers are in the ballpark when compared to what LeBron and Luka Doncic averaged throughout their rookie campaigns. Ball seems to elevate his team just like Luka and LeBron on a nightly basis.
As time progresses, we will see Ball gain more confidence, add weight, and expand his game so that he can be a perennial All-Star and potential MVP winner. That is a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old kid, but several stars in today’s game faced the same challenge that LaMelo is looking at. Teams will begin to game plan more for Ball moving forward, but he should continue to mature and develop.
Out of everything on this list, this might be the most important takeaway. LaMelo Ball showed all season long he does not care where he plays because he will impact the game regardless. Earlier in the season he came off the bench and carried the second unit, up until he was moved into the starting lineup. He can play with and without the ball and post up smaller guards in addition to all his passing wizardry.
With a 6-foot-7 frame, he can guard up to three positions on the court. Once he adds some weight, he might be able to guard some power forwards in today’s league. There is a lot that Ball can do on both sides of the court, so he is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Ball has already shown he is the face of the franchise. The Hornets missed the playoffs this season, but they will be knocking on the door again in 2022 and will be looking to take that next step. Ball is sure to be a driving force behind that. The whole world will soon know just how good LaMelo Ball is.