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2020-21 Hornets season preview: LaMelo Ball

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What to expect and what to look for in Ball’s rookie season

Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Drafting LaMelo Ball is the best thing the Charlotte Hornets have done since they drafted Kemba Walker back in 2011. Not only does he have the talent to be the cornerstone of the franchise, but his name alone will bring millions of eyes to Hornets games that otherwise wouldn’t tune in. He’s one of the most well-known rookies of the last few years and has been in the spotlight since his days in high school. Ball’s name alone will get the Hornets more nationally televised games than last year, and that’s just the icing on the cake (the cake being that this guy is an absolute baller).

Ball has been on a worldwide tour of basketball and he’s only 19 years old. He’s played in the US, Lithuania, and most recently in Australia with the Illawarra Hawks. In his one season (12 games) with the Hawks he averaged 17.0 points, 7.6 assists, and 6.8 rebounds a night. His efficiency wasn’t great (37.5% FG, 25.0% 3PT), but he wasn’t exactly playing with top-tier talent. That’s the part of the story no one’s ever heard of regarding Ball’s time in Australia. The Hawks were terrible.

Last season the Illawarra Hawks went 5-23 on the season, and 3-9 in the 12 games Ball played in. To make matters worse, the three games they won with Ball in the lineup were all against the same team - the Cairns Taipans. On top of having a terrible record, very few players on the team were able to shoot the ball efficiently. All three seven-footers on the roster shot below 50% from the field, and only three guys shot better than 36% from three (on more than 20 total attempts).

Playing in Charlotte is going to elevate Ball’s game even further as it will be by far the best talent he’s ever played with. Ball’s primary strength is his playmaking, and while he did manage to squeak out over seven assists a night with the Hawks, his teammates in Charlotte will be much better scorers for him to work with.

To start off with, here are some catch and shoot three-point percentages of Hornets players from last season:

  • Terry Rozier: 45.9%
  • Gordon Hayward (w/ BOS): 42.5%
  • Devonte Graham: 42.4%
  • PJ Washington: 38.5%

Having guys that can shoot this well from deep will not only give Ball options to pass to, but reliable ones. Next up, let’s take a look at how well Charlotte’s big men shot on paint touches last season:

  • PJ Washington: 64.2%
  • Cody Zeller: 58.3%
  • Bismack Biyombo: 55.2%

Ball will finally have centers that can finish when he gets the ball to them in the paint. Add the lob threats of Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, and PJ Washington into the mix, and the amount of targets Ball will have at his disposal is staggering.

One category the rookie point guard will have to work on is his shot selection. In his two stints of professional play (Lithuania and Australia) he’s never managed to shoot over 38% from the field. In addition to that, he shot 25% from three in both leagues despite being heralded as a lethal three-point shooter in high school.

The positive spin on Ball’s shot, however, is that the mechanics are definitely there. Unlike his brother Lonzo, who struggled to shoot the ball because of his form, Ball’s problem has always been shot selection. In fact, Ball’s shot form reminds me of Trae Young’s a little bit. He brings the ball up from a low point on his body and launches it directly upward. Some target numbers to strive for in his rookie year should be 40% from the field and around 32% from deep (both massive improvements from his percentages in Australia).

Ball also struggles on the defensive side of the ball. Throughout his playing career thus far there have been many reports that he fails to put in effort on the defensive side of the ball. While his effort seemed to improve during his time in Australia, he constantly got lost on defense, struggling to keep up with his opponent. Along with his shot-selection, this should be something to watch in Ball’s rookie season.

Despite all these pros and cons of Ball’s game, the most important thing to remember is that he’s a rookie. Just because he was the third overall pick and is almost a household name at this point doesn’t mean he can’t make mistakes. When it comes down to it, just enjoy watching the future face of the franchise ball out in his rookie year, because that’s exactly what he’s going to do.