After an incredible past two games, LaMelo Ball is at the forefront of not only the media in Charlotte, but the national media as well. He managed to outshine his brother Lonzo in their first NBA matchup, and the very next game became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. There was always an inkling when he got drafted that this kid had all the tools to be special, but now that he is putting those tools on full display, it begs the question - does he deserve to start now?
19-year-old LaMelo Ball is the youngest player in NBA history with a triple double!— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 10, 2021
3/4 3PT pic.twitter.com/aR0JoCvu7W
The Hornets have a lot of talent at the guard position. Just last year Devonte’ Graham was in the conversation for Most Improved Player, and Terry Rozier has been nothing short of a bucket for Charlotte this season. These two have started every single game this season and the Hornets have managed to go 5-5 thus far - respectable for a team most NBA fans considered to be rebuilding. Before deciding whether or not starting Ball is worth shaking up the current formula, it’s important to take a look at the whole picture.
Ball is averaging 12.3 points this season, sitting behind only Gordon Hayward (21.4) and Rozier (20.3). The rookie has come off the bench and made an immediate impact whenever he’s touched the floor, and done so at a more efficient clip than most expected. He’s shooting 43.5% from the field and 35.6% from deep this season, both very respectable numbers for a rookie point guard.
As for Ball’s other stats, he ranks near the top of the team in three other categories. Ball’s 5.9 assists per game are only bested by Graham who averages 6.5 a night. Since Charlotte has been without one of their centers for essentially the whole season, Ball has helped pick up the slack on the glass, too. He averages 6.3 rebounds a night, which is once again second on the team behind the only listed center Bismack Biyombo (7.1). Lastly, Ball leads the team in steals with 1.5 per game (not including Cody Zeller).
#Hornets coach when he subs out Ball (overcoaching) for D late seems to overlook the fact he’s taking his best rebounder off the floor. Rebounds end possessions. A Pop disciple ought to know that.— lyle spencer (@lylespencer16) January 10, 2021
The other factor to consider when deciding whether or not Ball should be starting is who he’d be playing with. James Borrego has rolled out the same starting lineup (outside of the Zeller to Biyombo swap due to injury) for every game this season - Graham, Rozier, Hayward, PJ Washington, and Biyombo. That five man group has played the most minutes of any this season (95), but their ratings lack the results to explain why. Amongst five-man lineups that have played 40 or more minutes league-wide they have the second worst offensive rating (88.7), the eleventh worst defensive rating (111.6), and the second worst net rating (-22.9). That being said, the Hornets are still a middle of the pack team, so where does the success come from?
If you take that same lineup but replace Graham and Washington with Ball and Bridges, the results are vastly different. The offensive rating jumps from 88.7 to 103.8, the defensive rating falls from a 111.6 to a 107.7, and the net rating improves from a -22.9 to a -3.9. While it’s still a net negative, the numbers are undeniably better with Ball and Bridges on the floor.
Last one.— Noah Purser (@hoopst8) January 5, 2021
9 of Charlotte's 5-man lineups have a positive eFG%. LaMelo Ball and/or Gordon Hayward are in every single one.
Hard to overstate how important the increase in playmaking has been for this team. pic.twitter.com/fhB1RE4ATs
Going even further than that, let’s take a look at the Hornets’ top five-man lineups in terms of offensive rating. There have been 22 different five-man lineup combinations that have played at least five minutes this season. When looking at the top lineups in terms of offensive rating, Ball is seven of the top ten. In terms of defensive rating, Ball is in six of the top ten. Lastly, in terms of net rating, Ball is once again in seven of the top ten.
Even when looking at Ball’s impact on the other players in the starting lineup, the argument for him to start only grows stronger. Without Ball on the court, these are the offensive and defensive ratings of the regular starters:
Graham - 107.2 OffRtg, 102.7 DefRtg
Rozier - 107.4 OffRtg, 113.9 DefRtg
Hayward - 107.9 OffRtg, 110.1 DefRtg
Washington - 105.6 OffRtg, 109.1 DefRtg
Biyombo - 101.8 OffRtg, 111.6 DefRtg
Here are what their ratings look like when they’re sharing the court with Ball:
Graham: 114.6 OffRtg, 96.7 DefRtg
Rozier: 115.3 OffRtg, 118.9 DefRtg
Hayward: 113.0 OffRtg, 115.5 DefRtg
Washington: 109.8 OffRtg, 109.3 DefRtg
Biyombo: 110.9 OffRtg, 118.9 DefRtg
Defensively, things can get a little rough a majority of the time with Ball on the floor (aside from when Ball plays with Graham, oddly enough). However, the team gets better across the board on the offensive end when Ball is on the floor. Maybe Borrego thinks Ball fits better coming off the bench for now, or maybe he just wants to continue to play Ball with Bridges. No matter what the reasoning is, the argument for Ball to be inserted into the starting lineup is growing stronger by the game. When that time will come, however, is left for us all to wonder.