The Charlotte Hornets struck gold on November 18, 2020. With a little help from their rivals, the most talented prospect in the class fell to them at the third overall pick. It was very reminiscent of the 2018 draft. Back then, Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress/ESPN was adamant about Luka Doncic being the best prospect in the draft, but NBA executives were apparently worried about his ceiling because he played in Europe or something. He fell to the third pick, where the Mavericks swooped in to take him, and he’s already inserted himself into MVP conversations at age 22.
Two years later, we see a similar situation. Schmitz (and others) had LaMelo Ball as the number one prospect in the 2020 class by a comfortable margin. Still, whether it be because of the brashness of his father, the limited sample of play in a professional league that’s not the NBA, or questions about his professionalism that cropped up when he was in his mid-teens, Ball slipped to the Hornets at the third pick. Thanks Minnesota, and thanks Golden State.
Ball has quickly answered any questions that could have remained about his ability to fit into a team. He’s immediately jelled with the Hornets young cadre of recent draft picks and has earned rave reviews from coaches, teammates and opponents.
That praise isn’t unwarranted. Ball is having a historic rookie season. He’s averaging 15.8 points, 6.3 assists, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. His totals in each of those categories lead all rookies, which hasn’t been done in a very, very long time.
Ball has taken his game to another level as a starter. He started his first game on February 1st after coming off the bench for the first 20 games of his career. In the 15 games since that date, Ball is averaging 20.7 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 46.4% from the field, 44.9% from three, and 84.6% from the free throw line. Seven players have averaged 20 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.5 steals over a fifteen game span as rookies—Tyreke Evans, Alvan Adams, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and LaMelo Ball.
There are 37 games left in the season. If Ball plays in all of them and maintains his averages as a starter, he’ll finish the season with averages of 18.3 points, 6.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. No rookie has ever met all of those statistical markers in a season, and it’s only been done 26 times in NBA history. Most of the players on that list are Hall of Famers.
We’re two months into the season and Ball is a two time Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month. It looks like Rookie of the Year is already his award to lose. He should be pushing for All Star bids as soon as next seasons and potentially more prestigious awards shortly after that. The Hornets struck gold in last year’s draft, and they certainly didn’t make a mistake. This Tweet from our pal Carolina Sports Despair perfectly sums up what I think most Hornets fans think just about every time the Hornets are on their television screens.
i can't believe lamelo is this good this fast and he's actually a hornet— The Carolina Sports Despair (@SportsDespair) February 9, 2021