Luka Dončić, LeBron James, LaMelo Ball. Those are the only three 20-year-olds in NBA history to average 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds per game in a season.
Before his third season has even began, Ball is in rarified air. Already named Rookie of the Year and an All-Star, he’s racking up accolades at a rate which no Charlotte Hornets player ever has before while establishing himself as a league-wide presence with his penchant for daring assists, circus layups and deep pull-up threes. To borrow one of Ball’s favorite phrases, “it’s up” already for the young playmaker, and has been for a while. But how much farther can he rise this year?
Though he’s expected to miss time to start the regular season, Ball was spotted at practice without a walking boot or ankle support of any kind. Hopefully, he’s able to return sooner than later from the Grade 2 ankle sprain he suffered in a preseason game against Washington.
LaMelo was at practice strictly as an Observer. He chatted it up with with Marlon Garnett for a bit before exiting. pic.twitter.com/27egGXY1i2— Rod Boone (@rodboone) October 14, 2022
For most of the offseason, Hornets fans and followers were curious to see how Ball would grow as an inside the arc finisher at the rim this season. He was lauded for his feathery touch coming into the league, which has translated in the form of a high-level three-point shot with 30-foot range and a quick release. It has yet to show itself in the form of rim finishing, though; he’s a 58 percent shooter from 0-3 feet across two seasons, which is reasonable for a 20-year-old, but his efficiency falls to 40.5 percent from 3-10 feet. Ball worked with a rules official over the summer to help generate more free throws this season and flashed an improved mid-range pull-up in the preseason. Even a moderate improvement in either (or both) categories would trigger an uptick in his scoring production with how often he’s likely to have the ball in transition and halfcourt sets.
By my "unofficial" tally LaMelo Ball is 3-7 this preseason on pull-up midrange shots (not including any of the running/floating type). If he's not going to improve around the rim, this is the other area that he could tap into.— Richie (@richierandall) October 8, 2022
1/3 vs. BOS
1/2 vs. IND
1/2 vs. BOS pic.twitter.com/Z3XySoAnTw
The preseason injury was yet another buzzkill for the Hornets and their fans in what has been a long summer and preseason, but we can hold out hope that Ball won’t be sidelined too far into the season. In the meantime, it could give the team a chance to play a young prospect with part of Melo’s leftover minutes. Veterans like Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and PJ Washington will have the opportunity to lead the team in scoring on any given night. It rarely goes well when Ball has missed regular season games in the past, but the Melo-less Hornets played Philadelphia pretty evenly in the preseason finale, for whatever that’s worth.
It’s disappointing that we’ll have to wait to see if Ball has bolstered his scoring arsenal with improved finishing around the rim or mid-range efficiency, but the results could be a boon for the Hornets. When an All-Star improves, what next step do they typically take? All-NBA. Don’t count it out, is all I’m saying.