I think it’s important as a Charlotte Hornets fan to occasionally step back and take inventory of what LaMelo Ball has done to this point in his career. He was named an All Star in his second season at just 20 years old. Only three players made the All Star team at a younger age, and all three are considered among the best players of all time—LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson. He finished his second season, again at age 20, averaging 20.1 points, 7.6 assists, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. He added five more triple doubles to his career total, putting him one behind Anthony Mason for the Hornets all time record in career triple doubles. Again, he’s 20 years old, and he’s played 126 games in the NBA.
Ball improved across the board from his Rookie of the Year campaign. His points, rebounds, assists, and 3-point percentage all increased while his steal and block numbers held steady. Beyond just the stats though, you could sense his increased command of the game and the trust he demanded from his teammates and coaching staff as the season went on. The Hornets put the ball in his hands in more high leverage situations, and he delivered on a number of occasions, especially against the Bucks.
He took his play to another level when the Hornets needed a boost down the stretch. On March 7, he played just eight minutes and scored two points against the Cavaliers due to foul trouble. The Hornets had 18 games between that point and the end of the season. In those 18 games, Ball averaged 21.5 points, 8.5 assists, and 1.8 steals while shooting 44.5% from three.
When Ball joined the Hornets, there were questions about whether or not he would be a good enough shooter to be a threat from the perimeter. He was second on the team in 3-point percentage (behind Gordon Hayward) and second on the team in 3-pointers made per game (behind Terry Rozier). He shot 38.9% from behind the arc and had 14 games with at least five 3-pointers made.
He has a ways to go to be a consistently positive player on the defensive end, but the instincts and tools are there. He led the Hornets in both deflections and loose balls recovered per game and ranked 17th and 13th respectively in each of those categories. He finished 17th in the league with 1.6 steals per game. He has to be more disciplined on this end, but you can’t teach the instincts he has on this end.
To take the next step, Ball is going to need to improve his finishing around the basket. He shot just 54% at the rim last season, which is the lowest among the Hornets regular rotation players. He too often avoids contact around the basket and throws up a few too many uncontrolled shots. His problems are very similar to what Kemba Walker had early in his career. He’ll need to learn to decelerate around the basket and use his body to create room for him to finish with control. Given how good his handle and feel are already, this is something that is very easy to see him getting good at. And he’s already an 88% free throw shooter, so you’d certainly love to see him get to the line more.
The Hornets have themselves an incredible talent and we should be thankful every day that he calls Charlotte home. He took a big jump from his Rookie of the Year campaign to his second season, and he’ll almost certainly continue to get better from here. Again, he’s only 20 years old.