Talent has largely defined the NBA journey of LaMelo Ball through two seasons.
Career averages of 18.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.6 steals have come with some highlight reels of crafty finishes and nifty passes, all of which continue to show that basketball is a fun sport.
Two seasons in, things have been all fun and games until the play-in tournament for Ball and the rest of his teammates. While the Charlotte Hornets’ 144-117 loss to the Indiana Pacers could be charged to first-time jitters, the 132-103 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks does bring questions (but does not necessarily raise alarm bells) of whether they will get over the hump.
Fair or not, wins change how some players are viewed and with the likes of fellow batchmates Anthony Edwards and Desmond Bane having played in the postseason, with their own solid performances to boot, one has to wonder when Ball’s turn will be. The draft classes from the last two seasons are burgeoning with talent as well, with incoming sophomores like Jonathan Kuminga and Scottie Barnes expected to beef up their playoff resumes, while rookies Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jaden Ivey could barge into the postseason if things play into their favor.
Wins are of course not merely just a function of Ball’s efforts, since basketball is first and foremost a team sport. However, much of Hornets’ fortunes hinge on the youngest Ball brother, who can take the leap in his third year in the league.
Efficiency wasn’t exactly Ball’s strong suit entering the NBA and it may not be, at least in the short-term, considering the minutes and touches he gets as one of Charlotte’s franchise cornerstones. What the 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year does with the minutes and touches, though, could go a long way towards better individual and in turn, team results. All that starts with his decision-making.
Ball can create for himself and his teammates, and his high assist numbers point to his ability to make good decisions. Creating for others has given him space to score, as the threat of his passing ability gives him space to finish. The turnovers (career 3.1 turnovers per game) can sting but completely eliminating them will be virtually impossible. Doing so will also curtail the intuition that has worked for the Hornets at least in the regular season.
Better decisions will also lead to better shots, and the hope within the organization is that the 43.1/37.8/82.6 shooting splits would be the floor. There were already some indications of Ball’s improvement after his first All-Star appearance, and more coaching and time spent on development will help build on this.
Substance over style may be the easy way to describe this, yet Magic Johnson and many others have provided the blueprint for success when substance and style gel together. Charlotte can help on this end by surrounding him with the talent and coaching that can bring out the most from his skill set.
Another area Ball can focus on, although it may be a much larger ask, would be on defense. His height and the decent steals per game averages point to some defensive potential, but the effort the 20-year old exerts is still not at the level he puts on offense. Part of this comes from the appeal the offensive side of the ball has, but teams will continue to target him on defense. A peg to consider here would be that of Stephen Curry, who may not be an elite defender, but is someone who can certainly contribute on the defensive end and has shown improvement in the area as his career progressed.
The NBA will never run short of talent and for LaMelo Ball not to get lost in the shuffle, the wins must go beyond the regular season. Of course, not all of this is on him, but with the Charlotte Hornets pretty much giving him the keys to the franchise, the onus begins with him.