LaMelo Ball’s NBA career with the Hornets got off to a poor start.
In fact, that just might be a generous description of his NBA debut. It was downright brutal.
The third overall pick in this year’s draft went scoreless for 15 minutes in his opener, missing all five field goal attempts in Charlotte’s 121-114 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 23.
Not only did he fail to score, but the much-vaunted playmaker also returned the ball three times, becoming only the second player in the past 35 years to finish without a point while taking at least five shots with three. turnovers or more in 15- plus minutes of their NBA debut, joining Brandon Williams of the Golden State Warriors in 1998.
Although he got off to a rocky start, things have gone much better since then.
Better not be nice enough when describing your recent play. He was exceptional.
At the start of the 2020 draft, the 6-foot-7 point guard was widely regarded as having the highest cap of any prospect. A skilled ball handler, the scouts marveled at his passing, his vision of the court and his ability to push the ball into the field.
While Ball has a huge skill set and an overall understanding of the game, moving from the Australian National Basketball League to the NBA would take time.
It took him a week.
With 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists in a victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 30, he became the first player in 35 years to reach those numbers in just his fourth game, and he continued to fill in the sheet. of statistics with impressive. Numbers.
He has since played two more games with 15 or more points, eight or more rebounds and five or more assists. Only four other players have had more such games during this period – Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets (six), Luka Doncic of the Mavericks (five), Julius Randle of the New York Knicks (five) and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers (four). .
In three games from Jan.8 to 11, he racked up 42 points, 36 rebounds and 27 assists, joining Ben Simmons in 2017 and Lamar Odom in 2000 as the only rookies in the past 35 years with at least 40 points, 35 boards and 25 assists over a period of three games.
In the middle of that three-game streak, Ball made history. At 19 years and 140 days old, he became the youngest player to record a triple-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in Saturday’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Although he stumbled out of the gate with his forgettable debut, he still hit the 10-game mark with 131 points, 63 rebounds and 59 assists. In the past 35 seasons, only two other rookies have reached those numbers after 10 games – James in 2003 and Simmons in 2017.
The passage of the ball was as advertised. He finds his teammates open and prepares them for success.
Among the 100 players with at least 30 assists, he has the 10 best assist rate in the league – the estimated percentage of field goals achieved by his teammates while on the ground. At 36.8%, Ball is just a little behind James, whose eighth at 37.6.
With 71 assists on the season, Ball has eight fewer assists than Devonte ‘Graham for the most over the Hornets. He does lead Charlotte with 84 rebounds, however, and if he overtakes Graham and ends the season leading the team in rebounds and assists, he will join Michael Jordan in 1984-85 and Blake Griffin in 2010-11, as only rookies over the past 40 years to lead their team in both categories.
Not only is Ball thriving in the part of his game that many believed he would eventually excel at, but he was also successful in areas that were considered to be one of his greatest weaknesses – shooting and defense.
After shooting an appalling 24% from 3 points in the Australian NBL, Ball achieves a respectable 33.9% of his 3. Nothing exceptional, but the league average over 3s is 36.6%.
He also shows a skill to take down shots just inside the bow. His 50 percent shooting on midrange jumpers is tied with seven others for the 17th place in the NBA among those with at least 100 field goal attempts.
Defense was another area where many expected Ball to take time to grasp and be competent, but he’s already proven he’s up to the task, leading all rookies with 22 defensive saves.
Not only does he lead all freshmen in defensive saves, he also leads all rookies in points (143), rebounds (84), assists (71) and steals (18).
If Ball continues to thrive on the field and ends the season leading all rookies in points, rebounds and assists, he will become just the seventh player in NBA history to accomplish this feat, joining Elgin Baylor ( 1958-59), Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60), Oscar Robertson (1960-61), Walt Bellamy (1961-62), Alvin Adams (1975-76) and Michael Carter-Williams (2013-14).
No wonder, but each of the previous six won the Rookie of the Year award.
Playing at a level few rookies have before him, Ball is the first favorite to take home this season’s award.
Fortunately for him, the trophy is not awarded after a match.