The deserving NBA Rookie Of The Year hasn’t played since March 20 due to a right wrist fracture, and following his reevaluation, he’s already cleared to return to basketball activities. He might even be playing again in 7 to 10 days, meaning he’d be back before April ends, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Hornets statement was cautiously optimistic:
“Ball’s cast was removed, and a CT scan confirmed the wrist has healed. He has been cleared to return to individual basketball activity. Additional updates on Ball’s status and return to game action will be provided as appropriate.”
Though it’s not a perfect way to gauge, given injuries to everyone else around the NBA, the Hornets haven’t been awful lately even in the absence of Ball and Gordon Hayward, who has been out with a foot injury since April 3. Hayward’s reevaluation is coming four weeks following his injury, meaning he could potentially join Ball and the Hornets if he has a similarly favorable report in a couple of weeks. The Hornets are 8-8 since Ball’s injury and 3-5 since additionally losing Hayward, including a four-game losing streak, which they just snapped with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
But even though they’ve been .500 all year — literally 28-28 right now — the Hornets have fallen back into the play-in as the No. 8 seed. As tight as the standings are — with, in their case, 16 games remaining — the Hornets are 2.5 games ahead of the Indiana Pacers, and nearly five games removed from being out of the playoffs entirely. Even a sizeable drop-off in production may keep them in the play-in at a bare minimum, and given the silly play-in rules [which features 7-8 and 9-10 match-ups as opposed to the conventional 8-9, 7-10], it’s probably even better for the Hornets to fall to nine if they can’t get out of the play-in all together.
The issue is that the Miami Heat (1.0), Boston Celtics, and New York Knicks (2.0) are the teams directly above Charlotte — and the Heat, in particular, have a favorable schedule to end the season. The Atlanta Hawks are half-a-game ahead of Boston and New York and are still the four-seed with a 17-6 record since firing Lloyd Pierce and being guided by Nate McMillan.
For Charlotte, a 7-10 day Ball return could mean he’s back in time for May, where they’ll play their final 10 games across 16 days. But it also features a homestand of five from May 6 to 13. If Ball is back on the shorter end of 7-10 days, that would mean he’s back during a three-game stretch of home against the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks and then at the Celtics to end April.
Because of an Anthony Edwards offensive leap, Ball is now the distant second in NBA scoring among rookies at 15.9 points per game. But even with his injury, he’s easily maintained the lead in rookie assists per game at 6.1, and he’s second in rebounds at 5.9. Since he really turned the corner on January 30, which was a breakout 27-point game on 8-for-10 shooting in what has been his last effort off the bench, Ball’s averaged 19.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game during a 22-contest run. That includes shooting splits of 47 / 43 / 83, and a 12-9 record for Charlotte. So far, he’s missed 15 games, a number that will likely be at or around 20 upon his return.
But as far as Rookie of the Year goes, Ball’s easily been the most impactful NBA newcomer this season. We’ll see how the playoff race shakes out, but for Charlotte to get the Rookie of the Year favorite back, which wasn’t widely anticipated, is huge.