The fear was that LaMelo Ball’s once loud and now apparently mute father, LaVar, would be overbearing. That his seemingly reckless style of play in high school and overseas would make him an awful NBA teammate. That he won’t be able to get his jump shot corrected to produce in the NBA. That he has a dangerously low floor compared to other possible lottery picks.
We’ve heard all of it in some form. Many of us had the same reservations.
On any website of choice — though you should probably be careful — if you search the term “LaMelo Ball bust,” a plethora of pitches projecting his downfall will likely appear. It was a foolproof practice on YouTube, it was written about locally, and it was hypothesized throughout Twitter until recently. Before Ball toed an NBA hash mark, he was already one of the most criticized athletes affiliated with the league.
Just 26 games into his first NBA season, Rookie of the Year is a one-person race. You can’t even win money by betting him anymore in most sportsbooks because he’s that much of a favorite. Averaging 14.3 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.8 rebounds, Ball leads all rookies in points and assists and is second in rebounding to James Wiseman, who is a 7-foot center.
Ball’s also just averaging 27 minutes per game, tied for fourth among rookies, and didn’t start a game until a Terry Rozier absence on Feb. 1. But only two games later, Ball started alongside Rozier and fellow guard Devonte Graham. He erupted for team highs with 34 points and 8 assists in nearly 40 minutes of play. Since then, Graham’s suffered a groin strain, keeping Ball in the backcourt with Rozier.
One of the biggest concerns with Ball when he entered the NBA was his shooting, which he’s improved on following an inauspicious start. Ball’s now shooting nearly 44 percent from the field and about 36 percent from three. Since Jan. 30 — his last game off the bench before six consecutive starts — Ball’s averaged 22.4 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from three, over 48 percent from the field, and 92.6 percent from the free-throw line on nearly four attempts per game.
And beyond the surface level numbers, Ball’s even impacted winning more than many of his teammates in Charlotte, accounting for 1.7 win shares, third behind Gordon Hayward (2.6) and Rozier (2.0). Ball’s also third in win shares per 48 minutes (of anyone who hasn’t missed significant time) at .120. Ball, surprisingly, also leads the team in defensive box plus-minus (0.9), despite his lack of a reputation for stops. He’s also on top of the Hornets in general box plus-minus (3.0) if you don’t account for Vernon Carey, who has only played three games.
Ball’s been good enough that The Jump is even contemplating whether or not they’d take him or Ja Morant for the next five years.
Maybe that’s highly ambitious, but the younger Ball brother is the clear-cut Rookie of the Year. Beyond that, it’s only taken him a couple of dozen games to separate himself from his class and make those who were pessimistic regretful. That’s not to say people weren’t optimistic either, and those who had high hopes for Ball are looking like geniuses today.