Why LaMelo Ball is close to a perfect fit with the Charlotte Hornets

Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images
Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images /

Internet sensation LaMelo Ball has been hand-picked by Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets. But how does Ball fit with his new teammates?

LaMelo Ball was selected No. 3 overall in the NBA 2020 Draft going to the Charlotte Hornets, a franchise that has been longing for any sort of relevancy in national media.

The Hornets had only two nationally broadcast games, one was when Kemba Walker returned (ouch) and the other one was when the Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks played in Paris, France.
The Hornets also had the second-lowest home attendance average of 15,438, and the maximum at the Spectrum Center is 19,077 for NBA games.

In comes LaMelo Ball, whose family is already immensely famous, with second overall pick and brother Lonzo Ball in the league, plus their father Lavar Ball, creating news cycles and creating a TV show around the family.

LaMelo comes into the NBA with 5.7 million Instagram followers before even playing a game in the NBA.

This all bodes well for the Hornets as Ball showed what he can do for a smaller entertainment product with the NBL –one of the 5-7 best leagues in the world. LaMelo Ball signed with the Illawarra Hawks and the hype was evident from Twitter hours after the announcement.

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Ball only played 12 games due to a foot injury, shutting down the season to reduce the chances of “damaged goods” coming into the draft  — despite that LaMelo drew a lot of eyeballs, the NBL’s attendance record was broken when the Hawks played in Sydney against Andrew Bogut’s Sydney Kings.

Note: this wasn’t a home game, the home attendance wasn’t as good as you may have thought for the Hawks, Ball played 6 home games and for the season they only saw a 10% increase.  

It wasn’t just local interest either, the first head to head match up of LaMelo Ball and the other American prospect R.J. Hampton was historic. The first game between the Illawarra Hawks and New Zealand Breakers that season drew in close to 2 million views on Facebook, again another NBL record broken.

All of this is to say that LaMelo Ball is box office, and he already is a capital ‘S’ Star, despite playing in a different hemisphere before coming to the NBA and doing it in a small working-class town.

So., we get that LaMelo Ball will bring attention to the team, granted, likely not a lot of money from ticket sales but the Ball Hornets jersey will undoubtedly be a top seller.

The next thing, the more important thing is, what Ball can do on the court. I did an in-depth draft profile on him prior to the draft, so I recommend it as context for this article. The summary is that LaMelo Ball could be a next level playmaker and an above-average scorer around the basket — while struggling to understand the concepts of defense or bad shot selection.

The Hornets are rebuilding, which means the roster is in flux. But for the sake of timelessness LaMelo Ball will be playing with this nucleus of players: Miles Bridges, Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington, and Malik Monk.

The Charlotte Hornets have plenty of guard depth

The first red flag is that now the Hornets have four guards who could be playing minutes, Graham had a good season but this draft pick was about getting the best player available, not the best fit.

Ball will start and Graham will be next to Ball filling the guard positions, Ball may be 6’7” but he cannot defend NBA forwards. Heck, Ball could barely defend in the NBL, so he’ll have some real work to do.

I think Rozier should become the sixth man and see whatever happens with Monk, if he’s productive he can become the backup shooting guard. If not, well, that’s up to the Hornets to figure out. Where the fun begins is with Bridges and Washington, Ball during his NBL season had teammates with similar skill sets – stretch fours and multi-talented wings.

Ball was electric in the full-court and was always able to thread the needle with passes, find the trailing shooter or deliver a dime to a spiriting teammate.

If Bridges running the break while Ball goes coast to coast (Ball was a great rebounder in the NBL, seven rebounds per game) with Washington and Graham spacing the court, the Hornets could have a dangerous full-court team. This past regular season the Hornets ranked last in the league in pace – something Ball day one will change.

Going into the stats (and using your eyes) you can see the Hornets were just plain bad on defense, ranking 24th in defensive rating. Sorry Hornets fans, it’s going to get even worse – multiple draft experts, and I have said Ball’s defense is a work in progress, the combination of inattentiveness and overall aloof overall approach will be an issue.

Luckily, Ball has an extremely high basketball IQ and hopefully, in an NBA setting he can change his attitude and be neutral in years to come on that end — because, in the NBL, he was arguably the worst defender to get more than 20 minutes a game.

What Ball does well is offense… mostly, he shot extremely inefficiently but that’s more due to his shot selection than actual shot-making capability. This past regular season the Hornets were last in points per game, 29th in offensive rating, and ranked 19th in assist per game.  

Again, Ball day one will change that, as he averaged seven assists in a league that isn’t as good as the NBA. So, his passes will convert into assists more often, NBA players make more shots, duh.

Despite playing against many NBA level defenders Ball still was able to score in a professional setting, scoring 17 points per game. It was an inefficient 17 points (37.5 field goal percentage and 25.0 percent from three) but with a more complex system under coach James Borrego and with a deeper team around Ball, that will hopefully allow Ball to contextualize his shot taking and jack up fewer shots.

Is Ball a perfect fit? No. Does Ball have a better upside than anyone else they could have selected, as well as anyone on the current roster? Without question.

The Hornets still need a rim protector or someone to put up a fight at least. Washington tried his best and hopefully, in the future, the Hornets could have a small ball lineup with Washington, Bridges, Graham, Ball with another defender.

But until then, the Hornets selected a guy who is guaranteed to make a buzz (no pun intended) around the league or even world, and a player who could be a generational playmaker and possible All-Star – for a franchise that hasn’t been in the spotlight since the early ’90s.

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