Charlotte Hornets: Should LaMelo Ball be a starter?

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Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Reasons why LaMelo Ball shouldn’t start

The Hornets spent $120 million dollars on Gordon Hayward. You don’t pay that kind of money for a player to be the 11th seed and decide your season would be best served focusing on Ball’s development.

The Hornets clearly want to make the playoffs, or at the least play-in tournament. As of right now, LaMelo Ball doesn’t help with that as a starter at this stage of his career. The reason Ball doesn’t help with winning so far is because of his defense and his shot selection.

Shot selection

Ball’s shot selection was always a concern and it was on full display in the NBL. He shot 37.0 percent from the field and 25.0 from three on high volumes in his short NBL stint.

His gaudy attempts from three were concerning, the shots that were multiple feet behind the arc that were heaved with 16 seconds still on the shot clock were the things that killed his percentages.

The difference between his NBL 3-point attempts and his NBA 3-point attempts is the willingness to be a catch and shoot player. In four regular-season games, Ball has attempts nine catch and shoot threes, making seven. Ball has attempted seven pull-ups from three and made one.

It is a small sample, but when you look at the film Ball is more comfortable and more accurate as a catch and shoot player, especially in the corners, which was also the case in the NBL.   

The shot chart from this season shows he prefers to shoot beyond the arc, and credit to Ball because he has been much better from three than anyone could have predicted so far.

Ball is making 42.3 percent of 4.3 3-point attempts per game. Few believe this will continue percentage-wise but the high 30s is a realistic goal at this point.

The concerning part is if Ball returns to earth and starts missing these deep threes, will he show restraint? From all of the evidence we have, it suggests he’s more than willing to jack shots, even if they clank of the side of the backboard.

If Ball wants to continue to be an efficient 3-point threat for this season, he needs to get his feet closer to the line and focus on catching and shooting. Because if and when he starts missing these shots they will prematurely hijack possessions, making the Hornets’ offensive jagged and inconsistent.

Defense

The main reason LaMelo Ball shouldn’t start is because of his defense.

It’s very early in the season and Ball still has a season to improve and because it’s a small sample and defensive metrics cannot tell the full story yet. What we do know from the eye-test is he struggles with man-to-man defense and is extremely prone to ball watching.

Guards can blow straight past him and it’s difficult to tell if it’s inattentiveness or a slow reaction time. It’s very similar to what we saw in the NBL but now the players he’s guarding are even are better at attacking mismatches.

If you look at the matchups data via NBA.com/stats you can see Ball has been defending the “weaker” perimeter players on teams so far, the catch and shoot players in particular.

If Ball starts, it’s much harder to hide him defensively. If he’s struggling to stay in front of bench players, what happens when he plays against starters?

In fairness, Ball has been more productive guarding bigger ball-handlers like Aaron Gordon or Ben Simmons – players who have a slower first step where his body allows him to take a bruise or two in the post. Ball has guarded forwards 28.7 percent of the time this season and defended forwards in partial possessions 8.1 times per game per NBA.com/stats. 

As you can imagine with his high passing IQ, he has great anticipation for the ball in passing lanes with 1.4 steals per game. Those instincts should serve him well as he further acclimates to defense at the NBA level.

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