Over the last 15 years, the NBA has become a league defined by superstars on the move. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Kawhi Leonard are just a few of the players who have played for three or more teams, something you’d rarely see in the league of old.
In today’s NBA, it’s only fair to wonder about a young star like LaMelo Ball leaving the Charlotte Hornets. After all, we’ve seen many All-Star caliber players depart small market teams over the years. However, much to the delight of Hornets fans, Ball does not share the same mentality as many of today’s stars.
LaMelo Ball won the 2020-21 Rookie of the Year
The Hornets were ecstatic to land Ball third overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-6 point guard was one of the most hyped prospects in years, thanks in part to his brother Lonzo Ball and braggadocious father LaVar Ball. But the youngest Ball delivered on the enormous expectations bestowed upon him.
In 51 games, LaMelo averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He started the season on the bench for the first 20 games before moving into the starting lineup on February 1. From that point, he averaged 18.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and hit 37.9% of his threes, eight percentage points higher from when he was a reserve.
Beyond the numbers, Ball showed a tremendous basketball IQ on the court. The 20-year-old dished out no-look passes, full-court feeds, and underhand lobs to his appreciative teammates. He became the youngest player in NBA history at 19 years, 140 days to record a triple-double. In the end, despite a broken wrist that cost him 21 games, LaMelo was selected as the NBA Rookie of the Year.
“What makes him special is his feel and instinct, which none of us can teach,” Hornets head coach James Borrego told The Athletic. “Now it’s about raising his basketball IQ, where he’s taking information, processing it, and now applying it to an NBA game. That’s his next level.”
LaMelo is committed to the Hornets
With a future star on their hands, the Hornets want Ball around as long as possible. Fortunately for them, LaMelo believes in sticking with the team that drafted you, a rarity in today’s league.
“You supposed to just go to a team and build from there — I feel like that’s how it should be,” Ball told The Athletic. “Especially when you like a high pick too, most likely going to a team that wasn’t as good, so you try to make them better. I feel like that’s the whole process right there.”
Ball has the honor of sharing an office with NBA legend — and Hornets owner — Michael Jordan. As LaMelo has gotten close to Jordan, he has sensed a similarity in mentality. Rather than the new-school way of hopping around the league, Ball likes how players in MJ’s era handled things (h/t: The Athletic).
“I feel like I still kind of got that mentality that they had back in the day. Even with the switching teams and stuff, they never used to do that. You go to one team, you stay there.”LaMelo Ball
Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and John Stockton are some Jordan-era stars who played for just one team. Additionally, Ball grew up watching stars like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki all stay in one place.
The Charlotte Hornets need to win with LaMelo Ball
LaMelo will have a major role in whether the Hornets become a true contender or just a bottom-tier playoff team. But he won’t able to do it on his own. Not when the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, have two All-Stars each in their starting lineups. Charlotte will need plenty of help from its supporting cast to ascend in a tough Eastern Conference.
So far, the Hornets have several promising pieces. Veterans Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward are solid 20-point-per-game scorers. Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are young forwards who carry some upside. James Bouknight is an intriguing rookie off of the bench. But will those role players be enough to make the Hornets an NBA Finals contender?
It’s a good sign for Charlotte that Ball is committed to seeing things through. But no player in the NBA wants to endure multiple seasons of losing. It will be up to him and the Hornets both to work together to deliver a championship to the Queen City. Otherwise, LaMelo could change his mind and become just another star to leave for greener pastures.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.