LaMelo Ball Has Michael Jordan Smiling, Nixing Any Kobe Bryant-Like Move for the Hornets

The last time the Charlotte Hornets drafted a young phenom without any college experience, it didn’t work out too well for them. Although Kobe Bryant blossomed in the NBA, he didn’t do so with the Hornets, who took him with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft before shipping him to the Los Angeles Lakers. LaMelo Ball is the latest young gun in Charlotte, and he’s making team owner Michael Jordan smile.

LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets are making some noise

Charlotte Hornets star LaMelo Ball looks on following a play during the first half of their game against the Indiana Pacers at Spectrum Center on November 19, 2021, in Charlotte, North Carolina. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The time has finally come for the Hornets. After years of being doormats in the NBA, the team has quietly put together a nice little roster that has the young guns sitting at 13-8 through the first quarter of the season. It’s a team led by the young Ball that has rare playoff aspirations despite making the postseason three times since 2004.

It’s been the Ball (19.4 points, 7-8 assists, 7.7 rebounds) and Miles Bridges show. Bridges, a 6-foot-6 forward acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers on a draft-day deal in 2018, has led the way this year with a 20.2-point scoring average. He’s also pulling down 7.5 rebounds.

Ball and Bridges have created a buzz for the Hornets, but they’re not the only ones.

Former Boston Celtics castoffs Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier are providing veteran leadership and some scoring punch to the mix. Hayward (16.8 points) and Rozier (16.6) give the Hornets four players averaging better than 16 points per game.

LaMelo Ball and the Hornets have Michael Jordan smiling

As a player, Jordan was used to winning. The author of six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan has had no such luck as an owner. Reaching the postseason has been a struggle since he took over the team in 2010, but the way things are looking, that may be a thing of the past.

“I do know Michael is happy,” said Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak, per The Sporting News. “I think he likes the direction we’re going.”

Kupchak has been a major contributor to the rebuilding of the franchise, but Ball is generating the turnaround on the court.

Ball earned Rookie of the Year honors last season after the Hornets made him the third overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. A year ago, he put up 15.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.9 rebounds. He’s improved in every category this season.

“I’m just picking and choosing my spots, letting the game come to me,” Ball said. “My goal was to come back a better player.”

“Jerry West would use an expression about certain players, that they had a little gold dust sprinkled on them from above,” Kupchak said. “I do think LaMelo has that.”

The Hornets aren’t about to pull a Kobe Bryant-like move with Ball

The Hornets made perhaps the biggest mistake in franchise history in 1996 when they selected Bryant in the first round and then immediately shipped him to the Lakers in a deal involving center Vlade Divac. Bryant, of course, went on to become one of the greatest players in league history.

The Hornets have learned from their mistake and aren’t about to let their other young sensation get away.

Only in his second year, Ball has quickly developed into a leader. He’s only 20.

“His playmaking has been there but his overall decision-making as the point guard has improved,” said Hornets coach James Borrego. “His turnovers are down, and he’s better at understanding time and score situations. He’s come back a more physical defender. More than anything he’s come back a better leader in general, and he trusts his teammates.”

The Hornets are set up for success, and Michael Jordan is smiling. All is well in Charlotte.

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