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WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?
Heat Check 27. February, 2021
Disclaimer: While ‘Melo’ is his Instagram handle, we’re going to call LaMelo Ball by his full (first) name. Call us oldschool, but “Melo” is taken. It actually has been for a while. And LaMelo seems to be just fine with ‘Air BnB’ anyways.
A lot has been said, written and tweeted about LaMelo Ball ever since he was a braces-wearing, extra-confident freshman at Chino Hills. But until his actual NBA debut, a lot of it had been speculation. Questions about his true potential. A very non-traditional path to the NBA has made LaMelo into some kind of a mystery man. Until recently.
Granted, his dad constantly campaigning for captainship of the All Annoying First Team every year did not only drive a lot of media attention LaMelo’s way but also added extra pressure for the teenager to perform on the basketball court. But stints in Lithuania and Australia have kept LaMelo’s on-court development relatively hidden from most main-stream NBA followers.
The casual fan certainly had difficulties assessing the quality of the brief highlight clips that they found on social media or SportsCenter, showing the youngest Ball brother against various levels of international competition. This hoops-related uncertainty (increased by the lack of NBA Summer League or traditional training camps due to a shortened off-season) is one of the most significant contributors to LaMelo becoming one of the most polarizing athletes in the sport … a fate that unites him with two other mysterious draft picks that turned in spectacular rookie season in the NBA.
His whole life, he’s been playing up [against older players]. He’s played against top competition his whole life, so I don’t think this is anything new for him.P.J. Washington, Charlotte Hornets, on his teammate LaMelo Ball
Luka Dončić (selected 3rd in 2018) and Brandon Jennings (10th in 2009) both took the road less traveled to the Top 10 of the NBA draft in recent years. They both found success early, finishing first and third, respectively, in Rookie of the Year voting despite playing overseas the year before. And being hidden from mainstream US media caused them to fall behind less-talented players from big American colleges on draft night.*
And while Ball, equally loathed and lauded during the pre-draft process, suffered the same fate last November, the NBA Rookie of the Month for December/January seems to have the last laugh. Averaging 14,8 points, 6,0 rebounds, and 6,1 assists, the nineteen-year-old has his Charlotte Hornets on course for the playoffs, currently holding on to home-court-advantage in the NBA’s play-in tournament seeding.
Starting every game for the Hornets since the beginning of February, Ball is still only playing 28 minutes per game, but his pass-per-minute output is around 2.0, which is beat only by stars like Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, and Draymond Green. LaMelo’s rate is even better than Luka Doncic, James Harden, and his brother Lonzo Ball.
“The way LaMelo Ball sees the game, that is a gift,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after his Knicks played the Hornets recently. “He has had a lot of different experiences that have probably helped him mature, and the way he is playing right now … when you have that type of size … they can see over people, and it is easy for them to make passes to the opposite corner and put pressure on the rim. Those things add a lot. … He makes everyone around him a lot better.”
“He’s terrific!”, adds colleague of Thibodeau’s about LaMelo. “He’s got energy, he’s got a vibe, he’s got swagger. Right now, with the way things look, he looks like Rookie of the Year to me.” These are the words of Luka Dončić’s Head Coach in Dallas, Rick Carlisle. And quite frankly, we can safely assume that the Mavericks Coach knows a Rookie of the Year when he sees one.