Charlotte Hornets: LaMelo Ball has helped reignite the franchise

Charlotte Hornets LaMelo Ball (Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports)
Charlotte Hornets LaMelo Ball (Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports) /

LaMelo Ball has helped reignite the Charlotte Hornets franchise. 

After years of being one of the basement teams of the NBA, the Charlotte Hornets are finally a force to be reckoned with and a team that has the potential to become something special.

LaMelo Ball is the centerpiece of this new team and direction, but there are other factors at play, including the four-guard rotation that features Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk, and Ball, the Gordon Hayward resurgence season, and the organization showing signs of competence.

Let’s start with Ball, who has become one of the exciting young faces of the league, as well as the best draft decision made by the franchise since selecting Kemba Walker ninth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. Let’s now just hope the Hornets management is able to surround Ball with enough talent to compete in his prime, unlike what they were able to do with Walker.

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LaMelo Ball has ignited the Charlotte Hornets

The 19-year-old, 6-foot-6 guard is averaging 15 points, 6.1 rebounds, and a team-high 6.1 assists per game in his first 32 games in the NBA. Although Ball is only third on the team in rebounds per game (behind Cody Zeller at 7.6 and P.J. Washington at 6.3), he leads the team in total rebounds thus far in the season with 194.

There were two major concerns with Ball before the draft: his shot selection/efficiency and his defense.

Ball is a new-age guard through and through. Of his 395 shot attempts, 124 are at the rim and 165 are from the 3-point line. This is the new formula made popular by the likes of James Harden and Steph Curry. Similar to those players, Ball makes those shots at a high and respectable percentage. He makes 61 percent of his at the rim attempts and connects on 35 percent of his 3-point shots.

How exciting was it to see Ball attack the rim successfully time and time again in the final few minutes against the Phoenix Suns while the Hornets broadcaster was yelling “OHHHH YESSSSS”?

Now his defense does leave something to be desired, but it’s there. Combine his defensive box plus/minus of 0.8 with his 1.6 steals per game, and Ball has shown to be an above-average defender. With his long body and frame, Ball has room to grow as a defender, so this is an excellent starting point for him.

One aspect of Ball’s game is his on-court combination with Miles Bridges. The duo has recently developed the unofficial nickname of “AirBnB” by Hornets broadcasters. Although the advanced stats show that the two of them on the court together are a negative, especially defensively, both players bring a level of offensive excitement that is unmatched.

The Charlotte Hornets’ young depth

Bridges is an above-the-rim player who is looking to put anyone and everyone on a poster with electric dunks. He averages 9.9 points per game and has made 33 dunks this season. Ball’s playmaking abilities have led to some high-flying moments for Bridges on transition possessions.

The 2020-21 Hornets feature a unique lineup of different guards and wings that are interchangeable and each brings a different element. Both Rozier and Graham are volume scorers who can create their own basket.

Rozier is averaging 20.6 points per game, shooting 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3. He wasn’t in the All-Star Game conversation, but he was close. Rozier strangely has to be mentioned as one of the most clutch players in the league. The advanced clutch numbers don’t necessarily back him up as one of the clutch players in the league, but dating back to his days with the Boston Celtics, he’s carried himself with this level of confidence that enables him to make any big shot. He is shooting 50 percent in the 4th quarter of games this season.

Graham has fallen off a hill, not a cliff, since his emergence last season. He almost exclusively shoots 3-point shots now; attempting 201 3’s total this season at only 34 percent. What Graham lacks in his efficiency, he gives in his ability to create points for himself and others. Given his backseat supporting role to Ball and Rozier, Graham’s 13.7 points and 5.7 assists per game are impressive.

Both Monk and Washington are Kentucky players who were drafted with the later lottery picks that the Hornets had in 2017 and 2019.

Monk is having a career season, averaging 12.6 points per game, which includes 5.4 3-point attempts per game on 47 percent. Similar to Bridges, Monk lives above the rim and is trying to poster anyone in his way when he drives to the basket.

Washington is a crucial defender and rebounder in the Hornets’ rotation. He averages 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game in nearly 29 minutes per game this season.

The last player to mention is arguably the best player for the Hornets this season. Celtics fans, close your eyes on this part. Hayward is averaging an almost career-high 21.5 points per game on 48-42-86 shooting splits and nearly 35 minutes per game.

Hayward is shooting 64 percent on 104 attempts at the rim. So much for his explosion and athleticism being gone from his injuries during his Celtics tenure. The only reason Hayward isn’t getting the attention he deserves this season is because of his $28 million salary, which many, myself included, saw as a borderline fireable offense when the Hornets management signed him in the offseason.

His contract may prove to be perfect since their young players are still on rookie deals. His veteran presence is exactly what this group needs.

Where the Charlotte Hornets stand

The Hornets’ improvement this season can be viewed as good and bad. As it stands today, they’re one game out of the four-seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets spent the 2010s being notorious for terrible draft choices, but in the 2019 and 2020 drafts, they selected the best player at that pick.

Ball was selected as the third overall pick and is arguably the Rookie of the Year over Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman. Washington was taken with the 12th overall pick, as only Tyler Herro and Brandon Clarke can be seen as a potential better pick. But Washington is showing signs as an important piece in a rotation.

The rest of the 2010s was a train accident on top of a car accident in terms of drafting for the Hornets. In the 2011-12 season, the, at the time Bobcats, went 7-59 for an all-time league-worst winning percentage of .106. For that season, the Bobcats/Hornets were given the second pick in the draft, selecting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist instead of Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard. Anthony Davis was the first overall pick that draft to the, at that time, New Orleans Hornets.

Unfortunately for the Bobcats/Hornets, they were given the 4th overall pick in the 2013 draft, which is widely regarded as the worst draft of all-time. Cody Zeller was the selection and he is at least good enough to still be with the Hornets. That was the draft where the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th overall pick. To be fair to the rest of the league, all of the film tape of Giannis was him in YMCA gyms playing against teenagers.

But the rest of the decade is drafting the likes of Noah Vonleh and Frank Kaminsky instead of Devin Booker, Zach Lavine, Kelly Oubre, and T.J. Warren.

With only two playoff appearances, no playoff series’ wins in the past decade, and a regular-season record of 320-467, the Bobcats/Hornets have been one of the premier tortured fan bases. But now LaMelo Ball is at the helm, and the management seems to be finally finding their footing within their scouting department and able to find gems in the draft and free agency.

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As Jack Sparrow said at the end of Curse of the Black Pearl, “bring me that horizon.” The future is there for the taking Hornets. Be excited for what’s to come.