Charlotte Hornets: The pressure is now squarely on LaMelo Ball

Charlotte Hornets LaMelo Ball (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
Charlotte Hornets LaMelo Ball (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports) /

The honeymoon phase is over for LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets.

The Charlotte Hornets and the pleasant surprise of LaMelo Ball quickly became one of the better stories to follow during the 2020-21 NBA season. Even though a late-season injury derailed Ball’s rookie season and the Hornets‘ chances at making the playoffs, it was a successful season for both Ball and the team overall.

However, heading into this season, the honeymoon phase is over.

The Hornets can no longer be the surprise of the Eastern Conference (because they will now be playing with some expectation) and Ball is no longer going to catch anyone by surprise. It’s widely known just how good he is after winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award.

Instead, both the Hornets and Ball will be playing through some pressure. Perhaps the like that is foreign to both sides.

In fact, even Hornets head coach James Borrego gave voice to that ahead of training camp:

"“I want him to take the reins of this program,” Borrego said. “He’s the quarterback, the floor general and for us to take that next step he must run this team, not only on the offensive end but the defensive end as well.”"

For the most part, Ball has been playing professional basketball with a chip on his shoulder – always trying to prove the naysayers wrong. Especially ever since LaVar Ball, LaMelo’s father, did such a great job in making villains of his kids.

He’ll now have to adjust to expectations in the NBA. The good news is that the Hornets truly believe in this team’s core. Charlotte has gone all-in on this team’s backcourt. That became evident when they gave Terry Rozier a big contract extension this offseason.

Ultimately, though, this team will likely only go as far as their star player can take them. And that falls on Ball’s progression or regression heading into his sophomore season.

Ball is coming off an impressive rookie season in which he averaged 16 points, six rebounds, and six assists on 44 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from 3-point range. He’ll need to take another step in his statistical progression and will also need to excel in making his teammates better.

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The Hornets were a great story last season, even though it ended prematurely and without a playoff appearance. But, now, there are expectations attached to both the Hornets and Ball. It’ll be interesting to see how this team performs under those circumstances.