Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, fresh off his rookie of the year campaign, is looking to take the next step as a player and leader for Michael Jordan’s franchise.
Ball has all the tools. He flashed generational passing ability and court awareness. He quieted doubts about his offensive repertoire by averaging 15.7 points per contest, and critics raved about his all-around game (5.9 rpg and 6.1 apg).
Above all, he’s confident, describing himself in an August GQ interview as “something you’ve never seen,’ “one of one,” “rare,” “the golden child” and “not from here.”
Melo’s rookie campaign surprised some people who felt that his skills might have been a bit overblown by scouts who drank the same juice that got Lonzo Ball selected with the No. 2 overall pick by the Lakers. Lonzo is on his third squad in five seasons.
Melo’s NBA liftoff was definitely more impressive than his brother Lonzo’s back in 2017, but his game still needs refining and he’ll need to tighten up a few loose screws and embrace situational basketball. Last season was one where his team was competitive on many nights but wasn’t a serious contender. This lack of urgency allowed Melo some personal growth.
His confidence is as high as it’s ever been. This summer he raised the stakes for what he wants his NBA future to be and how he wants to impact the sport.
“My whole life, I always knew I was going to the NBA.” Melo told GQ magazine back in August. “I always knew. Everything about this felt normal to me. I knew I’d have stardom. I grew up into it. I already had my life planned out. My whole life, I thought I was the star. … I ain’t even gonna say I’m a rock star. It’s something other than that. I’m something rare.”
Now that he’s established his space in the culture, he must begin to elevate the play of his teammates, feel the pulse of the team and decipher when to take over and when to get others involved. There’s a fine line between stepping up in the clutch and playing hero ball that alienates your teammates. Melo’s second season will largely be concentrated on figuring out where that line ends and begins.
Hornets head coach James Borrego knows just how vital a season this is for Ball’s overall development.
“I want him to take the reins of the program. 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,” Borrego said during Charlotte’s media day presser.
With maturity will come better shot selection, and also knowing when and where to get your teammates the ball on offense. When it comes to defense, Melo has put forth an effort to improve. He looked lost on that end of the floor last season. This is the year where LaMelo should be that extension of the coach.
“A lot of his success last year was based on instinct and feel,” Borrego told reporters. “Now his next step is managing who we are, his personnel around him and understanding the league in general.”
Ball agreed with his head coach, and said he was “definitely” up for the challenge.
“It’s going over plays and stuff and watching film and knowing where to be at and where other players are to be. It’s leading the pack.”
Yup, leading them to wins, because that’s what counts in the NBA. The pathway to superstardom is racking up wins.
The Hornets did qualify for last year’s play-in game but were blown out by the Indiana Pacers. Throughout the regular season they showed the potential of a franchise on the rise and if Melo’s season wasn’t limited to 51 games because of an injury, they probably would have made the playoffs outright.
The Queen City has added a nice nucleus of young talent and a few veterans who can still go get it. But the driving force in the situation is the baby of the “Big Baller Brand” crew.
Ball is a future All-Star, blessed with 6-8 size, uncanny passing ability and the stroke to shoot it from the parking lot. Leading the Hornets to the playoffs would be true affirmation of Melo’s impact.
He has a solid support system with Gordon “Made of Glass” Hayward, Miles Bridges, Terry Rozier and PJ Washington. Charlotte has the makings of a team that could be in the same position they were a season ago, but with better results in the play-in game this time.
Never forget when Lamelo Ball did this and he wasn’t even starting for the first month+ of the season pic.twitter.com/rFvD8WBZKj
— Noah Farrell (@Purpletennant) September 30, 2021
Now all they need is their lead guard to stay healthy and show that he’s matured. If Melo takes that next step as a leader, this team has a playoff contender written all over it.
Michael Jordan is looking pretty smart for drafting Melo third overall in 2020.