If you’ve watched a single Charlotte Hornets game this season, or even a portion of one, you can tell that LaMelo Ball, just 15 games into his NBA career, is already one of the most exciting young players in the league. He turned in an , Lonzo, and the New Orleans Pelicans on national TV earlier this season, then followed that up the next night by becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double.
But, as with any 19-year-old, you have to take the bad with the good. After a seven-game stretch in which Ball averaged 15.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game while shooting 46 percent from the field, Ball’s play has taken a downturn recently. He’s averaged 10.7 points, 5.7 assists and four rebounds on 41 percent shooting over his last three games, causing Hornets coach James Borrego to scale back the rookie’s playing time.
Ball played just 16 minutes in Friday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls, his lowest total since his second game of the season. Borrego cited the 6-7 point guard’s five turnovers as the primary reason for his limited action.
“If you’re turning the ball over five times in 16 minutes, that ain’t gonna cut it for me,” Borrego said Saturday, via The Charlotte Observer. “If you’re doing that on the offensive end, you better be bringing something defensively.
“… He had a stretch where he played extremely well. We need to find that again. He’s got to get better, bottom line. He’s engaged, he wants to get better. He’s capable of handling it.”
The relatively harsh public critique and the decline in minutes come amid clamoring from Hornets fans for Ball to enter the starting lineup, either alongside incumbents Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham, or in place of one of them. Graham would make the most sense to make the shift to a reserve since he came off the bench in all but 10 games of his breakout 2019-20 campaign before a steep decline to begin this season. But Ball’s defensive limitations make starting him a dangerous prospect for a team that has already made strides in that area so far in 2020-21.
One person who wants LaMelo to start, you’ll be shocked to hear, is his father, LaVar Ball. In a recent TMZ Sports interview, Ball gave one of his trademark proclamations, saying that LaMelo isn’t happy coming off the bench.
“My thing is, he ain’t happy with that, but he ain’t going to show that,” LaVar Ball told TMZ Sports. “If I train you to be the best and always been starting all your life — here is what they don’t get. My boys are not freakin’ role players. They superstars! Let them do what they do.”
We’ve all heard LaVar’s wild rants before, like when he said he could beat Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one, or that his oldest son, Lonzo, would become the “best guard ever.” LaVar said even said before the draft that LaMelo should start for the Golden State Warriors (before the injury to Klay Thompson) if they selected him.
But when he claims to be relaying the feelings of his son, saying “he ain’t happy” coming off the bench, it’s at least worth acknowledging. For his part, LaMelo dismissed any suggestion that he wasn’t satisfied with his role when questioned by Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer on Saturday.
“No. It’s basketball. It’s a whole chemistry” thing, LaMelo Ball said. “I’m coming in (off the bench). It’s not something where I’ve been here four years, or something like that. It’s just basketball.”
With the Hornets sitting at 6-9 (13th in the Eastern Conference) after four straight losses, it’s certainly worth contemplating whether starting Ball is the best move for the franchise. It could lead to more losses in the short-term, but that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Charlotte with a loaded 2021 draft on the horizon. It might be in the best interest of Ball’s development to give him 30 minutes per game and let him work through his mistakes, but that’s a tough thing to ask of a coach trying to win games.
If Ball gets back to his strong play and is putting up triple-doubles off the bench, however, the pressure for him to start won’t go away.