Second-year point guard LaMelo Ball continued his ascension into rarified territory this season, a campaign highlighted by his first NBA All-Star Game appearance, numerous broken records and above all, nightly dazzling displays of all-around basketball brilliance.
Coming off winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, expectations were rightful high for Ball’s follow-up season and he certainly delivered and then some. He finished the year averaging 20.1 points on 42.9% shooting, 6.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists – ninth in the NBA – and 1.6 steals in 75 total contests. He was one of just five players to average 20/6/7/1 and the third ever to do so in his age-20 season or younger, joining Luka Dončić and LeBron James.
The now 20-year old additionally drained 220 3-pointers on 38.9% shooting, marking the 13th most makes in the NBA and the seventh-highest single-season total in franchise history. He also became the youngest player in the league to ever make at least 200 3-pointers in a season – 20 years and 223 days – back on April 2, breaking the mark just recently set by Anthony Edwards.
Easily Ball’s most noteworthy accomplishment this season was being named a first-time NBA All-Star, making him the fourth-youngest player to do so behind only Kobe Bryant, the aforementioned James and Magic Johnson. Also named to the NBA Rising Stars Challenge roster for the second straight year, Ball racked up 18 points, four 3-pointers, three assists and three steals for Team Durant at the All-Star Game in Cleveland back on February 20.
Other notable performances for Ball included knocking down eight 3-pointers in Milwaukee on Dec. 1, a career-high 38 points in Boston on Feb. 2 and a 20-point and career-high 15-assist showing in New York on March 30. He finished with five total triple-doubles as well, tied for the seventh most in the NBA and now the most by any player in franchise history in a single season.
Despite the growing resume, Ball has his sights set on another big summer. “Overall season, I think it was smooth,” he said during exit interviews. “As long as we keep progressing, we’ll be straight. I feel like this team was really tight. We were a brotherhood. I don’t put a cap on anything. This whole offseason, I’m going to try and improve on everything. Just watching film, defending, going in shooting, ball-handling. Just working on everything. I’ve still got a lot to do.”
Much like fans saw so often when he was a rookie, Ball was nothing short of fantastic on the court this season, with major strides in offensive efficiency, play-making and end-of-game management. Impowered with more responsibility, Ball’s usage rate increased from 26.1% as a rookie to 28.2%, which was 18th highest in the league according to StatMuse.com. His up-tempo style of play was a major reason the Hornets’ offensive efficiency was as good as it was, rising a league-best 15 spots from 23rd (110.0) last year to eighth (113.6).
There are still a few normal areas that the vibrant young Ball needs to sharpen up on – mainly on-ball defense, free-throw generation (just 3.2 per game) and increased situational awareness – but overall, nothing that won’t come with more maturation and experience.
The season didn’t end the way the Hornets were envisioning, but it’s just another stepping stone on the way to where they ultimately want to be, says Ball. “It’s good fuel. I don’t really want to just go to the playoffs and be happy [we’re there]. I don’t feel like that’s cool. I want to go to the playoffs, make noise, make something happen and win a championship.”
And if LaMelo Ball keeps continuously raising the bar like he did this season, then the Charlotte Hornets are hopefully well on their way to achieving those goals.