It could have fallen as flat as David Letterman’s awkward opening joke at the 1995 Oscars, introducing some celebrities with unusual first names (“Oprah? Uma. Uma? Oprah.”). But when two celebrated NBA players met Monday night in Portland, there was only respect and admiration.
“Melo? LaMelo. LaMelo? Melo.” And it was all good.
“It’s an honor for him to have that name for him to embrace it. It’s a blessing — it’s a respect thing for me,” Portland’s Carmelo Anthony said about Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball, after they both lit up the Moda Center in the Trail Blazers’ victory against the Hornets. The two exchanged jerseys after the game and posed for a photo happily holding them up (suggesting some third guy named “Anthony Ball”).
Anthony, 36, had scored 29 points, stirring echos as one of the NBA’s most prolific scorers of his generation. Ball, 19, scored 30 with six rebounds, eight assists and four steals, going 5-for-7 on 3-pointers. He would be named the next day NBA Rookie of the Month in the Eastern Conference, his second consecutive time winning that honor.
“I try to embrace the next generation of guys and the young players,” Anthony told reporters afterward. “You know I’ve been watching him since he was in high school.
“Just to be able to be across the court from him tonight, getting the chance to just really see his game up close, in person, getting to see him, what type of person he is. It was only right that we did that [swapped jerseys].”
The Kia NBA Rookies of the Month for February! #KiaROTM
— NBA (@NBA) March 2, 2021
Ball averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists in February, while posting 45.2%, 40.7% and 86.4% shooting splits. He’s the first rookie in NBA history to average at least 20, six and six for a calendar month while hitting 40% of his 3-pointers (minimum of 12 games).
Hornets teammate Terry Rozier called Ball not simply a ROY favorite but a star in the making. And he noted a key development in the young guy’s game since Opening Night.
“Just understanding the game,” Rozier said. “His mind is all the way slowed down and that’s why he’s having the success he’s having versus early in the season.”
With Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton being named the West’s Rookie of the Month again, the recipients of that honor have gone unchanged the past two months. Ditto for the top two rungs of the Ladder for the past two weeks.
The Top 5 this week on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder:
(All stats through Tuesday, March 2)
1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
He leads all rookies in points, rebounds, assists, steals, loose balls recovered and deflections. But enough about stats, let’s go with leftover lauding. “He plays with a good spirit. You can tell his teammates like playing with him,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts, telling Sirius XM radio that he spoke about Ball with Charlotte coach James Borrego. “He comes in there every day with a good attitude. Not only is his game going to be great but he’s going to be great for the league.”
🕺🏽 Led All Rookies in Points & Assists per Game
💕 Career-High 34-Point Game
🛸 8 20-Point Games
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) March 2, 2021
2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings
So if Ball never relinquishes his current stranglehold on Kia Rookie of the Year favorite status, Haliburton might have to settle for serious Kia Sixth Man consideration. Sacramento’s record won’t help there and it’s possible coach Luke Walton will make him a starter. But the rookie ranks first among all reserves (min. 25 minutes, 25 games) in minutes (30.2), is ninth in 3-point accuracy (44.2), is second in assists (5.2) and tied for sixth in scoring (13.3).
Here’s where @TyHaliburton22 currently ranks amongst all rookies:
📊 PTS – 3rd
📊 AST – 2nd
📊 FG% – 6th
📊 3P% – 2nd
📊 STL – 2nd
📊 MPG – 2nd pic.twitter.com/RFzauAqtgz
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) March 2, 2021
3. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks
Knicks fans might be getting a little irrationally exuberant over the success of their team with a half-season to go, but the Ladder doesn’t feel it’s gushing too much by moving Quickley up two spots this week. He has responded nicely to some chatter last month about the “rookie wall.” Quickley also is boosting coach Tom Thibodeau case as a Coach of the Year candidate. His minutes aren’t killer — 18.9, ranking 17th among rookie regulars — but his production is (23.9 points per 36 minutes, tops among newbies).
4. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Edwards’ inefficiency continues to nag him and the Timberwolves. He strung together three straight games of 20-plus points, but he is shooting 30.8% overall and 26.4% on 3-pointers over the past two weeks. He’ll get a crack at asserting his Draft primacy (not his Ladder primacy) against LaMelo Ball Wednesday night at Target Center, but one game isn’t going to alter two months of assessments.
5. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons
You’ve got to go back to Feb. 6 to find a Pistons game in which Bey didn’t score 10 or more points. That’s the longest double-figure scoring streak among rookies so far this season, during which Bey has averaged 14.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 29.6 minutes. He started eight of those games and shot 51.5% overall and 46.8% from the arc. With Bey, Isaiah Stewart and even Saben Lee — the jury still is out on injured Killian Hayes, the No. 7 pick — Detroit’s Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey are showing their scouting and development chops.
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) March 1, 2021
The Next Five:
6. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets
Production (not effort) dips during Rockets’ losing streak.
7. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Vaults back onto Ladder after 11-game wrist layoff.
8. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
Fifth in minutes (28.5) and rebounding (4.8) among rotation rookies.
9. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
Averaged 10.6 ppg in 24.4 mpg in February.
10. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers
His 3 (41.4% of 3FGAs last 2 weeks) catching up to his D.
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