LaMelo Ball likes his jump shot. He likes how it feels and how familiar it is to him, having done it this way for so long. He doesn’t necessarily like how everyone talks about it. But he likes having the chance to prove them wrong.
Ball, picked No. 3 by the Charlotte Hornets in the 2020 NBA Draft, is doing plenty to “silence the haters” and still a few things that will embolden their skepticism. He’s not playing a perfect rookie season, but rookies typically don’t.
On Monday night, Ball took his quirky, much-discussed and often-maligned release and casually became the youngest player to drop seven 3-pointers in an NBA game, hanging 24 points on the Houston Rockets in a 119-94 blowout win.
“He is fearless,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “He believes it is going in.”
Ball is only 19 years old but we’ve been talking about him for a while, as a member of a collective whirlwind of attention blown into our focus as a high school freshman. Back then, he was partly in the shadow of his elder brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo but was still noticed – as the upstart teenager with the wild hair and yep, the unconventional jumper.
It is different, let’s just say that, the way Ball launches the rock toward the hoop. His hands find themselves at odd positions on the ball and he lets it go from as low as the middle of his chest and no higher than the tip of his chin.
“Everywhere I went, they usually tried to change my shot,” he told reporters. “But I always stick with myself. I’m confident in it, I feel good letting it go. Even coming (to Charlotte) they tried to low-key adjust it a little, but I said ‘no.’ This is how I shoot.”
Ball has been a lot of places, from Chino Hills High School to Lithuania, to SPIRE Academy in Ohio and Australia’s NBL with the Illawarra Hawks. No one has ever been a huge fan of the technique he uses, but no one’s been able to persuade him to change and now there’s no chance of it.
Not with a recent stat line of 21-of-40 from downtown as the Hornets have won four of six to climb to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings. If we’re taking stats, then how about these little nuggets, too? Only three NBA players aged 20 or younger have ever recorded multiple games with at least 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds and the other two apart from Ball, LeBron James and Luka Doncic, have gotten the hang of this basketball deal pretty well.
Ball is also the third rookie in league history to drain seven 3-pointers and record 10 assists in a game, behind a pair of guys named Stephen Curry and Jason Kidd.
Things move quickly in the NBA and it was just a couple of weeks back that Borrego called Ball out for turning it over too frequently, then temporarily cut his minutes. The response has seen more energy, more composure, high-level shooting efficiency and a rival coach – the Wizards’ Scott Brooks – suggesting it won’t be long before Ball is an All-Star.
He’s undoubtedly talented, that part has never been called into question. He’s also unflappably confident and the spotlight is no stranger, having essentially been a social media influencer since the start of his teenage years.
He’s having some fun with it, coming up with “MBx2” as a replacement nickname for his blooming partnership with Hornets teammate Miles Bridges that some have tried to christen “AirBnb.” And he’s finding that for all the predictions of potential struggle, there are some parts of this NBA thing that are actually coming surprisingly easily. This past stretch, shooting is one of them.
“There was concern on my part, not knowing the kid, not being around him to evaluate,” Borrego admitted, in reference to the offseason period. “When we went to Los Angeles to interview him and watch him, there was just a confidence with the shot. He is going to continue to shoot it. It is a great weapon to have and it sets up a lot of his game.”
Ahead of Monday’s matchup against the Rockets, Ball wasn’t able to go through any real kind of preparatory routine due to confusion over a COVID test that meant he could only join his teammates as tipoff neared.
Disruption? Never mind.
“You really want to know what’s crazy?” Ball told FOX Sports. “I didn’t get extra (practice) shots. They held me for COVID, they thought my test was messed up or something. I stepped on the court, no warm-up, we still cool.”
Now, as Ball appears on track for the Rookie of the Year award (-500, per FOX Bet), the question will be how he can keep his game growing, cutting out the mistakes and letting his finest attribute, his passing ability, shine to its fullest effect.
It is a mesmerizing combination to NBA followers, a player who can share it around with exceptional court vision and also coolly send it to the bottom of the hoop from distance when given a little space.
It opens all kind of possibilities and the more performances Ball turns in like those of the past week, even in spurts and flashes, the more we must get used to the possibility of him turning into a true superstar in the league.
Ball is liking the NBA, and more and more of the critics are starting to like his game – even if they’re still getting used to how one part of it looks.
Here’s what others have said …
Sam Quinn, CBS Sports: “The longer (LaMelo) Ball shoots like this, the more defenses will have to defend him as a scorer first and a passer second. Lonzo has never been able to earn such respect from opponents, but if LaMelo does, his passing becomes all the more dangerous. But no rookie is perfect, and no two rookies develop at the same rate. Ball is already making the most valuable shots on the floor. If he starts making the rest of them, he’s going to be an All-Star in the near future.”
Jeremy Chua, Clutchpoints.com: “His rare combination of height and a streaky shooting touch along with his playmaking abilities have all given the Hornets a fighting chance to compete against playoff teams in the league.”
Scott Davis, Yahoo: “It is still early into the 2020-21 NBA season, but LaMelo Ball looks to be the franchise star the Charlotte Hornets have been waiting for. Ball looks to be a core player for a young, exciting Hornets team that is currently in the playoff mix.”