From: Las Vegas
LaMelo Ball's superstar potential might not have any limits
Kevin Pelton and Mike Schmitz
Since head coach James Borrego benched Ball in the third quarter against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 23, the rookie has been outstanding, averaging 19.0 points, 6.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 turnovers and 1.4 steals in 30.2 minutes on 54% shooting from 2 and 39% from 3. From talking to people around the organization, Ball's buy-in, adaptability, coachability and infectious personality have all stood out. He has made the Hornets an NBA League Pass favorite and quickly earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. Given all of his pre-draft questions, that matters just as much as his stunning passing or surprising shooting.
Where has Ball has been better than expected?
Pelton: I think you have to start with the shooting given that was the biggest skill-based concern about Ball's potential. After infamously making just 25% of his 3-point attempts in 12 NBL regular-season games, Ball is shooting an impressive 36% from the longer NBA line thus far.
Ball believers pointed to the difficulty of the shots he was taking as evidence his NBL percentage didn't reflect his shooting ability. Per Synergy Sports tracking, Ball attempted just 15 unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers among his 80 3-point attempts. Still, I figured at best Ball would end up more of a volume 3-point shooter than an accurate one, along the lines of Luka Doncic. That might yet prove the case, but so far Ball is shooting 36% on pull-up 3s, per Second Spectrum tracking on NBA Advanced Stats, and 39% on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Beyond that, I've been impressed with his decision-making with the ball in his hands. I've written before about the poor track record of one-and-done point guards as rookies, and turnovers are often a big part of that. Turnovers have been a huge issue for the two other international point guards in this year's draft, Killian Hayes (26% of his plays before he was sidelined by a hip injury) and Theo Maledon (20% of his plays). Yet for all his flashy passing, Ball is committing turnovers on just 16% of his plays -- still above average for a point guard, but similar to other high-volume creators such as Trae Young.
Schmitz: Yeah, I was fairly confident in Ball's shotmaking ability. He is maybe the most confident young player I've ever been around, seemingly never feeling even an ounce of pressure. Plus, his free throw numbers and touch on floaters suggested he has great natural touch.
Ball was never the most engaged off-ball player before entering the NBA, with a lot of room to improve his activity and shot preparation. Through 26 games with Charlotte, he has become a legitimate threat in catch-and-shoot situations, boasting an eFG of 60.0% on 1.5 attempts per game, according to Second Spectrum tracking. He's more disciplined with his mechanics, and some teams have even started running him off the 3-point line or biting for his shot fake. From there, Ball is tremendous at reading a scrambling defense. He's also a willing ball-mover, an adept cutter and an outstanding offensive rebounder, even if his tendency to go rogue hurts Charlotte's transition defense at times.
I often tabbed Ball as a 6-foot-7 version of Young in the pre-draft process. Now that Charlotte has been dealing with the injury bug, we're seeing that version of Ball more -- unleashed, firing one-handed darts all over the floor, splashing deep pull-up 3s. That was a little more expected. But the fact that he can mesh well with other ball handlers bodes well for his potential to play deep into the playoffs someday.
What do we know about Ball's ceiling now?
Pelton: I mean, is there a ceiling? Looking at the production of 19-year-old rookies and Ball's similarity scores in my SCHOENE projection system (he scores as most similar within six months of the same age to Luka Doncic's rookie season), I'm not sure you can give him one. Which is not to say that Ball will get to that level or that it's a reasonable expectation for someone with such a short track record of NBA success, just that very little can be ruled out based on his performance to date.