Ball is having an impressive rookie campaign
By: Isabel Gonzalez
James Borrego had no idea what he was getting when the Charlotte Hornets drafted LaMelo Ball.
This week, the coach went on ESPN’s Jalen and Jacoby show and talked about what it’s been like coaching the rookie. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no Summer League to check out the new NBA talent so Borrego admitted he didn’t know what to expect at the beginning.
“The first two days I had no idea what we had just drafted, it was wild,” he said on the show. “The ball was going all over the place, it was 100 miles an hour. We had turnovers all over the place. I had no idea what we had just drafted.”
Borrego said it only took three or four days for Ball to settle into the group. Fast forward to today and there is no doubt about the positive impact the young player has had on the team.
Ball was the favorite to win Rookie of the Year since the beginning of the season, but was forced to sit out for six weeks after suffering a wrist injury on March 20. At first, his broken wrist looked like it would be season-ending, but the young guard healed quickly after surgery. When he returned, Borrego said Ball was still the obvious candidate for ROY.
The coach said Ball is setting the Hornets franchise on a path for success. Off the court, Borrego said, the rookie always brings a lot of energy and has an infectious joyful spirit. On the court, he is a talented play maker that makes good decisions and executes creative passes.
Borrego has compared Ball to the now-retired NBA legend Manu Ginobili on multiple occasions. One of those times was after Ball’s first game back on May 1 against Detroit, when Ball sent an impressive underhand pass across the court to Miles Bridges.
The coach said he did not teach him how to do it, and in fact, he didn’t know a lot of players who could pass like that.
“I just closed my eyes, I had nothing to do with that,” Borrego said. “He’s the only guy I know. Maybe Ginobili would’ve thrown that one as well. I’ve seen him throw some crazy stuff out there. I put Melo in that same Manu category.”
However, it didn’t seem like anything new for Ball. He said it “felt normal” because it’s something he did a lot while growing up playing with his dad and brothers.
“Just playing when we was young, it was pretty much passes like that every play,” he said.
Ball is clearly very comfortable in this area. He has thrown a lot of no-look behind-the-back passes and his fair share of left-hand lobs through the season. The 19-year-old leads his team in assists with 6.1 per game. Ball is also averaging 15.8 points and six rebounds through the 48 games he’s played with the Hornets.
Borrego said that Ball’s confidence at such a young age surprised him. He also wasn’t expecting him to show as high of a level when it comes to shooting ability and finishing at the rim.
Ball is competing against Minnesota Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards and Sacramento Kings’ Tyrese Haliburton for the ROY honor. Edwards started making a lot more noise since March and is Ball’s biggest competition for the award. However, Ball is in a better position to show he can make an impact on his team.
The Timberwolves hold a 22-47 record and were eliminated from playoff contention three weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Hornets are 33-37, which is not ideal but they still have a chance at making the playoffs for the first time since 2016. On May 11, they officially clinched a spot in the play-in tournament so they do have at least that postseason appearance guaranteed.
Ball doesn’t seem too worried about his personal achievements right now, he said that making it to the playoffs will be all about taking it one day at a time as a team.
“Just going into every game and trying to win, that’s pretty much my main goal. Take it day by day,” he said.