LaMelo Ball’s record-setting rookie season and path to NBA stardom
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist
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 a few things that will embolden their skepticism. He isn't playing a perfect rookie season, but rookies typically don’t.
On Monday, 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 when he was a high school freshman. Back then, he was partly in the shadow of his elder brothers, Lonzo and LiAngelo, but he 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 and 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 has 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 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 recorded multiple games with at least 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds, and the two who aren't Ball, LeBron James and Luka Doncic, have gotten the hang of this basketball deal pretty well.
Ball is 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 been 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.
Ball is undoubtedly talented; that part has never been called into question. He’s also unflappably confident and no stranger to the spotlight, 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, which some have tried to christen "AirBnB." And he’s finding that for all the predictions of his potential struggles, there are some parts of this NBA thing that are 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 kind of preparatory routine because of confusion over a COVID test that meant he could join his teammates only 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 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 Ball turns in performances 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 it looks.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.