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Balling out: LaMelo makes positive impression with Hornets
Rookie playing beyond early expectations
 
Published Monday, January 11, 2021 5:00 pm
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Charlotte Hornets rookie LaMelo Ball, the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, has impressed his teammates and coaches with his competitiveness and maturity.

LaMelo Ball is unlike any rookie the Charlotte Hornets have employed.

Ball, who became the youngest player in NBA history to tally a triple double Saturday in Charlotte’s win against Atlanta with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, is showing veteran sophistication and skills. He’s also not overly impressed by it all, however. The night before, Ball was an assist short of a triple-double against New Orleans, so it was a matter of when, not if.

“I knew I was one assist during the [previous] game too,” Ball said. “But pretty much the next day, I knew we had another basketball game and came to it like I come to any other basketball game.”

As the third player taken in November’s draft, Ball had obvious potential, but he’s playing better than anyone – even coach James Borrego – could’ve rightfully expected. The Hornets have responded, too, with three straight wins for the first time since Feb. 10-20, 2020 to even their record at 5-5 going into Monday’s game against New York.

“I think it’s mostly just his poise and his confidence out there,” Borrego said. “He is not rattled by the moment. It’s like he’s been doing this for a number of years. A 19-year-old rookie does not look like this. This is just rare what you’re seeing.”

The triple-double is another step in an impressive start for Ball, who is also the youngest player to accomplish the feat in Australia’s NBL. He admitted that there isn’t much time to celebrate just yet.

“I’ve not really processed it yet,” Ball said. “Probably when I look back on it after my career when I’m 40 or something then I’ll probably look back at everything.”

Hornets forward P.J. Washington, who is in his second NBA season, said Ball is playing beyond his years because he’s open to competition as well as soaking up knowledge from coaches and teammates alike. As a result, Ball is unfazed by the moment.

“Melo looks great,” Washington said. “His whole life he’s been playing up – he’s played against top competition his whole life, so I don’t think this is anything new for him. He’s just coming here learning, asking a lot of questions – he wants to be the best version of himself. We love him here and he’s playing his butt off. I’m just glad he’s on our team.”

Said Ball: “I live my life and I know what I’m capable of, so stuff doesn’t really move me like that, that I know is supposed to happen.”

NBA observers and talent evaluators considered Ball a first-rate facilitator going into the draft, but he’s earned praise for other aspects of his game, like shooting, rebounding and court awareness.

“He goes up to get rebounds against the bigs, the 7-footers,” Borrego said. “He’s in there digging it out and he’s got this instinct that you can’t teach. He just has a knack for the ball. Who taught him? Maybe he just has that in his genes and just figured it out, but he has a knack to go get rebounds, steals, deflections, make timing plays.”

As good as Ball has been 10 games into his career, Borrego understands there’s room for improvement. Watching his – and the Hornets’ – development appears intertwined

“I love the person, I love the kid, more than anything I love his spirit,” Borrego said. “I love what he brings to our locker room, our organization and I’m just proud of him. He’s fantastic.”

 

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