31 Days of LaMelo

As advertised, LaMelo Ball has been charismatic his first month as an NBA baller. Naturally, his father has made it clear his son doesn’t belong on the bench. But LaVar ranting aside, LaMelo is being asked to compete for his starting spot. He is playing behind Devonte’ Graham, an unremarkable shooter (33% fg) but a playmaker who collects 6.4 assists per game, more assists than Celtics starting point guard Marcus Smart, more assists than Lakers starting point guard Dennis Shröder, more assists than Bucks starting point guard Jrue Holiday. Devonte’ Graham is a placeholder until Ball improves defensively and cuts down his turnovers.

LaMelo can rebound (6.3 rpg) and dish (6.0 apg). He leads the Hornets in steals (1.5 spg). Of players that see 25 minutes, LaMelo has the second highest PER on the Hornets at 16.6, higher than Devonte’ Graham’s 12.4 PER. LaMelo is versatile and dynamic but he still is rookie with rookie growing pains.

The Good: Unselfish, he’s an inside-outside player. He will chase a rebound. He can see angles and is a generous passer. He’s consistent; LaMelo plays fast but not in a hurry. His second quarters are by far his best statistical quarter. 46.5%. 47% from three. Under pressure, he doesn’t blink. Less than 3 minutes left in the quarter he makes 37.5% of his threes.  And in close games he shoots 50%.  He was the youngest to record a triple double and he has 4 double-doubles in 16 games.

Against Atlanta on the ninth of January, LaMelo was a + 18 .  That was his triple double night. 22 points. 11 rebounds and 12 assists.  He only missed three shots for a jaw dropping 69% shooting and he dropped in 60% of his threes. It made you wonder, was this an anomaly or will LaMelo grow into this?

The Bad: He’s not explosive. He’s dunked the ball 4 times and missed twice. He has had 64 layup opportunities and only put the ball in the hole 29 times. He’s shooting 28% from three in the first quarter of games.

The best thing about LaMelo’s game is…well everything except scoring and turnovers. Against Dallas on January 13th, he missed 6 of 8 shots including all of his threes. He only had 4 points. But he had 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Often and reflexively, we look at points but every single game this season, LaMelo has contributed. 7 rebounds and 9 assists vs the Sixers. 14 rebounds and 7 assists against the Knicks. 6 rebounds and 11 assists against Toronto. All three games he scored in single digits. LaMelo isn’t new. We’ve seen players struggle with offensive consistency their first year as they manage the learning curve.

LaMelo is often compared to Jason Kidd who struggled with his shot until the late stages of his career. The joke: Ason Kidd- he’s missing a J– went around for years. Kidd had a winning percentage his rookie year of 44%. It’s early, but Ball’s winning percentage is 43%. He is forced to excel while coming off the bench, having to earn everything.

Rookie Year Points Per Game FG% 3-Point % Assists
Jason Kidd, 1994-95 11.7 38.5% 27.2% 7.7
LaMelo Ball, 2020-01 11.4 40.1% 33.3% 6.0

In his rookie year, Jason Kidd had 4 triple doubles. It wouldn’t be a surprise if LaMelo Ball matched Kidd’s number, though the 19 double-doubles that Kidd amassed feel out of reach for a bench player.

When will LaMelo become a starter?

He had five turnovers against the Bulls which made James Borrego sit Ball for the rest of the game. “If you’re turning the ball over five times in 16 minutes, that ain’t going to cut it for me.” Or, for anyone.  That was a test for LaMelo, how would he react?

With maturity. He admitted he didn’t play well and was hard on himself. Even though he had four turnovers in the next game, against Orlando he had 11 assists and five rebounds.

LaMelo has only played NBA basketball for a month and with Michael Jordan assessing every minute he is pretty much what everyone expected. Not a knockdown Steph Curry type of shooter, but he make plays and rebounds. Most thought- myself included- he’d be more athletic at the rim and would drive the ball and finish. But what LaMelo is, ironically, is what his older brother is not.

Ball vs Ball Points Double-Double Triple Doubles Defensive Rating
Lonzo, Rookie Year starter 10.2 13 2 106
LaMelo, Rookie Year bench 11.4 4 1 106

LaMelo has a fiery nature that plays out on the court; he has charisma. He forces you to watch him. One month of his NBA life is in the books and it was as expected. He has the second most points in his draft class, the second most rebounds- 4 less than James Wiseman, the most assists by a mile, the second most minutes.

ROY watch and LaMelo Ball. It’s still a thing.