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After finishing dead last in the league in pace a season ago, the Charlotte Hornets are now 13th in the early part of this season. One of the major reasons why the team’s pace has increased is because of rookie point guard LaMelo Ball. In this early part of the season, the approach that head coach James Borrego is using, with Ball coming off the bench, is the right move at the current moment.
What we know about the 2020-2021 Charlotte Hornets in the eight games they have played so far is that they are entertaining. Borrego’s position-less basketball has turned one of the slowest paced teams into a team that gets up and down the floor for 48 minutes.
The team’s third-overall pick in November’s NBA Draft has come in and provided an infectious spark to not only his teammates but also ignited a fanbase that has wanted a star since Kemba Walker left for Boston two seasons ago. The question that Hornets fans have been asking is: should he start right now?
If you look at the team’s normal starting lineup statistics so far, Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier III have been carrying the team’s scoring load. Both players are averaging over 20 points per game and their shooting percentages have been above the league average. Forward P.J. Washington has manned the power forward spot and Bismack Biyombo has filled in admirably for the injured Cody Zeller at center.
The team’s other starting guard, Devonte’ Graham, has not played to the level he was playing at last season when he averaged over 18 points per game. Graham, who is averaging a team-high 6.3 assists, is stuck in a serious shooting slump.
Even though he only hit 38.2% of his shots during his breakout season last year, he is now shooting 27.4%. Before getting to the free-throw line six times in their last game on Wednesday night, he had only taken three of them in his previous five games.
With his 14 points against the Atlanta Hawks and 17 points against the New Orleans Pelicans, Graham has now surpassed the 10.0 points per game mark for the season but fans are wondering if Ball should replace him in the starting lineup.
As we all know, rookies coming into the league have a learning curve and none is more difficult than playing point guard. Even though Ball has played professionally in both Australia and Lithuania, the NBA game is completely different.
One of his biggest concerns coming into the league was his ability to play defense. His numbers in Australia were alarming, especially playing against the pick-and-roll. So far in his first few weeks, he’s played with a lot more effort and he has shown active hands.
Ball is in the top 20 in total steals, steals per game and steal percentage in the league and had a game where he blocked two shots. There are still moments where he is lost on defense when it comes to watching for back door cuts and still playing pick-and-roll defense.
Everyone knows how exciting Ball is on the offensive side, between making highlight-reel passes, his natural ability to find his teammates and his exceptional rebounding ability. Last night’s near triple-double against New Orleans was only the tip of the iceberg of his potential star career.
However, Borrego is doing the right thing by allowing his top pick to take his time adjusting to the NBA. Nine games are not enough time. Don’t worry Hornets fans, the wait and watching his growth game-by-game is something to enjoy.