CHARLOTTE – To recall a time when the Charlotte Hornets were good, go back to the early days, when Buzz, coached by Paul Silas and coached by Baron Davis, won more than 46 games and reached consecutive conference semifinals. .
To remember a time when they were entertained, you would have to think of another team.
Hornets are pretty good not cool goodWith a 13-15 record that’s strong enough to keep them in the playoff mix. There are several reasons for this. Gordon Hayward is fulfilling the four-year, $ 120 million contract Charlotte lavished on him last offseason, averaging 22.3 points and knocking down 42.2% of his three. Terry Rozier (20.6 points) was excellent. Malik Monk has been solid from the bench. Across the Hornets, seven players average double figures, with Miles Bridges just a fraction of a point from reaching eight.
Fewer words are needed to explain why Charlotte is entertaining. Two, actually: LaMelo Ball.
Progressing slowly into the All-Star break of his rookie season, one thing is clear: Ball is good. The 19-year-old rookie is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists this season. Since entering the starting lineup on February 1S t, Ball is averaging 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He leads all rookies in double-doubles (six) and 20-point games (seven). Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau called Ball’s pass “a gift.” Dwyane Wade called it “a problem.” Kendrick Perkins called Ball a “Magic Johnson baby.”
“He’s playing amazing,” Stephen Curry said this week. “There was a lot of talk about what he might show off in his rookie year. It’s surprising a lot of people. “
James Borrego is not surprised. The Hornets coach was sold for Ball last November, when Borrego, Hornets president Mitch Kupchak, and assistant general manager Buzz Peterson flew to Los Angeles to watch Ball work out. They knew of the death. “You can read the coverages before they happen,” Borrego said in a telephone interview. But then they saw the shooting. “He had a nice float,” says Borrego. And the trust. At one point, Borrego and Kupchak discussed how when Ball fired, he seemed to believe that everyone was going to enter.
The interview sealed it. Borrego admits that he had some preconceived notions about Ball. I knew their history. The visibility. The youngest of the three Ball brothers with the impetuous father and big mouth. “It’s what you hear,” says Borrego. “It is what you read. It’s what’s on the internet. ”In the weeks leading up to the draft, reports surfaced that Ball was sinking his team’s interviews.
Not Charlotte. In Los Angeles, the Hornets roasted Ball for more than 30 minutes. About basketball. About life. At one point, Borrego asked Ball what he valued. FamilyBall said. I care about people. “It felt real and genuine,” Borrego says. “Everything I received in that interview was very honest and genuine. I felt that this was a more humble boy than I expected. It eased my worries a bit. “
On the training ground, any lingering worries quickly evaporated. The game-making skills were obvious. “He has an elite vision,” Borrego says. But there was a bang. “His ability to beat guys off the rebound was more advanced than he thought,” Borrego says. The finish on the edge. The rebound. Borrego remembers watching Ball fight big men on defensive backboards. “He has a knack for rebounding against seven-footers or big-wingers,” Borrego says. “He really competes.”
And the careers. Charlotte ranked bottom of the league in pace last season. This year, they are in the top 15 and are in the top five in shots in seven seconds. Ball’s teammates have embraced him. Hayward, with whom Ball has developed an early chemistry, compares Ball’s feeling for the game to that of Luka Dončić and Russell Westbrook. Ball’s energy in the locker room has proven to be contagious. “He didn’t know how his teammates would respond to him,” Borrego says. And they love it. They just love it. They love to be around him. They love their energy. They love to play with him. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think everyone recognizes it. He laughs at himself. He teases himself. And it’s a lot of fun for our guys to play on the court and also interact with him off the court. “
Questions about Ball’s shooting form will continue. Ball admitted that the Hornets tried to modify their shot in training camp. “This is how I shoot,” Ball shrugged. So far it has been effective. Ball made seven threes against Houston earlier this month. He’s shooting 35.4% from three, a more than respectable number.
Borrego understands the value of reworking a shot. Borrego is a student of the Spurs system. In San Antonio, assistant coach Chip Engelland, a prominent shooting physician, reshaped Richard Jefferson’s image. And Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was not a factor of three in college. In the NBA, he is a 38.3% shooter in his career. With Ball, Borrego says, “I don’t want to touch his shot.” When the season is over, the staff and Ball will look for ways to improve all areas of their game, including shooting.
And that meeting could come later than expected. The Hornets are .500 in February. They had victories over the Pacers, Bucks and Heat in the last three weeks. Ball, Rozier and Devonte ‘Graham’s lineup of three guards is working. The movement of the ball has been crisp – Charlotte leads the NBA in passes made and ranks among the best teams in assists – and the Hornets are second in the league in transition points. The playoffs are a realistic possibility.
And they are relevant. No NBA team has needed an infusion of star power than Charlotte. For years, the Hornets roster has been as sexy as a streetlight. The only reason to look at the bench was if the team’s owner, Michael Jordan, was sitting near him.
Ball has changed that. It has made television convincing for the Hornets. It’s a walking league pass alert. Charlotte ranked 28th in the NBA present last season. Whenever fans start coming back, it will be to see it. See Ball throw alley-oops at Bridges. Watching him spin behind his back passes Hayward to open three. The Hornets have been good before. But they have never had so much potential.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.