Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball has been voted the 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Ball, the third pick in 2020 NBA Draft class, had a storied high school career at Chino Hills, a televised journey to play semi-professional ball in Lithuania and an impressive stint with the Illawarra Hawks in the NBL, where he averaged 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
He was faced with lofty expectations immediately upon arriving into the league as his brother, Lonzo, was the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, and his entire family has been at the center of the basketball world’s attention following he, Lonzo, and eldest brother LiAngelo’s dominance at Chino Hills.
— Overtime (@overtime) June 16, 2021
Impressively, Ball leapt up and over any bar expected from him this year.
His crafty playmaking, jaw-dropping passes through (and up-and-over) traffic, and his ability to slither through lanes and into the paint for feathery lay-ups have confounded defenses. While only playing 51 games this season due to a wrist injury, Ball posted averages of 15.7 points (on 43.6 percent shooting from the field and 35.2 percent from three), 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
LaMelo Ball ROTY season:
He and Luka Doncic are the only rookies in NBA history to average 15/5/5 and 1.5+ threes in a season. pic.twitter.com/H1A3bMc8Vf
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 16, 2021
Melo’s stats are even more impressive when compared against his peers and rookies of olde.
Going into the All-Star Break, Ball was the only rookie in the past 60 years to lead all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals. It’s worth noting Ball did this without starting a game until Feb. 1.
His per-36 stats (19.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.7 assists) were only matched or surpassed by six players: Luka Donic, James Harden, Lebron James, the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, and Russell Westbrook. To that point, Ball joins Doncic as the only rookies in NBA history to average 15+ points, 5+ assists, 5+ rebounds and 1.5+ 3-pointers per game.
Prior to the season and following his injury, Ball’s status as a shoo-in for the award was in question.
In fact, any in the NBA community believe Minnesota Timberwolves rookie (the first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft) Anthony Edwards was deserving of the award. Edwards played in 21 more games than Ball, and averaged 19.3 points, 2.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 41.7 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from 3-point range.
However, what was likely the deciding factor was Ball’s ability to contribute to a winning team. Whereas Edwards’ Timberwolves only won 23 games despite being led by a preeminent talent in Karl-Anthony Towns, Ball helped lead a Charlotte team that considered first-time starters Terry Rozier and Devonte Graham their best players last season to 33 wins (and a spot in the play-in tournament).
With a full offseason ahead of him and a Rookie of the Year award for his trophy case, the sky’s the limit for the youngest Ball brother.
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