It was a short, injury-plagued year for the Charlotte Hornets’ best player. LaMelo Ball played in only 36 games. The Hornets were 13-23 during that span. Ball won the Rookie of the Year award in his first season and was an All-Star selection in his second. His most recent season, his third in the league, was decidedly less filled with accolades and acclaim.
The 2022-23 season began with an inauspicious start. Ball missed the first 13 games with a sprained left ankle. An ankle he would go on to re-injure several times throughout the season. Even before the right ankle fracture he suffered on March 1st, Ball had had an issue staying healthy earlier in his career. In his rookie campaign, he missed 21 games due to injury as well.
The right ankle injury this season came as the Hornets were on the longest winning streak that they would experience. The five straight wins showed what the team could be like if they were even close to whole. During that span, Ball showed how dominant of a player he could be. For the five games, he averaged 25.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 10.2 assists per contest. Yes, the Hornets were playing winning basketball, but they were playing winning basketball because of their cornerstone player.
It can be easy to get downtrodden in a season with so few bright spots. Ball’s unique style of play with his otherworldly passing ability and insane shooting audacity (his 10.6 three-point attempts per game was a career-high) can sometimes make one wonder if he can contribute to playing winning basketball. But what should be obvious is that with a full complement of comparable NBA talent, Ball can lead a successful team. Remember, before the 2021-22 season ended with a large percentage of the roster injured, the Hornets were a playoff team.
What does LaMelo Ball need to work on?
Ball has made strides early in his career. But the most glaring weakness of his game is still his defense. It was never more apparent than when he went down with an injury, and he was replaced by Dennis Smith Jr. Smith, who has carved out a role as a defensive player and helped the Hornets improve as a defensive team. It wasn’t all on Ball, Mark Williams’ ascension anchored that side of the ball for the Hornets. But if the team is to be successful, its best player must be a better defender. His 6’7 frame should allow him to be decent defensively. He will likely have to become stronger, as Steph Curry has throughout his career.
An increase in strength could help him as a finisher as well. Most of his field goal attempts were from beyond the arc, so it’s no surprise that he only gets to the free throw line a little more than three times per game. A better layup package would help. Despite having a similar shot profile to Steph Curry, Curry gets to the line more (five times per game) and finishes better at the rim (76.8% to 59.8% this season).
Ball’s offseason will be spent, in part, on rehabbing his ankles (for what it’s worth, Curry had ankle issues early in his career that he has since conquered). But if he can maintain his health next season (and the rest of the roster can also stay on the floor), the Hornets may be able to break the longest postseason drought in the sport.