The place should LaMelo Ball get higher? Hornets GM weighs in

As good as he’s, as younger as he’s and as promising as he’s, Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball must get higher if his crew goes to go wherever.

No matter who the Hornets’ subsequent coach seems to be — and a new one will probably be employed within the subsequent seven to 14 days — his first activity will probably be coaxing extra out of Ball.

Melo is the muse of this crew and already an NBA All-Star. He’s usually extraordinary. But he’s additionally 20 years outdated, and he generally makes the form of selections on a basketball court docket an extraordinary 20-year-old would make.

I requested Mitch Kupchak, the Hornets’ normal supervisor, throughout his information convention Thursday the place he most needed to see enchancment from Ball in Year 3.

Said Kupchak of the 6-foot-7, 180-pound Ball: “He’s got to get stronger, which obviously means he’s got to get in the weight room. And then the next step is also becoming a better two-way player. You know, offensively he’s just a joy to watch, and a joy to play with. … The things you can control, right now, would be getting stronger and becoming a better two-way player, which means on the defensive side.”

All of that’s true. Ball is also iffy in 2-for-1, end-of-game and end-of-quarter conditions generally — taking pictures too early or ending up with a foul shot too late. That, Kupchak stated, would naturally enhance with time.

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (left) must work on getting stronger and enjoying higher protection, in response to normal supervisor Mitch Kupchak (proper). Jeff Siner

Let’s specify proper now we’re declaring the chinks in a largely pristine set of armor. Ball is a bona fide star and watching him on the quick break is one in all life’s singular pleasures.

Teammates like to run with him, too, as a result of they know he’ll give them the ball on the first alternative. He’s an unselfish participant, and anybody who has ever performed the sport is aware of how vital that’s.

But whereas Ball can blow by individuals on offense, he also can get blown by on protection. He’s susceptible to committing pointless fouls. Sometimes he’ll miss a shot on offense, look towards the official hoping for a foul name and never get again shortly sufficient on D.

In different phrases, the brand new coach has some work to do with Ball, particularly on the defensive finish. Ball wants to just accept the teaching, and the brand new coach has to just accept the truth that Ball must be coached. Rolling the ball on the market and saying, “Melo, go create something” is tempting, however that isn’t going to get it finished.

Ball will get advised how nice he’s on a regular basis — that’s not an issue. He’s confirmed many doubters mistaken earlier than, together with me. But he’s removed from excellent, and the brand new coach might want to maintain him accountable for his errors.

The Hornets have missed the 16-team NBA playoffs in each of Ball’s seasons. In each circumstances, they made the NBA play-in match, solely to get blasted out of it — by 27 factors in Ball’s rookie 12 months and by 29 factors in Year 2. Those two video games, as a lot as the rest, have been the explanation why former coach James Borrego was fired.

So though the Hornets received 43 video games within the 2021-22 season, in a bigger sense Ball hasn’t received something but. And he stays the engine of a crew with loads of expertise. As former Hornets level guard Muggsy Bogues advised me of Ball: “They go as he goes.”

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball has but to make the playoffs in two NBA seasons, however he did common 20.1 factors, 7.6 assists and 6.7 rebounds in 2021-22. All of these numbers represented will increase over his rookie 12 months. Jeff Siner

For rising up in a basketball household that was nearly Kardashian-esque within the quantity of consideration it has drawn, Ball may be surprisingly right down to earth.

“I’m not worried about his work ethic and him getting in the gym,” Kupchak stated. “He loves the game.”

Kupchak stated he hoped the 2022-23 Hornets win three to seven extra video games than they did of their most up-to-date season, which might translate to someplace between 46 and 50 wins and absolutely to an NBA playoff berth. Then, the GM stated, it will be good to win a spherical within the playoffs — one thing Charlotte’s NBA franchise hasn’t finished since 2002.

All of that’s potential.

But none of it can occur with out one other enchancment from Ball — this time within the grittier facet of the sport.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, together with 4 concerning the Carolina Panthers. Fowler has received the Thomas Wolfe award for excellent newspaper writing and has earned 18 nationwide APSE awards. He hosted The Observer’s 8-part podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named 2018’s “Podcast of the Year.”
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