The Charlotte Hornets nearly landed in the NBA Playoffs this season, with LaMelo Ball leading the charge in his rookie year. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game, stats that make him a frontrunner for the 2020-21 Rookie of the Year Award.
Whether he wins the award or not, Ball is already one of the better point guards in the league. Based on PER, Ball is 18th among point guards in the entire league, which says something about a first-year player. As he heads into his sophomore campaign, the question is – how can he elevate his game to become a top-five point guard in the league?
Point guards that LaMelo Ball will have to overtake
The top five floor generals in the game are arguably Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, in no particular order. That’s insane company to break into considering that the rest of the top 10 are exceptional too. James Harden (he’s really the Brooklyn Nets’ point guard, not Kyrie Irving), Trae Young, Ben Simmons, Mike Conley and De’Aaron Fox complete the list.
LaMelo Ball will have to leapfrog over the players ahead of him in the top ten first before he can enter the discussion of the five best point guards in the NBA.
Given the entire offseason to work on his flaws, LaMelo Ball may surprise many with how good he can be next season. To break into the top five point guards, the third pick of last season’s draft need not be as good of a scorer as Curry, Lillard or Doncic. That being said, he definitely needs to work on being a better scorer, and be a better playmaker similar to Paul and Westbrook.
Here are the 3 things that LaMelo Ball has to improve on if he wants to be a top-five point guard:
#3 3-point shooting
LaMelo Ball had shown that he could knock down a 3-pointer with consistency in his first 21 games as a starter (42.6 percent). Since returning from a wrist injury though, Ball’s shooting from the arc has dipped to an awful 24.4 percent. Can LaMelo improve on his shooting so that he consistently scores threes?
In his interview following the play-in tournament loss to the Indiana Pacers a week ago, LaMelo Ball spoke about working on getting stronger in the offseason. He mentioned how having stronger arms can have a tremendous effect on his 3-point shooting. One point to note in context is how much better Stephen Curry has become as a 3-point shooter after building up his arm strength.
But stronger arms are just the tip of the iceberg as LaMelo Ball still needs to build confidence in his shooting with an offseason regimen that should require him to shoot hundreds of 3-pointers a day. Look for his 3-point percentage to hover around the 40 percent mark next season.
The top five point guards in the league have improved their defense since their rookie years. Yes, that includes Luka Doncic. If LaMelo Ball wants to become a top five point guard, he will have to be a defensive pest.
“The goal now — one of my top priorities this summer — is to really work with this kid … work on offense and defense,” Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego said.
“We’ve got to take some major steps, and it starts with his body, and then working through offense and defense.”
LaMelo Ball has a penchant for being a pesky defender as his 1.6 steals a game this season show. Whether as a starter or as a bench player before the injury or after it, Ball maintained his average between 1.5 and 1.7 steals per game. The key for him to develop into a more complete defender is to master keeping his man in front of him. His commitment to being a two-way player starts with training alongside a defensive coach who can teach him the nuances of playing on that end of the court.
Before LaMelo Ball was injured on March 20, he added 19.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.7 steals while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from three as a starter in 21 games. The Charlotte Hornets had a winning record of 11-10 during that stretch and Ball was the catalyst for their resurgence from a 9-11 record in their first 20 games.
LaMelo Ball is already a very good floor general, especially for a rookie. But to enter into the conversation of the top five point guards in the NBA, he has to become a better leader. The 10 best playmakers in the game are among the leaders of their respective teams and this is perhaps the most important aspect of Ball’s game that he has to improve on.
From being a better assist man to learning how to control the pace of a game, LaMelo Ball has work to do to become a better point guard. He can spot the open man easily, but has often been caught out attempting the spectacular instead of a simple pass. Once he learns to discern between a great pass and a good one, the Charlotte Hornets are going to soar as a basketball team.
Ultimately, it’s LaMelo Ball’s ability to lead his team to success that will determine his greatness. He needs a former point guard as a mentor in the offseason, and if the Charlotte Hornets can give him one and he responds, Ball is going to seriously challenge the hierarchy of the top five point guards in the league in the future.
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