Because he had never played a full season of college or pro basketball before entering the NBA, there were question marks about LaMelo Ball and how he would advance to the NBA.
But halfway through his rookie season, the 20-year-old Ball silenced all skeptics and gained a big fan in a guy named Michael Jordan.
“I think Melo has adjusted to the NBA game better than any of us ever thought so early in his career,” said Jordan, majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, told The Associated Press in an email. “He has exceeded our expectations so far this season.”
No. 3 pick in last year’s NBA Draft, Ball leads all rookies in points (15.8), assists (6.3), rebounds (6) and steals (1.6) per game.
According to ESPN, Ball is in an intoxicating company. Every other rookie to lead the NBA in points, rebounds and assists at the all-star break won Rookie of the Year honors:
Alvan Adams, 1975-1976
Oscar Robertson, 1960-1961
Wilt Chamberlain, 1959-1960
Elgin Baylor, 1958-59
Bob Pettit, 1954-1955
“Right now, the way it’s going, he looks like the NBA Rookie of the Year to me,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s doing it statistically, their team is winning. He has energy, he has a vibe, he is swagger. If you like watching gamers playing with flair, it’s right up there. “
Perhaps more importantly, the Hornets, who have only made three playoff games since Jordan became majority owner in 2010, are 17-18 entering the All-Star break, just one game behind the fourth place for the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference. The last time Charlotte won a playoff series was in 2002, when Jordan was still an active player.
Now Ball is making Jordan and the Hornets dream of more playoff success.
“He will be here for a long time, you will be talking about Melo for a long time,” Carmelo Anthony told reporters.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.