Should LaMelo Ball Start Over Devonte’ Graham?by Patrick Champion January 12, 2021 1 comment
Through 10 games, the Hornets are a solid 5-5. Though a small sample size, they have exceeded most people’s expectations and technically would qualify for a play-in spot for a chance at the playoffs. However, there is a much larger storyline expressed by both Charlotte Hornets fans and the general NBA public: why isn’t No. 3 overall pick, LaMelo Ball, starting?
It’s a valid question. Ball is one of a few top-10 picks (the others being Obi Toppin, Onyeka Okongwu, and Jalen Smith) that aren’t in the starting lineups for their teams. Not only that, but Ball has been getting increased minutes in the Hornets’ last three games (all wins). That includes 23 against Atlanta, 25 in a primetime game against New Orleans, and 31 in another win against the Hawks.
These have not been empty minutes by any stretch. Over his last three games, Ball has been averaging 15.7 points per game and 10.0 rebounds, including a 22-12-11 triple-double against Atlanta. Compare this to Devonte’ Graham, the other player who resides primarily at the point spot for Charlotte, who in his last three games has gone for an average of 13.3 points per game and five rebounds in 28 more combined minutes.
On Jan. 11 at 5:21 p.m. EST, ahead of a 7:00 p.m. matchup against a fellow 5-5 New York Knicks team, Charlotte released their starting lineup on Twitter. Once again, the odd man out was LaMelo Ball. If Twitter had a dislike button, it would have been hammered by a swarm of angry Hornets fans, wondering why Ball wasn’t starting at point guard, all the while calling for head coach James Borrego’s head.
On one hand, the pro-Ball-starting crowd’s argument seems logical, at least statistically. On stats alone, Ball has been better than Graham, and his status as the sixth man usually provides a jolt of energy to a Hornets team that often finds itself behind the 8 Ball at the beginning of games.
It makes sense to start him from a business standpoint, as well. An NBA fan in the 21st century, when asked to name an irrelevant team, would certainly consider replying with “the Hornets.” Charlotte hasn’t exactly been top-notch when it comes to results on the floor, as they haven’t won a playoff series since their first iteration all the way back in 2002. Their results in player drafting haven’t been much better, either, with recent notable draft busts including Noah Vonleh, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and (so far) Malik Monk. If the Hornets have indeed found a gem in Ball, they should be racing to start him.
However, there is also a realistic argument for those who want to keep Ball as the sixth man (of whom there are not many). LaMelo Ball is, in a word, raw. His fantastic 22-12-11 triple-double came on nine-for-13 shooting from the field and three of five from deep. These are impossible numbers to keep up, especially considering that Ball is “only” shooting 43.5 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from deep.
Even with his length, Ball is only 180 pounds and ultimately a minus defender. For a Hornets team that often finds itself in close games and hasn’t won a single clash by more than eight points all season (with the exception of a blowout 118-99 win against the Mavericks), Ball cannot be giving up baskets that could cause the tide of a game to change. Additionally, Coach Borrego occasionally plays a small-ball lineup that utilizes all three of Rozier, Ball, and Graham, which has had some success.
At least on the surface, Ball has taken his lack of starting opportunities in stride. However, he won’t be happy forever. If the Hornets start losing and Ball still isn’t starting, the fans may not be the only ones clamoring to give Ball an opportunity. While this issue hasn’t reared its ugly head yet, if this lineup continues, be on the lookout for a potential rift between player and team—or even player and management.
Follow Patrick Champion on Twitter @PatrickcPTST
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