Will LaMelo Ball get 'royal jelly' from the Hornets?

November 22, 2020

Despite being a relatively big Beatles fan, I have almost no interest in seeing the 2019 movie Yesterday because there’s a massive flaw in the premise that I understand the film glides right past: If The Beatles “never existed” and some young English guy started “writing” those songs today, it’s exceedingly unlikely he’d get famous because so many of The Beatles’ songs hit they way they did because they are products of their time and place. Moreover, The Beatles were a ridiculously talented group of musical performers who put on slamming live shows and probably would have risen to the top of the pop world performing other people’s songs, too.

The easiest way to illustrate the point is to reimagine the premise in a starker setting. What if, instead of The Beatles, the Notorious B.I.G. disappeared from cultural memory and the only person who remembered his music and lyrics today was some 17-year-old white boy from Phoenix? Not only would this kid never be able to credibly rap Biggie’s lyrics, but he wouldn’t have Biggie’s charisma, his flow, his freestyle ability — everything else that made Biggie the force he was. And on top of that, this kid wouldn’t be in early 90s New York City, with an audience primed to hear precisely what Biggie had to say.

Which leads me to LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets.

I look at the Hornets’ roster and see a perfect fit for Ball, in a video game sense. That is, I have little idea how any of these guys get along, relate to each other, or treat their work, but based purely on the types of on-court talent I understand the players to have, Ball should thrive alongside Devonte’ Graham or Terry Rozier in the Charlotte backcourt. All three can handle the rock, though Graham and Rozier should work more off the ball whenever LaMelo is in because his jumper consistency looks like the weakest part of his game right away, at least based on the numbers he put up in Australia.

Throw Gordon Hayward into the mix, and that’s four guys with the ability to play as lead ballhandler for extended stretches, as the three veterans all shot well from distance last year. If P.J. Washington plays the way he did last season and everyone’s health holds up, the Hornets will be able to put at least two competent shooters on the floor at all times, most of the time rolling with three shooters. And given Miles Bridges’s solid free throw percentage, it’s reasonable to hope he improves a notch with his shooting, which would give the Hornets a full set of shooters, allowing Ball space to drive the lane and, just as important, cushion to develop his own shooting at an appropriate pace.

Most expert analyses I’ve read say Ball has a gifted court sense and his 6-7 frame helps him make elite passes, and after the initial shock of the Hayward signing, I’m coming around to the idea that bringing him in allows Ball and the other still-developing young Hornets freedom to stretch themselves without any pressure to be the primary option when winning is on the line.

Of course, perhaps Graham, Rozier, Washington, Bridges, or even Ball believes he’s perfectly ready for that burden — and it’s also hard not to wonder what would have happened had the Hornets sunk Hayward’s $30 million annual salary into a max deal for Kemba Walker — but at least I can see a logic in the move beyond “win now”, which was my kneejerk suspicion.

We’ll see if James Borrego and the rest of the Hornets organization can turn this team construction into “royal jelly” (h/t David Thorpe and TrueHoop), the same way The Beatles’ experience playing for hours on end in Hamburg helped them become a tight rock ‘n roll band that happened to have three world-class songwriters in the group*. Just as Lennon and McCartney could write catchy tunes with innovative layers of complexity and it would all be for naught if they couldn’t give those songs life with knockout performances, Brian Epstein didn’t keep the faith, and a whole host of other variables fell into place, so too do the Hornets need everything to go just right for LaMelo Ball to be able to reach his considerable potential.

I’m coming down on the optimistic side, and think he’ll end up more Jason Kidd than Shaun Livingston, though if he’s the next coming of Livingston that would be great, too.

*Please ignore any implication of a parallel to the band’s use of stimulants to get through those grueling shows and elite athletes’ propensity to use chemical means of improving their bodies.

(Photo: “Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Charlotte Hornets” by Erik Drost. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)