Hornets' LaMelo Ball: 'Winning' Is Priority After Injury Return over ROY AwardMay 2, 2021
Before LaMelo Ball even stepped foot on the court Saturday for the first time in six weeks with the Charlotte Hornets, his head coach was busy reigniting the guard's Rookie of the Year campaign.
"LaMelo is deserving of that," James Borrego told reporters. "I'm glad and I'm thankful that he gets a chance to continue that season in the stretch run. ... So, I'm thrilled for him. But, us as an organization, this is a wonderful time for Melo to be centerstage of this thing."
A few hours later—after the Hornets downed the Detroit Pistons, 107-84, with Ball notching 11 points, eight assists and seven boards—the rookie seemed less concerned about his individual accolades than his team's push for the postseason.
Asked if he's been thinking about Rookie of the Year in the month and a half since injuring his wrist, the 19-year-old admitted his mind has been focused elsewhere.
"Mostly winning," Ball said. "Definitely it would be playoffs first. But mostly, just winning."
If Rookie of the Year was awarded based on highlight reels alone, Ball may have locked it up on Saturday.
The guard went right into his bag of tricks against Detroit, dishing out full-court passes and slicing through the Pistons' defense for easy layups. Whatever signs of rust Detroit was hoping to see from Ball in his return, few appeared.
Now with 41 career games played, Ball is averaging 15.9 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds per night while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from behind the arc.
He'll be able to ensure the Hornets reach the postseason for the first time since 2016 and lock up Rookie of the Year honors if he's able to maintain that level of play.
As it stands, Charlotte is holding onto the No. 8 seed, 2.5 games back of the Boston Celtics for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and an automatic berth in the first round. Seeds 7-10 are guaranteed at least one game during the league's play-in tournament later this month.
It's an uphill climb for sure—especially with just nine games remaining on the Hornets' schedule—but Ball has proven all season that he's not to be underestimated. If anyone can multitask winning individual awards without compromising team success, it's the rookie from California who continues to dazzle the league.