Why did Hornets’ LaMelo Ball play 17 minutes? Coach makes blunt critique of rookie

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Rick Bonnell
·2 min read
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Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego says rookie LaMelo Ball playing like he did Friday costs him minutes, regardless of Ball’s huge potential.

“If you’re turning the ball over five times in 16 minutes, that ain’t gonna cut it for me,” Borrego assessed Saturday of Ball’s performance against the Chicago Bulls.

“If you’re doing that on the offensive end, you better be bringing something defensively.”

Ball, the third overall pick in the 2020 draft, has been occasionally spectacular in his first 15 games, including a triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 9. His performance slipped the past two games, however, and Borrego has trimmed back his minutes: to 23 against the Toronto Raptors Jan. 16 and 16 1/2 against the Bulls Friday.

Ball agrees he hit a bad patch.

“Last two games, I don’t think I’ve been doing real well,” said Ball, a 6-foot-7 point guard. “I’m going to try to amp it up a little next game.”

What’s wrong?

“Rushing a lot of stuff,” Ball replied.

Ball is a daring, imaginative passer who is taller than Charlotte’s other point-guard options, Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier (both 6-foot-1). The Hornets knew when they drafted Ball that he needed improvement as a jump-shooter and defender. He’s been a terrific rebounder (nearly seven per game) and is among rookie leaders in just about every statistical category.

“He had a stretch where he played extremely well. We need to find that again,” Borrego said. “He’s got to get better, bottom line. He’s engaged, he wants to get better. He’s capable of handling it.

“Last night, poor decision-making (with the ball), and I think that affected him on the defensive end.”

There have been frequent calls among a faction of Hornets and Ball fans that he should already start ahead of either Graham or Rozier. Borrego has said that bringing Ball off the bench, for now, is best for both the team and Ball.

LaMelo’s father, LaVar Ball, said in a TMZ Sports interview Saturday that LaMelo is unhappy with not starting, but doesn’t say so publicly.

“He ain’t happy with that, but he ain’t going to show that,” said LaVar, whose son Lonzo plays for the New Orleans Pelicans. “My boys are not freakin’ role players. They’re superstars! Let them do what they do.”

The Observer asked LaMelo Ball on Saturday if he is surprised not to be starting at this juncture of his rookie season.

“No. It’s basketball. It’s a whole chemistry” thing, LaMelo Ball replied. “I’m coming in (off the bench). It’s not something where I’ve been here four years, or something like that. It’s just basketball.”