LaMelo Ball’s historic night ended in a laugh.
With 18 seconds left, Ball corralled an offensive rebound from a missed three-pointer by Vernon Carey Jr. Realizing the shot clock had only reset to 14, Ball circled out to the perimeter, handed the ball to Jalen McDaniels and raced to the far corner, leaving his teammate to be credited with the turnover.
Ball did it all with a smile on his face, which was easy to do after a 22-point, eight-rebound, five-assist performance as the Hornets blew out the Mavericks on the road, 118-99.
“LaMelo’s showing growth every single game,” head coach James Borrego said. “He had his fingerprints all over that game…playing with poise, confidence. He was a calming force out there for us.”
Ball started off the night strong for the Hornets. In seven first-quarter minutes, Ball managed seven points, two rebounds and two assists and an assist. It earned him a much longer stint in the second quarter as he, Miles Bridges, Jalen McDaniels and Cody and Caleb Martin scored 42 points off the bench in the first half alone.
“The bench was fantastic tonight starting with Miles Bridges,” Borrego said. “His energy is infectious. He’s getting better. I’m proud of him just how he’s handled this season, his role. He impacts the game every second he’s on the floor. I’m really proud of him.
“Our bench is a strength of ours moving forward. I believe our bench is one of the best pieces of this team.”
Ball’s scoring slowed down in the second half but his impact was still felt on the night. He became the first Hornets rookie since Kemba Walker in 2014 to finish with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists and the first Hornets rookie to finish with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench since Kendall Gill in 1991.
Wednesday marked the best game of Ball’s career, an achievement that will almost certainly be repeated many times over this season. He played more minutes in the first half than he did in his first two games combined. More than anything, Wednesday was a statement from Ball as counterparts Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, impress for their respective teams.
“Melo’s a great player,” Bridges said. “He’s the third pick for a reason. And (Devonte’) and Terry, they’ve definitely helped him get better in practice. He’s making smart decisions. I’m proud of him. He’s growing up right before our eyes. We just want to have him play his game.”
Bridges and Ball have quickly gained chemistry early in the season. After a strong preseason together, the two have carried their chemistry into the regular season both on and off the court. On the court, no player has played alongside Ball more than Bridges at 68 minutes and the two have a net rating of +3.9 together. Off the court, Bridges has become one of Ball’s biggest supporters.
It’s been apart of a slow and steady progression for Ball. After an up-and-down preseason and a historically bad debut in the regular season, Ball has found his footing. Over his last three games, he’s averaging 13.7 points on 53.8% shooting from the field and 66.7% shooting from range while adding 6.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
“I’m definitely getting back to it,” Ball said. “We haven’t played basketball in a minute so, obviously, it’s going to take a little time to get used to it again. I feel like as the games go on, we’re getting more chemistry with each other.”
“Today was really about just getting better,” Borrego added. “You know, that’s all we’ve talked about. Game one, we were not good. We got better in game two, didn’t get the win. We were much better in game three against Brooklyn, I thought we were even better tonight in game four. The goal is to get better every single day, every game. This is the standard for us.”
The Hornets will have ample time for constant improvement as Wednesday was the start of 10 games in 16 days and three games over the ensuing four days. At the rate Ball and the Hornets are improving, though, it could be a defining stretch for the season.