The Case for LaMelo Ball as Rookie of the Year

LaMelo Ball (pictured above), hopes to become the face of the Hornets for the next decade

LaMelo Ball (pictured above), hopes to become the face of the Hornets for the next decade

In the past five years, the rookie of the year votes were pretty straightforward. One specific rookie stood out amongst the rest, and they received a vast majority of the votes. Luka Doncic elevated the Mavericks to new heights during his rookie of the year. Most recently, the Grizzlies were playoff contenders after being one of the worst teams in the western conference led by point guard Ja Morant.

LaMelo Ball has the potential to dramatically raise the floor of the Hornets. As crazy as it may sound, there is a world where the Hornets could be playoff contenders this year. If he can accomplish that feat, Ball would be a near-lock as rookie of the year. 

Let’s look at the other rookies who have the talent and situation to possibly win rookie of the year.


Anthony Edwards

The Timberwolves are poised to improve next year. The issue with Edwards is that the Timberwolves have many scorers in D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. In the rotation, Edwards’s position could be taken by Malik Beasley or Josh Okogie if he fails to perform. The Timberwolves are trying to win now. Edwards volume isn’t a priority.


James Wiseman

Wiseman is on a competitive team that has championship expectations. Additionally, the possibility of a trade is going to loom over his season. Right now, his skillset is rim running and blocking shots, nothing flashy that’s going to get him enough backing for rookie of the year.


Obi Toppin

Toppin probably has the best chance after Ball to win the ROY. New York hopefully allows him to show off his versatile offensive skill set. The issue is that New York has Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson at his position. He probably will earn minutes, but even then, the Knicks are not a good team and have poor roster construction. They have no perimeter scoring and a ton of attacking bigs.

These three players I see as competitors for the award. However, Ball has the best situation and fits out of these three guys. It’s possible another player has a great season and enters the race, but these four are likely the ones we see receiving votes at the end of the season.


Hornets as Playoff Contenders?…

If the Hornets make the playoffs this season, Ball should be rookie of the year. When a player raises a team’s floor, it’s viewed as a strong argument for voting for that player. In this case, if he can elevate the bottom of the league franchise to some level of competitiveness, he deserves the award. 

Keep in mind that the league is implementing the play-in-tournament that was used in the Bubble. If the Hornets can even get into a series for the 8th seed by staying within reach record-wise, that would be a success. 

Now for the hard part. The Hornets roster added Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball, but the rest of the roster remains mostly the same. They weren’t a good team last year. If they want to make the playoffs, Hayward and Ball will need to elevate this roster quite a bit. 

The thing is, the Hornets seemed poised to take a step forward this season. James Borrego kept them competitive in games last year. A trend in their games was keeping it close the first three quarters, but when the fourth quarter came around, they couldn’t score. 

This is where LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward, to some extent, can help. Ball gives them a playmaker that can jumpstart the offense when a set breaks down and get into a pick and roll and make a play. Devonte Graham lacks the height to make passes out of this play, and the same goes for Terry Rozier. Ball’s size allows him to dot shooters on the perimeter or spot cutters. He fills the Hornets’ exact need to take a step forward. 


What Does the East Look Like?

People argue that the top seven of the east are locked up. On paper, those are clearly the best teams in the east, but something has to give. The Nets will take a huge step forward from an almost 8th seed to competing for the top spot once Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving return. That sucks up a lot more wins in the east and probably more losses for certain teams. 

If we tier off the eastern conference, the Pacers figure at the bottom. With a disgruntled key player in Oladipo and the fact the franchise dangled Myles Turner for Hayward in the offseason, the Pacers could possibly have a not up to expectation season because of disgruntled players. Factor in possible injuries for Malcolm Brogden, who’s knees was deemed an inevitable hindrance similar to Brandon Roy, and Domantas Sabonis, who hasn’t been the most durable player, the Pacers can find themselves in an underwhelming season. 

It’s hard to imagine any of the other east teams slipping that much to the point where they fail to make the playoffs without some extenuating circumstance like Covid or injuries. However, this leaves the door a little bit more open for the Hornets to fight for a spot.

Ball is one of the only rookies with full reigns of the team and has the skillset to do so at a high-level. His reputation is going to bring him daily coverage. If he can perform in the spotlight and get the Hornets some wins, Ball could likely win rookie of the year.


(Photo Courtesy of Steve Reed/Associated Press)