Does LaMelo Ball’s tortuous season have a light at the end of the tunnel?

Does LaMelo Ball’s tortuous season have a light at the end of the tunnel?

LaMelo Ball
Image: Getty Images

LaMelo Ball’s lost season was cursed before it even began. On Wednesday night, the Charlotte Hornets guard sprained his ankle after teammate P.J. Washington landed on it during a rare win over the Houston Rockets. Entering the night, Houston was the only team in the league with a more hopeless record than Charlotte. The Rockets are just a poorly coached youth academy, though.

Injuries piling up

Miles Bridges unmasked himself as a human colostomy bag and from a basketball perspective, robbed Ball of an above-the-rim lob threat. Kelly Oubre underwent surgery on his left hand in early January and should miss the next six weeks. Gordon Hayward’s glass bones fractured again in early January and Ball himself has missed half the season due to a series of sprained ankles. The number of games Ball has missed will likely rise given the pain he appeared to be in as he was assisted off the floor on Wednesday night.

When he’s on the court

In the 22 games Ball has dressed for, he’s been spectacular. He’s a visionary passer and exhibits the DNA of a future scoring champ. Ball attempts the second-most 3-pointers in the league — trailing only Steph Curry — and is making a career-high 38 percent of those attempts. It just hasn’t had an effect on the wins.

Ball said afterward that his most recent ankle sprain doesn’t feel like it was as serious as the last one. However, you can expect the Hornets to be cautious with him. What he really needs is a little PTO anyways. Right, MJ? No need to rush him back too soon.

Hornets part of ‘Loserama for Wembanyama’

Bad luck can also be serendipitous though. Among the teams pining for Victor Wembanyama, the Hornets are the most surprising contender. A year ago, they were in the postseason waiting room. 2023 wasn’t supposed to be this way, but they might as well lean into it. LaMelo Ball’s focus for the rest of this season should be strengthening his ankles in the weight room for the 2024 season and beyond.

Then again, we’re talking about a team owner in Michael Jordan who risked reaggravating a broken bone in his foot during his athletic prime, so he could shoot for the eighth seed rather than rest for Jerry Reinsdorf and the draft lottery. Oh, how the tables have turned.

On the other hand, fate has never been that kind to the Hornets. In fact, it’s usually spat on the franchise and told them it was raining. The last few times Charlotte sank to these lows, they were one envelope away from Anthony Davis. In 1992, Charlotte left the lottery one pick short of getting to pair Larry Johnson with Shaq. The Hornets need a side of hopium for their injury-riddled season.

Watching the same franchises slog into the lottery has been a travesty. The Magic and Rockets have held dominion over the lottery as the Warriors and Cavs did over the Finals.

Getting stuck in no man’s land between an abject poverty franchise and window shopping in the play-in was the trajectory of the Hornets prior to this season. Free agents will giddily rep Jordan brand, but not Jordan’s franchise. Hitting the draft jackpot is the Hornets’ best luck.

For all his panache, Ball’s been in dire need of a running partner. Especially one who can pick it up on the defensive end where the Hornets have lagged for the past three seasons. His game is a meld between Trae Young and Luka Dončić, but he’s graded out a second-tier talent three seasons into his young career.

Charlotte’s painful season has a light at the end of the tunnel. LaMelo Ball better hope it’s not a train.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.