Hornets will have to be patient after LaMelo Ball's scoreless debut

The NBA's most-hyped rookie had a dud of a debut.

LaMelo Ball saw his first NBA action as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat his Charlotte Hornets, 121-114, in Wednesday’s season opener. His playing time was limited. As was his contribution on the court.

In 16 minutes, Ball logged zero points, three assists, one rebound, two steals and three turnovers. He missed all five of his field-goal attempts. It’s certainly not what Hornets fans were hoping for from the No. 3 pick in the draft.

It places him alongside the company of Greg Oden, Hasheem Thabeet and Otto Porter Jr. as the only top-three picks in NBA history to go scoreless in their NBA debuts — not exactly elite company.

Why all the hype for LaMelo?

Thanks largely to his status as a Ball and his circuitous path to the NBA that bypassed college and took pitstops in Lithuania and Australia, the Hornets rookie has more buzz than Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman, players selected ahead of him in November’s draft.

He’s also a legitimately compelling basketball prospect. A 6-foot-7 guard with high-level handles and elite playmaking skills, Ball has the upside of one of the game’s most dynamic point guards.

LaMelo Ball #2 of the Charlotte Hornets looks for a pass during the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on December 23, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
LaMelo Ball struggled to contribute and find playing time on Wednesday. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Ball’s limitations

But his game has notable limitations that kept him from being the consensus No. 1 prospect in his class. Scouts rate him as an average NBA athlete. And his jump shot resembles his brother Lonzo’s. That is to say — it needs work.

That not-ready for prime-time jumper was on display Wednesday as Ball took and missed three 3-point attempts.

He’s also criticized for sometimes playing less-than-enthusiastic defense. Collin Sexton had little trouble blowing by him in a third-quarter isolation play.

Ball didn’t return to the court after that play as the Hornets tried and failed to rally from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. Any sign of being a defensive liability is going to limit his playing time under head coach James Borrego.

LaMelo is a project

This, of course, is a one-game sample size and not necessarily indicative of how Ball will develop as a fully-formed NBA player. But it should slow down the hype train.

Fans expecting Ball to take the NBA by storm will need to exercise patience. The Hornets clearly don’t intend on throwing him into the fire.

They kept Terry Rozier amid post-draft speculation that he would be dangled in trade talks. And there’s good reason for that. Rozier got the start in the backcourt Wednesday and was by far the Hornets’ most potent weapon Wednesday, logging 42 points while hitting 10-of-16 3-point attempts.

Gordon HaywardCharlotte’s other high-profile offseason acquisition — bounced back from a broken pinky to post 28 points and seven assists in his Hornets debut.

It wasn’t enough to beat the Cavaliers on the road. And Ball isn’t ready to be a difference-maker in these kinds of games.

He may be one day. But Hornets fans shouldn’t hold their breath in the meantime.

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