• Can we get together and find a way to give LaMelo Ball my ankles? It is a tragedy to basketball fans everywhere when a great player like him is lost for not just one season, but two. He has played in just 58 games over the last two seasons. Not only did the Hornets miss their star guard, big man Mark Williams only got to play in 19 games with a back injury. The disappointment led to the selling off of Terry Rozier, PJ Washington and Gordon Hayward in exchange for a lottery-protected first-round pick, Grant Williams, Kyle Lowry (he was bought out), Tre Mann, Visilije Micic, and Seth Curry.

    However, they did not go full-on tank as players like Brandon Miller, Miles Bridges and Grant Williams did play deep into the season, so fantasy managers had to be happy about that. Mann and Micic both got good long looks as the starting back court after they were brought over at the deadline.

    How’d It Go?

    Any time the head coach leaves at the end of the year, a top scoring threat is traded mid-season and the general manager ‘steps down’ soon after the trade deadline, things did not go as planned.

    Well, it went as well as you would expect for a young team that lost their best player for the vast majority of the season. Their win total dropped from 27 to 21 but it is hard to say they are necessarily “rebuilding” as they have a roster that did make the Play-In Tournament in 2022. The hope was they could make a leap after that season saw them break the .500 mark for the first time since getting bounced by the Heat in heartbreaking fashion in 2016 (they were up 3-2 going back to Charlotte for Games 6 & 7). But without Ball, they could not get anything going. Same was true for this season.

    However, it was not all bad in Charlotte. They did go on a four-game winning streak. So that’s something? Right? The decision to pick Brandon Miller (legal issues aside) was the right one from a basketball point of view. He won multiple Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month awards while flashing the kind of potential you’d expect from a No. 2 pick. They acquired Grant Williams at the deadline and learned what Dallas did not: he is better as a center. He finished the season better than he started it as he played the five and Miles Bridges moved to the four.

    Moving forward, the Hornets will desperately need perimeter shooting to help space the floor for the future back court of Ball and Miller. They were just 21st in the NBA in 3-point percentage. They also need to determine if is worth keeping Miles Bridges around. They obviously were not scared of the PR-hit after his no contest plea to felony domestic violence did not stop them from signing him to a one-year qualifying deal. If they cared, they would have just let him walk. But maybe the new-look front office will have different feelings.

    Coaching

    On May 9, the Hornets brought in Charles Lee to be their head coach. Lee was the top assistant in Boston this year, after being an assistant in Milwaukee for five seasons where he became the  associate head coach. He is a young coach at only 39 years old, but has been an assistant in the NBA for ten years already. His youth is an ideal quality, given the Hornets have one of the leagues youngest rosters. Now Lee can put his stamp on this team, as opposed to accepting a job with a veteran team, ready to win now.

    One staple of the teams he was a top assistant for has been defense. The Hornets had one of the league’s worst defenses last year, allowing opponents to make almost 50% of their shots (49.5%) and they allowed one the worst 3-point FG% last year at 37.8%. They also had the second-worst defensive rating at 119.2. Yes, better personnel will help, but getting a coach to reach the young players and get them to have intensity and effort on the defensive end is not something easily done. Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach with a strong reputation but the Hornets had such a revolving door of players with critical pieces missing that it’s hard to get on his case. The Hornets are hoping that Lee’s kind of rare combination of youth and experience will help him succeed.

    Historically, Lee has been an assistant coach on teams that end up with great defenses. This year in Boston, he helped them achieve an elite defensive rating of 110.6 while allowing just 45.3% of shots to fall, including a low 35.2% from deep. Last year in Milwaukee, he had extremely similar success and was there when they won their title.We can go back to his days in Atlanta where he helped them achieve a top-six finish in defensive rating for three straight years (Thanks to the Hornets PR team for pointing that out).

    If Lee can get this team to defend at all, the offensive firepower already has a nice base to build off of. I do think there is potential for this to work. But the key word is, potential.

    The Players

    LaMelo Ball
    PG, Charlotte Hornets
    SeasonTeamGPGSMPG FGMFGAFG% FTMFTAFT% 3PTM3PTA3PT% PTSREBAST STLBLKTO
    23-24 CHA 22 22 32.3 8.3 19.2 43.3 4.1 4.7 86.5 3.2 9.0 35.5 23.9 5.1 8.0 1.8 0.2 3.8
    22-23 CHA 36 36 35.2 8.2 20.0 41.1 2.8 3.4 83.6 4.0 10.6 37.6 23.3 6.4 8.4 1.3 0.3 3.6
    21-22 CHA 75 75 32.2 7.2 16.7 42.9 2.8 3.2 87.2 2.9 7.5 38.9 20.1 6.7 7.6 1.6 0.4 3.3

    ADP: 11.9/20.1 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 234/251 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 11/23 (8/9-cat)

    When Ball was healthy and got some time to get settled, he showed that he was still that early-round asset we all loved in 2021-22. However, as they say, availability can be someone’s greatest ability (or weakness). So from a manager’s perspective, it will be important to monitor his recovery throughout the offseason. Yes, in the exit interviews Steve Clifford did say that all injured Hornets players are expected to be ready for camp. So, that’s good news. But, as with during the regular season, we hear someone is “expected” to be ready by “X” time and then we learn just before tip off that it was all a mirage and they’re out. But for now, no news will be good news for Ball as the off season plays out.

    If we get through the offseason with no news and Ball jumps right into camp, then managers will be tempted to chase his upside again. And who could blame them? He is a bona fide 9-cat stud, despite the high turnover numbers. And as he gets older, those turnover numbers should lessen. But with the high usage and minutes he will see, it will be inevitable that he will have higher-than-we’d-like turnover numbers. However, if Ball can get those turnovers closer to the 2.9-3.3 range and away from the high-three range he is at now, that would be enough to solidify him as a first-round 9-cat asset.

    Not only will those turnover numbers start to look less awful, but Ball is a better rebounder than we saw in the 22 games he played. He had averaged 6.4 and 6.7 boards per game in the lasts two seasons but saw that number drop to 5.1 this year. However, we did see the FG% go back up to 43.3% which could also improve some once he matures more as a scorer and the front office surrounds him with better players (hopefully).

    His fantasy stock could solidify if the Hornets are able to get a player like Rob Dillingham or Dalton Knecht with the sixth pick in the draft. Or they could go out and sign some shooting with the cap space they have; players like Malik Monk and Buddy Hield could potentially be had. Any extra shooting will give him better options to pass to and to open the floor for him to operate.

    Last year, Hornets point guards were amongst the league leaders in running the pick and roll. Better spacing will, presumably, give guys like Ball more room to operate to attack the defense.

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    Error: Cannot find Aleksej Pokuseviski in player database

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