Yup, LaMelo Ball’s going to be pretty damn good

AP Photo

You might have been dreading this news.

You might have been rooting hard against him because his dad is an insufferable buffoon, and you wanted to see LaVar Ball’s delusional, grandiose plans blow up in his boastful, cocky face.

You might have wanted to see the hype surrounding him burst suddenly, the inflated air drained out of this Ball, while LaVar and LiAngelo waddle back into irrelevance with their tail between their legs.

Well, that’s not going to happen.

We’re only eight games into the LaMelo Ball era in the NBA, but one thing is abundantly clear: This dude can play basketball.

The 19-year-old No. 3 pick in the draft is not a product of hype, or of bad competition in Lithuania and Australia. He wasn’t chosen more for his marketability and name recognition than for his game on the court.

Nope, this dude can really, seriously play basketball.

Not many fans saw him play before his NBA debut this month, as he toiled away on different continents instead of showcasing his skills at UCLA or Duke. Most probably still haven’t seen him, as their attention has been understandably grabbed by this horrific pandemic, the insurgency at the United States capitol or the coup attempt by its president. Or maybe there’s just the simple task of surviving this horrendous, desperate, monotonous, isolating, ceaseless, relentlessly awful time. Understandable indeed.

There’s also the fact that he plays for the Charlotte Hornets, and beyond that, the NBA has just started its interminably long regular season, in empty arenas and devoid of the symbolism of hope and the curiosity factor that the Bubble gave to television audiences. Totally understandable.

But eventually, if you care about NBA basketball, you’ll turn on the TV one night and see this kid flying up and down the court, finding open guys like Magic Johnson, making bold, ridiculous passes and connecting with teammates– running the offense with the bold-faced confidence of his father, like a 10-year veteran and not a baby-faced rookie.

Through eight games, Ball is averaging 12.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 27 minutes.  He’s found the boundlessly-athletic Miles Bridges with some audacious lobs, thrown preposterous, pinpoint behind-the-back passes to three-point shooters, and made defenders stand up alertly, afraid they’ll react late to latest open look the teenager has found.

Ball’s court vision is remarkable, and it’s this quality that may just catapult him to stardom. His feel for the game, his knowledge of what’s going to happen next is on par with star players, and it’s only going to get better. You can see all of that just by watching him for a little while.

Sure, his shot is insanely awkward, his shooting form looks like an eighth grader’s, and his defense is still in beta mode. But even in his current state, at 19 years old, he should be starting for the Hornets. He’s been that impactful a player for them.

Ball grabbed a rebound and hit a buzzer-beater to end the first quarter in a statement, blowout victory over the Mavericks a few nights ago. He’s shooting 41% from the floor and 36% from 3, which is good enough to make opponents respect his J.

His confident presence has given the Hornets a little bit of a swagger, and this team, which was perennially stuck in basketball purgatory, finally has a little bit of a foundation to build on. The addition of Gordon Hayward has made them much more competitive, but flanking Ball with scoring guards Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier gives the Hornets a backcourt that can actually be feared.

There’s a long way to go of course, and this isn’t to say that Ball is going to be a no-doubt, perennial All-Star. But he’s got the talent and the capability to get there.

You may have been sick of the LaMelo Ball era before it even started. But watch this kid play, and all of the hype and nonsense that predated his career will fade out of your consciousness.

This kid is legit. He belongs. More than that, he’s damn fun to watch.

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