Why the Charlotte Hornets lucked out drafting Lamelo Ball

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Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball brings the ball upcourt against the Washington Wizards during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

The draft is the biggest gamble in sports. Regardless of the advanced analytics, available game footage of prospects, private workouts and help from teams of professional scouts, franchises across the board have struggled to draft the best players in sequence consistently. Basketball is a team sport and it takes a cohesive unit of players to win championships. Drafting the right player that is the right fit for a roster and coaching staff matters. Knowing when to draft the most polished prospect, the player with the highest talent ceiling or to draft in accordance to a niche team need is a conundrum that has baffled the league’s most accomplished executives. In fact, out of the last forty NBA drafts, only 12 times was the best player in the draft taken with the first overall pick. That means some of the most brilliant and savvy basketball minds in the world get the draft right only 30% of the time. No disrespect to number one pick Anthony Edwards, but I believe that the 2020 NBA draft is no different. Lamelo Ball is the best player in this draft and by my estimation, is on pace to capture rookie of the year honors.  

Before analyzing Ball’s game, it’s important to look at the odds of drafting a player of Ball’s caliber and what NBA executives had to choose from this draft. The media hype and controversy surrounding these players often make choosing difficult, but here’s a breakdown of the numbers and odds of getting it right. Higher draft picks have historically had better odds of generating all-stars but social media marketing, the amateur athletic union’s (AAU) influence on hoop mixtape culture and the influx of foreign players have begun incorporating new variables into an already convoluted equation.  

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, left, brings the ball up against Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

After researching various statistical analyses and then sifting through forty years of the NBA draft myself to track the career trajectories of a total of 2400 players, I was able to derive quantitative probabilities that could project the talent quality of the average NBA draft. An NBA draft pool typically consists of about 80 players after filtering thousands of potential draftees. Out of these players, only 60 actually get drafted. A mere 1.2% of NCAA and .03% of high school basketball players make the NBA. Amongst these 60 players, only 52 manage to earn any NBA minutes. From the players that are able to get in a game, only 39 manage to play at least one season. From this greatly reduced pool of remaining players, only 12 go on to average a minimum of 10 points per game. Lastly, only five players out of 60 in every draft become all-stars with a 50% chance that one player in the draft wins a future league MVP. PDG Analytics statistically depicts how the probability of drafting an all-star understandably drops as you move down in the draft. Their study observed the last 30 years of draft information and confirmed the astronomically low odds of both selecting and developing a player of that magnitude.  

Considering the odds of drafting an NBA all-star and how multiple sports networks such as the Ringer and SBNation have called the 2020 draft class weak and devoid of stars, the Charlotte Hornets front office should be celebrating having drafted Lamelo Ball. Ball possesses elite court awareness, a mercurial passing ability and the intangibles of a future NBA star. His shot has been improving since entering the league and being a 6′ 6″ point guard, he has the build to become a great defensive player like his brother Lonzo Ball. Aside from his Jason Williams-esque passing (highly recommend googling who that is if you don’t know), Lamelos’s floater is in a league of its own and has range on it from near the 3-point line. This move is an absolute asset to Ball’s game as it complements his long strides and elite downhill running speed in both transition and half-court offensive sets. He has the uncanny ability to manipulate the movement of defenders with his eyes and ball fakes which opens up his teammates for easy opportunities. Ball already has the veteran sense of how to turn down a good shot for a great shot. This attribute will take him far as having a star that’s highly compatible is one of the most underrated boons for an NBA franchise to have — see how easily the Warriors are able to pair premiere talent with Stephen Curry.  

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, right, brings the ball up court while guarded by Washington Wizards forward Troy Brown Jr., left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Despite a small NBA sample size of roughly 20 games to assess Ball’s play, it is evident by just the eye test that he undoubtedly has a malleable skillset with upper echelon potential. I believe his ceiling is sky-high and that he can become a franchise player for the Charlotte Hornets someday. Picking him up is the greatest acquisition Michael Jordan has made as an owner. The Hornets got a certified baller in the 2020 NBA draft.  

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