CHARLOTTE, N.C. — That rookie guard LaMelo Ball would immediately be a great passer in the NBA was a given. That he’d score and grab steals at a high clip, likely.
That Ball would lead the Charlotte Hornets in rebounding? That’s quite a surprise.
Ball’s 7-rebound average over his first 11 games tops the averages of Charlotte big men Bismack Biyombo (6.7) and P.J. Washington (6.1). He leads all rookies in rebounds, after a career-high 14 boards against the New York Knicks on Monday.
“(As a guard), you’ve got to go help the bigs,” teammate Terry Rozier said. “But the level he rebounds at is crazy.”
The Hornets had two glaring flaws last season — overall shooting and defensive rebounding. General manager Mitch Kupchak didn’t do much in the offseason to address the rebounding, and Charlotte is still last in the NBA in defensive-rebounding percentage (74.7%), which is where they finished last season.
Imagine how much worse that would be, for an undersized team, if the 6-foot-7, 181-pound Ball wasn’t boxing out players taller, and sometimes 30 or more pounds heavier, under the boards?
Ball has had 10 or more rebounds in each of his last three games, including the triple-double he assembled Saturday vs. the Atlanta Hawks. Dallas’s Luka Doncic — who plays against the Hornets Wednesday night — was the last rookie to have three consecutive games of 10 or more rebounds in March of 2019.
Hornets coach James Borrego said you can’t teach Ball’s knack for rebounding — the timing, leverage and sense of angles to be in optimal position after a missed shot that allows a player to box out a bigger, stronger opponent.
This is of added benefit for Ball’s outlet passes. His one-handed look-forward playmaking ability can be key, as the Hornets look to play more transition basketball. The Hornets entered Wednesday ranked third in the NBA in fast-break points, at 16.6 per game.