Written By Gilbert McGregor
In TSN's 2021-22 Southeast Division preview, Kyle Irving's bold prediction was that Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball would be an All-Star this season.
It's not looking so bold anymore.
Nearing at the halfway mark of his sophomore campaign, Ball is making quite the All-Star case for himself, leading the Hornets with averages of 19.3 points, 7.8 assists, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. For perspective, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic is the only player in the league that leads their team in each of those four statistical categories. Ball comes close, trailing Miles Bridges (19.6) in scoring for the Hornets.
Reminder: Ball is just 20 years of age.
Not only is Ball reinvigorating Charlotte's fan base with his play, but he is also playing a large role in the Hornets' re-emergence as a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. Sure, Charlotte is currently hovering just above the .500 mark, but it's doing so despite having one of the NBA's toughest schedules to this point in the season. The Hornets remain in the thick of the East's playoff race even with 24 of their 40 games to date being away from Charlotte (including two Western Conference road trips), the reward being they now have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league.
Ball has played a key role in their early-season success.
In addition to his numbers being of an All-Star caliber, Ball's displaying the poise of an All-Star on a nightly basis.
Whether it's his all-world passing ability:
His improvement as a finisher:
His commitment to growth as a shooter:
Or his fearlessness in the clutch:
Ball passes the All-Star eye test, but does that guarantee a selection?
Last season, six Eastern Conference guards were selected to the All-Star Game. Assuming the same number of guards is selected in 2022, the question becomes whether or not Ball has established himself as one of the six best guards in the East.
Here's where he ranks among Eastern Conference guards:
- 10th in points per game
- Fourth in assists per game
- Second in rebounds per game
Of guards in the East, it's fair to consider the Bulls' duo of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine as locks, as well as the Nets' James Harden, who is working on his 10th consecutive All-Star selection. After those three, Ball will be in competition with the likes of Bradley Beal, Jaylen Brown, Darius Garland, Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Trae Young for what could be the final three guard spots.
In the first returns of fan voting, Ball was fifth among Eastern Conference guards behind only DeRozan, Harden Young and LaVine.
Considering the difficulty of their schedule, Ball's Hornets have looked to be just as good as Beal's Wizards, VanVleet's Raptors and Young's Hawks up to this point in the season, if not better. The Celtics have been better in spurts but Brown could be set back by missing a chunk of time due to injury. Garland, on the other hand, has played an integral role in the Cavaliers' success this season, but his numbers don't quite measure up to Ball's.
It's no secret that Miami has the makings of a title contender but it's highly unlikely that both Herro and Lowry represent the Heat in the All-Star Game. Given the impact that doesn't always show up in the stat sheet, Lowry feels like the most likely candidate.
With Ball checking all the criteria of an All-Star, he's building a case stronger than a number of his peers in the Eastern Conference.
An All-Star bid in 2022 would mark the first of many.