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Hornets’ LaMelo Ball putting up numbers rarely seen by NBA rookies

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Hornets' LaMelo Ball putting up numbers rarely seen by NBA rookies

LaMelo Ball’s NBA career with the Hornets got off to a subpar start. 

In fact that might just be a generous description of his NBA debut. It was downright brutal. 

The third overall pick of this year’s draft played a scoreless 15 minutes in his first game, missing all five of his field-goal attempts in Charlotte’s 121-114 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 23. 

Not only did he fail to score, the highly-touted playmaker also turned the ball over three times, becoming only the second player in the last 35 years to finish without a point while taking at least five shots with three or more turnovers in 15-plus minutes in their NBA debut, joining the Golden State Warriors’ Brandon Williams in 1998. 

While he got off to a shaky start, things have since gone much better. 

Better actually might not be kind enough in describing his recent play. He’s been outstanding. 

MORE: Where are all of the Ball brothers now?

On the onset of the 2020 draft, the 6-foot-7 point guard was widely considered to have the highest ceiling of all the prospects. An adept ball-handler, scouts marvelled at his passing, court vision and his ability to push the ball up the court. 

Though Ball possesses an immense skillset and has a comprehensive understanding of the game, making the jump from Australia’s National Basketball League to the NBA would admittedly take time. 

It took him all of one week. 

With 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists in a win over the Dallas Mavericks on December 30, he became the first player in the last 35 years to reach those numbers in just his fourth game, and he’s continued to stuff the stat sheet with impressive numbers. 

Since then, he’s had two more games with 15 or more points, eight or more rebounds and five or more assists. Only four other players have had more such games in that span – the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (six), Mavericks’ Luka Doncic (five), New York Knicks’ Julius Randle (five) and Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (four). 

Over the course of three games from January 8-11, he racked up 42 points, 36 rebounds and 27 assists, joining Ben Simmons in 2017 and Lamar Odom in 2000 as the only rookies in the last 35 years with at least 40 points, 35 boards and 25 assists over a three-game span. 

In the middle game of that three-match stretch, Ball made history. At 19 years and 140 days, he became the youngest player ever to record a triple-double by notching 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in Saturday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks. 

Despite stumbling out of the gate with his forgettable debut, he still reached the 10-game mark with 131 points, 63 rebounds and 59 assists. In the last 35 seasons, only two other rookies have reached those numbers after 10 games – James in 2003 and Simmons in 2017. 

Ball’s passing has been as advertised. He’s finding his open team-mates and setting them up for success. 

Among the 100 players with at least 30 assists, he has the league’s 10-best assist rate – the estimation of percentage of field goals made by team-mates while he’s on the floor. At 36.8 per cent, Ball sits just a bit back of James, whose eighth at 37.6. 

With 71 assists on the season, Ball has eight fewer assists than Devonte’ Graham for the most on the Hornets. He does, however, lead Charlotte with 84 rebounds, and if he does surpass Graham and finish the season leading the team in both rebounds and assists, he’ll join Michael Jordan in 1984-85 and Blake Griffin in 2010-11, as the only rookies in the last 40 years to lead their team in both categories. 

Not only is Ball flourishing in the part of his game many thought he would eventually excel in, he is also finding success in areas that were believed to be some of his biggest weaknesses – shooting and defense. 

MORE: Why LaMelo Ball spurned BBB to sign with Puma

After shooting a dreadful 24 per cent from 3-point range in Australia’s NBL, Ball is making a respectable 33.9 per cent of his 3s. Nothing outstanding, but the league average on 3s is 36.6 per cent. 

He’s also showing a proficiency at knocking down shots just inside the arc. His 50 per cent shooting on mid-range jumpers is tied with seven others for 17th in the NBA among those with at least 100 field-goal attempts. 

Defense was another area that many expected would take Ball time to grasp and be competent in, but he’s already proven to be up to speed, leading all rookies with 22 defensive stops. 

Not only does he lead all first-year players in defensive stops, he also leads all rookies in points (143), rebounds (84), assists (71), as well as steals (18). 

If Ball continues to thrive on the court and finishes the season leading all rookies in points, rebounds and assists, he’ll become just the seventh player in NBA history to accomplish that feat, joining Elgin Baylor (1958-59), Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60), Oscar Robertson (1960-61), Walt Bellamy (1961-62), Alvin Adams (1975-76) and Michael Carter-Williams (2013-14). 

Not surprising, but each of the previous six won the Rookie of the Year Award. 

Playing at a level few rookies have before him, Ball is the early frontrunner to win this season’s award. 

Good thing for him the trophy isn’t handed out after one game. 

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Warriors’ Draymond Green ejected for yelling at . . . a teammate?

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Warriors' Draymond Green ejected for yelling at . . . a teammate?

Warriors forward Draymond Green was on the receiving end of a horrible technical foul call Thursday night. To make matters worse, it was his second tech of the game, which meant he was ejected. 

Why was the call so bad? Because Green was yelling at a teammate, rookie James Wiseman, rather than an official or an opponent when he got T’d up.

Green was incredulous as he got the news during Golden State’s game against the Knicks.

Oddly, neither of the other two officials chose to confer with colleague John Butler and make sure the second-quarter technical was legitimate. They, too, had to have heard what Green was yelling inside the empty Chase Center.

MORE: Wiseman impresses Kerr with ‘Giannis play’

Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters after the game that one of those other officials, Ben Taylor, told him at halftime that Butler thought Green was yelling at him and not Wiseman.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was just happy to see Green gone.

“Draymond, we caught a break when he got thrown out,” he said postgame, per The Associated Press. New York won the game 119-104. 

The NBA can decide to rescind Green’s second technical once it gathers all the information about it. Based on the Warriors’ reactions and Taylor’s reported admission, expect that T to go away quickly on Friday. Too little, too late, but at least some justice will be done after Green was done wrong by the officials.

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NBA trade rumors: Cavaliers to send Kevin Porter Jr. to Rockets following outburst

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NBA trade rumors: Cavaliers to send Kevin Porter Jr. to Rockets following outburst

The Cavaliers have found a taker for Kevin Porter Jr.

Cleveland is trading the second-year wing player to the Rockets, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported late Thursday. It will receive a protected second-round draft pick in return. The Associated Press reported the deal was pending NBA approval.

MORE: Cavs’ Sexton beats Nets’ Big 3 in double OT

The Cavs decided to move Porter after he threw a tantrum over the team giving his locker to newly acquired veteran Taurean Prince and moving him to another part of the locker room. The Athletic reported the Jan. 15 outburst included Porter throwing food and being “combative” during an argument with general manager Koby Altman.

Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff on Monday spoke of Porter as a soon-to-be-former member of the organization.

“We all want to see Kevin be successful,” Bickerstaff said, per The Athletic. “I still feel that way. So whatever it is that happens in the future for him, I hope nothing but the best for him. And it’s part of our responsibility as coaches to give everyone our all and try to make the best of every situation. I can say that we did that.”

Porter did not play for Cleveland this season because of unspecified personal issues. He was charged with weapon and drug offenses last November in Ohio following a car crash. Prosecutors later dropped the charges, ESPN reported. 

He played in 50 games (three starts) for the Cavs last season as a rookie, averaging 10.0 points and 3.2 rebounds. 

Houston will waive injured guard Chris Clemons to make room for Porter on the roster, Feigen reported.

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Blue Jays preparing to play home games in Florida if necessary, report says

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Blue Jays preparing to play home games in Florida if necessary, report says

The Blue Jays are making contingency plans in the event the Canadian government prevents them from playing home games in Toronto at the start of the 2021 MLB season because of COVID-19 concerns.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday that the club is looking at its spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., as a possible alternate site and that the Jays and Dunedin officials have held preliminary discussions about holding regular-season games at TD Ballpark.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Jan. 12 that the Canada-U.S. border would remain closed to nonessential travel through at least Feb. 21, and on Jan. 16 Ontario extended emergency measures within the province through Feb. 19 as the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase.

MORE: New stadium to replace Rogers Centre in Toronto, report says

“We would welcome the opportunity if they were to open their season here,” Vince Gizzi, Dunedin’s parks and recreation director, told the Times. “It would just be wonderful for our city, if they were restricted from going in and out of Canada, that they could play here.”

The Jays were forced to play their entire 60-game schedule last year in the U.S. after Canada prohibited them from playing at Rogers Centre amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The team played its home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., the home of its Triple-A minor league affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, beginning in mid-August. The Bisons’ 2020 season had already been canceled, making the stadium available to the Jays full time. 

The Bisons are scheduled to resume playing there next spring, although the exact opening date is unclear because MLB is still deciding when to begin the 2021 minor league season.

Dunedin is also home to Toronto’s affiliate in the Single-A Florida State League, but the Times speculated that any scheduling conflicts could be resolved by having the minor league team play on one of the fields adjacent to the stadium inside the Jays’ complex. The parent club’s home opener is scheduled for April 8. 

MORE: Blue Jays’ free-agent moves assure AL East respectability

The Times noted that MLB and the MLB Players Association would have to approve moving games outside Toronto. 

The NBA’s Raptors are dealing with a similar prohibition. They’ve moved their home games this season to Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., home of the NHL’s Lightning. Dunedin is about 30 minutes west of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The Maple Leafs are playing their home games at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto but are not scheduled to leave Canada in the regular season. The NHL placed all seven of its Canadian teams in one division for the 2021 season and are having them play just each other, with games taking place entirely within Canada.

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