CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LaMelo Ball thought he would become NBA Rookie of the Year long before he joined the league.
That belief became a reality Wednesday night as Ball’s versatility as a passer, scorer and rebounder earned the Charlotte Hornets point guard the honour despite missing 21 games with a fractured wrist.
Ball was the runaway winner, receiving 84 of the 99 first-place votes to beat out finalists Anthony Edwards from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Tyrese Haliburton from the Sacramento Kings. Edwards received the other 15 first-place votes. The award was determined by a global panel of 100 writers and broadcasters who cover the league.
"Honestly, way before the league when I was playing basketball and they were talking about the NBA stuff, that is when I knew when I’m a rookie that is one of the accomplishments I can get," Ball said.
His teammates took to social media to congratulate him with Gordon Hayward tweeting "Rookie of the year, and well deserved. Huge congrats @MELOD1P! Can’t wait to get out on the court with you again. Just the beginning!"
The 6-foot-7 Ball was selected third overall in 2020 after playing professional ball in Lithuania and Australia.
He led all rookies with averages of 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game and was third with 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds.
He made an immediate impact with the Hornets, becoming the youngest player in the NBA history to have a triple-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in just his 10th career game on Jan. 9 against the Atlanta Hawks.
"A 19-year-old rookie does not look like this," Hornets coach James Borrego said after the game. "This is rare what you’re seeing."
Ball continued to shine after that.
He went on to claim the NBA Rookie of the Month honours three times before injuring his wrist on March 20. The Hornets initially thought he would miss the remainder of the year, but Ball returned to finish the season and help the Hornets earn a spot in the play-in tournament.
Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, was tops among rookies in scoring at 19.3 points per game including 23.8 points per game after the All-Star break.
Ball’s stellar court vision was on display early on with some highlight-reel alley-oop passes to Miles Bridges, and it only took 20 games before he was inserted into the starting lineup for good.
From there, he established himself as a major piece that owner Michael Jordan can build around in Charlotte.
"I think Melo has adjusted to the NBA game better than any of us ever thought this early in his career," Jordan told The Associated Press in March via email in March. "He has exceeded our expectations."
Ball said he spoke to Jordan after learning he’d won the award, but declined to comment on his conversation with the six-time NBA champion.
During February, Ball averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game in 13 games, joining LeBron James and Luka Doncic as the only teenagers to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in at least 10 games over a calendar month.
Ball is the third player in Charlotte history to win Rookie of the Year honours, joining Emeka Okafor and Larry Johnson.
Ball said he didn’t worry about his shortened season affecting his chances of winning the award.
"I feel like if you have seen somebody for 51 games you know what you are getting at the end of day," Ball said.
General manager Mitch Kupchak said he’d like to see Ball add more size this offseason to keep up with more physically imposing players. He said he has no doubt Ball will put in the work, calling him a "gym rat."
"I’m looking forward to next season and trying to get better," Ball said.
Ball said his ultimate goal is to win an NBA championship and become a Hall of Famer.