Charlotte Hornets rookie LaMelo Ball is set to return after missing 21 games due to a fractured wrist.
Prior to the injury, Ball was the clear frontrunner for this season's Rookie of the Year, posting 15.9 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. His numbers were even more impressive when he became the full-time starting point guard, averaging 19.5 points, 6.2 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 21 starts.
Ball's efforts had the Hornets sitting in sixth-place in the Eastern Conference - in a solidified playoff spot, not in the Play-In Tournament range - and he was more than living up to the hype he had coming into his rookie campaign. The Hornets have gone 10-11 since his injury and find themselves in the No. 8 seed, trying to get back into the top six.
And during that timespan, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Anthony Edwards, has elevated his game to another level. Averaging 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game since Ball's absence, the Minnesota Timberwolves rookie has overtaken the lead for this year's Rookie of the Year race in the eyes of some.
Our NBA.com Staff discusses who they think will be this year's Rookie of the Year.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I still think it will be LaMelo Ball.
Edwards has been electrifying in the second half of the season, and I give him credit for making the most of his opportunity to close some ground on Ball in the Rookie of the Year race since his wrist injury. But don't forget how amazing Ball was in the first half of the season.
At the All-Star break, he led the entire rookie class in points, assists, rebounds and steals. His production translated to wins and his stat line as a starter was one of the biggest reasons the Hornets found themselves in the playoff picture for the first time since 2016.
Yes, he missed over 20 games in an already shortened season, but I truly believe that what he did prior to the injury, combined with what I expect him to do when he returns, is enough for him to take home Rookie of the Year.
As noted in my bi-weekly Rookie Ladder, the lowest percentage of games played by a Rookie of the Year winner was Patrick Ewing in 1985-86, only appearing in 61.0 percent of the New York Knicks' games. Ball has played in 41 games so far this season and if he can get that number to at least 50 games, that would be 69.4 percent of his team's season.
That's hypothetically more than high enough of a percentage of games played for me to consider Ball as Rookie of the Year.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I do think this could go either way, but my gut says LaMelo Ball.
In addition to everything Kyle outlined, Ball has a couple of things going for him: Charlotte was competitive when he was healthy and he has the best all-around numbers of this rookie class. Also, I think games played matters less for Rookie of the Year than it does for other awards. (I'm of the belief that Joel Embiid should have been the Rookie of the Year in 2016-17, not Malcolm Brogdon).
That's not to say it doesn't matter, but if Ball returns and finishes the season having played 50 of a possible 72 games, I think that'll be enough.
Shoutout to Edwards for playing so well in Ball's absence that this is a legitimate debate, though. I was encouraged by his play early in the season and he's been awesome ever since, averaging 20.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals in the 47 games he's started in. He still hasn't been particularly efficient, but a lot of the things he has struggled with are what you'd expect from a 19-year-old who came into the NBA on the raw side. He's going to be special.
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): It's got to be LaMelo Ball.
For me, it's the stat Kyle mentioned right at the end involving Patrick Ewing. Although he's returned, Ball would have got my vote even if he hadn't returned. Simply because he has played at least half the games (41 of 72).
His injury made things interesting, giving Edwards and Sacramento Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton a chance to make up some ground. However, as things stand on his return, he's still my ROY purely based on his all-around contribution to the team's success this season, leading the rookies in nearly every category as pointed out earlier by Scott.
In the 41 games he played, prior to his return from injury, the Hornets went 20-21. That win tally is just two shy of the team's 23 wins last season. Although Ball might not have been the sole reason for the semi-turnaround, he's certainly a huge part of it.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): It's looking like this might end up being a sweep because for me, it's still LaMelo Ball.
There isn't much more that's left to be said about what Ball managed to get done through the first 41 games of his rookie season. I understand the discrepancy of games played and the larger body of work that others have put forth due to their availability but, still…
Ball was named the East's Rookie of the Month for the months of January, February and March, despite being limited to just eight games before the injury that has kept him sidelined.
He was well on his way to sweeping those honours this season.
As those above me have stated, the biggest difference to me is that Ball is contributing to winning basketball and his absence shows just how important he is to the team's success. I get that it's not "Most Valuable Rookie," but if that were the award, Ball would get my vote there, too.
I look at the body of work and truly believe that Ball has done enough to earn the honour.
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