LaMelo Ball may be a rookie, but he is already the most creative passer in the league today. The regularity with which he throws no-look behind-the-back passes can only be described as a modern-day homage to Jason Williams (aka White Chocolate).
From full-court touchdown passes to left-handed lobs to an unbelievable full-court underhand pass, Ball can throw the basketball to any spot on the court from seemingly any angle. The guard’s passing has become so much of a threat that the rest of his game has started to open up.
Many may not be able to shake the image of his father or his internet celebrity status, but he sees the game unlike anyone else in the NBA. In an era when big playmakers are highly coveted, LaMelo has a path to becoming one of the best players in the game someday.
When he broke his wrist in March and was supposedly out for the season, the entire league took a collective sigh. Ball had been easily the best rookie up to that point while leading one of the NBA’s most fun teams to the playoffs.
After making a miraculous recovery, LaMelo is back and, like a professional wrestler, jumping off the top rope to reclaim Rookie of the Year honors. Ball has made some marvelous plays since his return, adding to his already stellar portfolio of highlights.
Sports Illustrated ranks LaMelo Ball’s top seven plays of the 2020–21 NBA season.
7. Spin move into a three-pointer
Ball loves using his spin move in all manner of ways. Although he seems to handle contact well, LaMelo also has an arsenal of tricks in his bag that allows him to be pretty slithery and finesse his way to open looks.
A perfect example is his spin move three-pointer against the Raptors. Many players would have taken the three when Ball initially got a clean look and tried to draw contact from the trailing defender. Ball instead pump-faked into a spin move, which allowed him to bury the open three.
6. One-handed no-look pass to Cody Zeller
Ball’s passing is his bread and butter. He has gotten so good at it that defenders now hesitate to help, knowing the point guard has great court awareness and can deliver the pass through any crevice.
Here, LaMelo got past Pat Connaughton and appeared to have an open lane until Brook Lopez stepped in front. The Hornets guard, using just one hand, picked up the ball as if he might try a layup but instead twisted his arm and fired it to an open Zeller for a dunk.
5. Full-court pass to Terry Rozier
With Kevin Love in basketball purgatory for the time being, LaMelo may currently be the league’s premier outlet passer. The 6' 6" guard is big enough to come down with defensive rebounds, averaging almost six boards per game currently, and talented enough to find guys in transition.
Ball, on this play, grabbed Goran Dragić’s miss at his own baseline with just four seconds left in the half. He found Rozier quickly and in stride so that his teammate had enough time to lay it in. Whether that pass was overthrown or underthrown, the Hornets likely would have lost the ball or not score.
4. Putback dunk over Domantas Sabonis
Ball may never be as good athletically as Anthony Edwards or James Wiseman, the two players taken ahead of him in the 2020 draft. However, his speed and leaping ability combined with his size and court awareness are still enough for some great dunks.
Like, for example, his putback dunk over Sabonis. LaMelo first saved an errant pass from one of his teammates. Then, he recovered in time to see Devonte’ Graham’s drive to the hoop and position himself for the offensive rebound. Sensing the rest of the Pacers were ball-watching, Ball seized the opportunity and posterized Sabonis on the putback.
3. Reverse-spin bounce pass to Rozier
The greatest aspect about LaMelo’s game is the effect he has on his teammates. Guys know that if they run hard and fill the lane in transition, more often than not their rookie point guard will locate and reward them with some great dimes.
Rozier got through the back line and was open on this play, but a typical lob would be difficult to finish for the 6' 1" guard. Ball instead threw a reverse-spin bounce pass so that it could get through the two defenders and still make it to Rozier in stride, who finished with a reverse layup.
2. Behind-the-back pass to Miles Bridges
Ball and Bridges are one of the most exciting fast-break combinations in the NBA. From lobs to no-look passes to behind-the-back dimes, these two teammates have connected in all manner of ways over the course of the season and have left Hornets announcer Eric Collins, who is notorious for exciting calls, almost without a voice box this season.
This play is just a beauty. LaMelo had Furkan Korkmaz one-on-one on the break and drew him in before throwing a stellar behind-the-back bounce pass to Bridges, who was trailing on the play and finished with a picture-perfect windmill.
1. Full-court underhand pass to Bridges
LaMelo made his return on May 1 from what was supposed to be a season-ending injury. You could tell his teammates were rejuvenated and cutting hard again, knowing their point guard would hit them on the move.
Ball wasted no time in his return to pull off one of the best passes in recent memory. He saw Bridges get behind the defense in transition and threw a jaw-dropping, full-court underhand pass in traffic to find his teammate, who finished the perfect pass with a layup.
The degree of difficulty on this play is just incredible. An overhand throw would likely have been intercepted or sailed over the head of his teammate. LaMelo is probably the only player in the league with enough talent and daring to actually make the full-court underhand pass needed here for his teammate to catch and capitalize on the opportunity.
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