A whirlwind rookie season is in the books for LaMelo Ball.
What began with him being selected third overall in the draft in November, bringing him to Charlotte in the middle of a pandemic, ended with a crash in Tuesday’s play-in tournament loss to Indiana. There was plenty of happenings in between during a season that was interrupted with him missing 21 games after fracturing his right wrist during a game in his hometown of Los Angeles of all places.
So what has he absorbed most during the last six-plus months?
"The biggest lesson is pretty much knowing we have to come in there every game just with that type of mentality, trying to win and just being ready for it, you know?" Ball said Thursday. "Preparation, just stuff we do before and all that type of stuff."
“Pretty much the whole year I feel like on a whole you can learn from it, take it, move on," he added. "It started out pretty well. Probably didn’t have the type off ending we wanted. But like I said, a learning lesson something we can all remember and take it for fuel next year.”
Ball, who looked like the obvious rookie of the year choice prior to getting injured, gave the Hornets a bit of a lift upon his return after being sidelined. Still, although he showed glimpses on occasion, he didn’t look quite the same during the season's final two weeks.
There was some reluctance at times to let it fly from 3-point range and Ball didn’t deny it was difficult to get comfortable again hoisting shots from the perimeter once he returned.
“The wrist can’t bend all the way,” Ball said. “So just … it’s a little with the follow through.”
He paused, mimicking a shooting form with his hands to illustrate his point.
“But it’s going to get there,” he said. “Just trying to work every day, just getting better every day."
At least now he’ll have a full offseason to fine-tune things and focus on specific areas of growth. The benefits could be immeasurable for the ascension of the 19-year-old, who averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds in the 51 games he logged.
"I think it will help a lot, just building all that chemistry, staying in the gym, getting all those reps up," Ball said. "So I feel like everything I do is going to help for next season."
He also has visions of altering his 6-foot-7, 181-pound frame.
"Mostly just get the body right," Ball said, "get the body stronger."
He said he'll be doing that while bouncing back and forth between Charlotte and his native Southern California. Just don't bank on seeing him participate in the NBA’s Summer League in August. Although the Hornets have had most of their recent draft picks participate in the Summer League following their rookie seasons, that trend appears unlikely for Ball.
Partially because the Hornets want to ensure he’s fully healed and good to go next season.
"It really hasn't been discussed," GM Mitch Kupchak said Thursday. "He got an awful lot of experience this season playing NBA games. I'm not sure how much it would benefit him. It's really more for rookies and players that maybe did not get a chance to play this year. But the thing that would trump that is the state of his wrist, which we think will be fine. So really the first thing is to get him healthy, which I don't think is going to be a problem certainly by August 1. But that's not a decision we've made right now. If I had to guess, like I said, I think that's more for players that didn't get a chance to play this year."
Before Ball's injury and the subsequent one to Gordon Hayward, the Hornets were in the top tier of the Eastern Conference. They had risen to fourth seed and were as many as three games above the .500 mark. But the myriad of bumps and bruises suffered by their key individuals paired with Miles Bridges sitting out for nearly two weeks due to the league's health and safety protocols ignited a downward spiral they couldn't climb out of.
Looking back to when they were whole gives Ball great optimism.
"For sho," he said. "We all know how we can be. I think everybody over here knows what type of team we can be. I definitely feel like we can be that kind of caliber team when everybody is back right."
In other words, he's already looking beyond a simple playoff berth.
"You want to go in every year just thinking championship," Ball said. "If not, why are you playing, what are you even doing? So championship, that’s the mindset you better have."