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LaMelo Ball Takes Home SI's Breakthrough Athlete of the Year Award

LaMelo Ball took the NBA by storm as a rookie, winning over fans in Charlotte with his dazzling play and swagger off the court. He's even taken things up a notch in Year 2, earning him this year's Sports Illustrated Breakthrough Athlete of the Year award.

Ball is averaging 20 points and eight assists per game while shooting 39% from three, leading the Hornets to an improved 14–12 record thus far. In his young career, he's already earned a reputation as one of the league's best young point guards. The sky is the limit for the youngest Ball brother.

Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year was also revealed during the annual Sports Illustrated Awards Show on Dec. 7, and the Sportsperson honor was just one of the many awards handed out.

SI also announced its Breakthrough Athlete of the Year on Dec. 7, with a number of impressive youngsters up for the award. 

To find the ultimate winner, you can follow the broadcast at 8 p.m. ET across SI's social media channels. The SI Awards Show will also be simulcast by LiveXLive across at least 20 other platforms, including SportsIllustratedAwards.com, LiveXLive, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and Twitter.

Here are the 2021 nominees for Sports Illustrated's Breakthrough Athlete of the Year Award

  • Emma Raducanu
  • Ja'Marr Chase
  • LaMelo Ball
  • Wander Franco

Emma Raducanu

The British star continues to rise in the ranks of women's tennis, securing her first Grand Slam with a US Open title in September. Raducanu's victory was no ordinary major, either. She became the first women's or men's qualifier to win a major title in the Open Era since 1968, a designation earned after a 6-4, 6-3 win over Leylah Fernandez. Raducanu is a qualifier no more at the Grand Slam level. Let's hope to see her competing in major finals again in 2022 and beyond. 

Ja'Marr Chase

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Chase struggled with drops throughout training camp and the preseason, but his immense skill quickly translated when the regular season began. Cincinnati's receiver tallied four touchdowns in his first three professional games, and he enters Week 13 with 50 receptions for 906 yards and eight touchdowns. Chase could very well win Offensive Rookie of the Year by season's end, and he should be an elite target for Joe Burrow in Cincinnati for years to come.

LaMelo Ball

Defenses have found little success trying to slow Ball since he entered the NBA in 2020. Charlotte's dynamic point guard ran away with Rookie of the Year last season, and he's upped his game in 2021-22. Ball enters Wednesday night averaging 19.3 points and 8.2 assists per game. He's shooting 37.8% from three. And if his first 74 professional games is any indication, he'll be a household name for the foreseeable future. 

Wander Franco

Tampa's rookie sensation fit right in at the Major League level in 2021 after being touted as the best prospect in baseball. Franco posted an .810 OPS in 70 regular-season games, and he delivered again in the postseason with two home runs and a pair of doubles in the ALDS. 

Franco earned a 12-year extension in November after his impressive rookie season.

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Along with Breakthrough Athlete of the Year, SI will also recognize:

Candace Parker, LaMelo Ball, Rob Gronkowski, Caeleb Dressel and Suni Lee are set to appear in Hollywood, Fla. on Dec. 7. The event will be co-hosted by DJ Khaled and sportscaster and TV host Cari Champion, with musical performances by 2 Chainz and DJ Irie.