LaMelo Ball is Charlotte-bound – Press Telegram

The one-liners began to fly Wednesday evening, almost immediately after the Golden State Warriors took James Wiseman with the No. 2 pick of the NBA draft.

That meant the odds were good that LaMelo Ball was about to become a Charlotte Hornet with the No. 3 pick, which in fact he was. And it also meant that some of those past braggadocious statements from LaVar Ball, particularly the one when he said in his prime he could take Michael Jordan one-on-one, were about to be resurrected.

Jordan, of course, is the principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets, which meant he was about to become LaMelo’s boss.

And here would be a way to resolve two questions at once. I noted on Twitter that if LaVar and MJ were to actually play that one-on-one match all these years later, and if Michael were to win, LaMelo might have to play for free. But the NBA Players Association would rightly frown on that.

So here’s a better idea: MJ and LaVar go at it, and if the Hall of Famer beats Mr. Speak It Into Existence, LaVar has to stay quiet. Think he’d go for that?

Probably wisely, the NBA kept LaMelo’s dad away from the Zoom availability after the selection was made. But LaVar and his wife, Tina, flanked LaMelo on the couch in the ESPN shots leading up to the pick, and LaVar was wearing a cap with the phrase “I Told You So.” One way or another, the message gets out.

LaMelo later confirmed that the Ball home was jammed for draft night, and why not? It was a historic moment. LaMelo as the No. 3 pick and Lonzo as the No. 2 pick to the Lakers in 2017 became the first brothers to be picked in the top five in NBA Draft history. (It was also a big night for Chino Hills High, which had two players go in the top six: Ball and USC’s Oneyka Okongwu to Atlanta with the No. 6 selection.)

“It was beautiful,” LaMelo said. “The whole room was crying. I couldn’t even tell you how many people were there. But when they called my name everybody was cheering, excited. It was a beautiful scene.”

Lonzo’s path to the NBA was straightforward, one-and-done at UCLA before going to the Lakers. LaMelo’s journey was far more circuitous – leaving Chino Hills before his junior season and going from Lithuania’s professional league through an Ohio prep school, LaVar’s short-lived Junior Basketball League and the Illawarra Hawks of the Australia-based National Basketball League, with a reality show and a signature shoe with his dad’s Big Baller Brand added to the mix.

All of that likely prepared him for the NBA in a very different way.

“I feel like these previous experiences made me who I am today,” LaMelo said Wednesday night.

He is a player who inspires debate. Is he creative or overly flashy? Does he have great shooting range, albeit with an unorthodox style, or shameless shot selection and a shot that needs serious fixing? And is his defense flimsy, or nonexistent?

He had decent numbers in Australia (averages of 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists) in 12 games before a foot injury sidelined him, but those didn’t necessarily provide answers.

“He has not had a normal maturation as a player,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said on a conference call last week. “I think going to Australia really helped him, and he really improved and definitely matured that way. But he didn’t have a normal high school experience for a great player and clearly didn’t have a normal experience after high school, but you can’t deny the talent.

“You watch it on tape and … I mean, he’s uber-talented. It’s just going to be a question of fitting into an NBA team, and can he take over as a leader if he’s going to be the point guard, and as a young player how is he going to relate to other players on the team?”

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said on a Zoom session with Charlotte media that it might not be wise to think of 6-foot-7 LaMelo as strictly a point guard, or as Kupchak prefers to call it, “ball-handling guard.”

“Looking at today’s game, there’s a strong argument that the way we played the game 30 years ago is not the way we play today,” Kupchak said. “And you can literally have three ball-handling guards. LaMelo at (6-7), you can look at him as a point wing, perhaps. Who knows how it’s going to play out?

“Clearly, there’s been a lot made the last year or two about position-less basketball in the NBA, so he’s a piece that we’re excited about having.”

He’ll join a group of young players with potential, including third-year pros Miles Bridges and Devonte’ Graham and second-year forward P.J. Washington, and he’ll have a coach in James Borrego who wants to speed up the tempo.

“I love getting up and down,” Ball said. “So if that’s the play style, that definitely fits.”

Kupchak, remember, was part of the “Showtime” Era with the 1980s Lakers. The game is different from what it was then, but fast-break basketball never gets old.

“He has a flair to his game that maybe has some entertainment to it, more so than other players,” Kupchak said. “Having said that, that’s not why we drafted him. We drafted him because of his size, his length, the way he can handle the ball, the way he pushes the ball. Obviously, at 19 years old, we feel there’s a lot of upside there, so we’re very excited.”

Oh, and as for the prospect of playing under the watchful eye of Jordan?

“Straight blessing, for real,” LaMelo said. “I don’t even have enough words to say.”

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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