Rookie of the Year frontrunner LaMelo Ball suffered a right wrist injury in Saturday night’s contest with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Hornets star took a hard foul and braced his fall with his right hand, resulting in a fracture. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday that, barring a miraculous recovery or misdiagnosis (Ball is seeking a second opinion), Ball’s season is likely finished.
This has the effect of a shockwave throughout the league. Here’s everything that’s affected in the wake of the injury:
Rookie of the Year
Almost immediately after the news broke, Timberwolves point guard D’Angelo Russell tweeted out that teammate Anthony Edwards would win the award. Edwards has been on a tear recently. In his last 5 games, he’s averaging over 30 points per game. However, the tweet, and Edward’s candidacy, likely refers to a lack of LaMelo Ball in the race. But is Ball really out?
ESPN Senior Writer Kevin Pelton believes Ball can still take home the hardware. Games played matters less for Rookie of the Year than other awards. Kyrie Irving won while playing 77% of games. Brandon Roy won with 70% and Patrick Ewing with 60%. Ball, if he doesn’t suit up again, will have 57%. Joel Embiid placed third with just 38% and last year, Zion Williamson placed third with a paltry 33%.
Ball holds a massive lead in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) over all rookies. His 4.2 dwarfs Immanuel Quickley’s 1.8- his closest competitor. Anthony Edwards, the top pick from the draft, has a -1.2 WAR.
Ball has a real plus-minus of 2.6- the only positive RPM of the top 5 draft picks. He leads all rookies in the category. His traditional stats also paint a pretty picture. He leads all rookies in points, rebounds, and assists. That won’t hold up, but it could be enough that he’s built up a lead big enough to coast to the finish line.
Whether or not Ball wins the award, this injury does open the door for others, like Quickley, Edwards, James Wiseman, or Tyrese Haliburton, to compete. It will be interesting to see how the voters react if Ball is unable to further his campaign.
As it currently stands, the Hornets are 8th in the Eastern Conference with a 20-21 record. They just endured a brutal three-game stretch out West, the Nuggets, Lakers, and Clippers, resulting in the slip to just below .500. They’re just 1.5 games out from 4th place, and hold tiebreakers over three of the four teams above them. However, without Ball, their playoff hopes take a drastic turn.
This is not to say that the Hornets are lost without Ball. Devontè Graham proved last year that he can handle a starting role. He is top 10 in the league with a near 5 RPM. He’s a good player. But re-inserting him into the starting lineup hurts depth and hurts the bench unit. The backup point guard, rather than being Graham, is Grant Riller, an untested rookie. The lineup that already lacked firepower is now down one of their most explosive players. Ball made everyone around him, especially Miles Bridges, better. We’ll see how they play without him.
If Ball was healthy, it would make sense for the Hornets to consider making a playoff push. They could reasonably be the 4th seed and host a playoff series, so a trade would’ve been helpful. They’ve been linked to Nikola Vucevic, Andre Drummond, and Myles Turner and any one of those would’ve made them a lot more dangerous.
The loss of Ball makes any trade way less likely. The Hornets are likely to stand pat and let the chips fall where they do. If anything happens, it’ll likely be an expiring contract (perhaps Cody Zeller) for picks. A lottery pick to pair with Ball next season is probably a good thing to shoot for. Tanking is out of the question, but are the Hornets, sans Ball, good enough to get a playoff spot? And if so, are they good enough to contend, thus making a trade a real possibility? Probably not.
Speaking of the playoffs, the Eastern Conference has a bit of a logjam. The Raptors, Bulls, Pacers, Hornets, Heat, Knicks, Celtics, and Hawks are all within five games of the 4th seed. The Hornets were holding a stiff-arm on the Raptors, Bulls, and Pacers, but without Ball, is that still going to be the case?
Are a Ball-less Hornets better than the Zach Lavine-led Bulls? How about the underperforming Pacers? Former champion Raptors? The list of teams the Hornets are definitively better than in the East dwindles without their star point guard.
The Hornets were light years ahead of their development. Playoffs weren’t supposed to be in the question, yet now it feels like a foregone conclusion that’s been ripped away from the players and fans. The Hornets were good this year, and they were fun, too. Now, both those things have taken a hit.
Ball’s infectious style of play affected everyone on the roster. The Hornets still have good players, Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward can attest, but without their frontman, things will come to a lot harder in the final 31 games.