LaMelo Ball is the 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on Wednesday. Ball won the award despite playing in only 51 games due to injury. That is the fourth-fewest games played in the award's history. Paul Hoffman holds the record with 37 during the 1947-48 season, but it should be noted that his team played only 48 games that season. In a traditional 82-game season, Patrick Ewing and Vince Carter tied for the record with 50 games played. Ball is tied with Kyrie Irving just below them. Irving, like Ball, debuted in a shortened season. For Ball, it was because of COVID-19. For Irving, it was the 2011 lockout.
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Ball, the No. 3 overall pick, was so spectacular in his first season that voters overlooked his injury-induced absence. He averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds for the Charlotte Hornets this season, placing him in the top three among rookies in each of those categories. He led all rookies in assists, and his peaks were so high that at times, you could scarcely tell he was a rookie. While he may not be the greatest rookie in NBA history, his passing highlights are unlikely anything any first-year player has ever produced.
Ball started the season coming off the bench, but eventually, he grew so productive that the Hornets could no longer deny him a top job. Eventually, he became a starter and led the Hornets back into the postseason for the first time since 2016 this season. They lost in the play-in round there to the Indiana Pacers, but reached as high as No. 4 in the Eastern Conference standings before injuries to Ball and Gordon Hayward derailed Charlotte's season. If both are healthy next season, the Hornets should be a threat to climb a good deal higher.
Expectations for Ball were sky-high when he entered the league because of his brother, New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, yet the younger sibling exceeded the basketball world's wildest hopes in his first season. Only a year after failing to be selected No. 1 in a weak draft class, Ball looks like a franchise player, and with this award, he's taken the first major step in that direction.