After over a month on the sidelines due to a wrist injury, LaMelo Ball returned to action on Saturday night in the Charlotte Hornets' 107-94 win over the Detroit Pistons. Inserted right back into the starting lineup, it didn't take Ball long to remind everyone why he was the front-runner to win Rookie of the Year before getting hurt.
Less than five minutes into the first quarter, the Hornets forced a turnover, but since it took a few seconds for them to corral the loose ball, it seemed like their chance for a quick fast-break the other way was gone. And really it should have been except for the brilliance of Ball. He took one dribble, looked up and tossed an underhand lob the length of the court. It floated over the Pistons' entire defense and landed right in the hands of Miles Bridges, who converted the easy layup as the Hornets' announcer lost his mind. You can see the pass below:
This alternate angle from the baseline camera gives a really cool view of how Ball flung the pass:
This is just an unbelievable pass. The vision to see Bridges running out ahead, the bravery to actually throw the pass, the touch to drop it perfectly into his teammate's stride, all of it is a perfect example of Ball's elite playmaking ability. He might still be a rookie, but there are very few players in the league who could pull this off regardless of age or experience.
Everyone was excited about Ball's return, and we knew we were going to get some highlights sooner or later. But no one could have expected something like this. Some moments of rust and over-eagerness aside, Ball picked up pretty much right where he left off prior to the injury, and finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in 28 minutes of action. After the game, Ball downplayed the pass and explained that he gained the skill and confidence to make such a play while he was growing up.
"It kind of felt normal, I'm not even going to lie to you," Ball said of the pass, via ESPN. "Just playing. When we was young, it was pretty much passes like that every play."
While Ball was nonchalant about the play, his head coach was a little more impassioned as he compared the rookie guard to one of the league's most skilled passers in recent memory.
"Maybe we should be teaching the Melo underhand flip," Hornets coach James Borrego said. "He's the only guy I know [who can do that]. Maybe [Manu] Ginobili would have thrown that, as well. I've seen Manu throw some crazy stuff out there. I put Melo in that same Manu category ... It was a breath of fresh air just to have that jolt back in the gym for us. They love playing with Melo. You could feel it. The first quarter, the second quarter, it just naturally came back to us."
Ball's return to on-court action will provide a big boost for a Hornets team that is currently in the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with just a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season. NBA fans in general should be happy, too, because Ball's return means that there will be more highlights coming, like the underhand pass he pulled off against the Pistons.