LaMelo Ball turned in his best NBA game on Saturday, scoring a career-high 27 points to go along with nine assists, five rebounds and four steals to lead the Charlotte Hornets to a 126-114 upset victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The numbers are one thing -- Ball has proven early in his career that he's capable of putting up a triple-double on any given night -- but the way that Ball dominated the paint in the clutch exhibited a tantalizing ceiling as a scorer in addition to his playmaking ability.
Ball was aggressive from the start, but in a different way than we're accustomed to. Normally Ball uses his otherworldly vision and passing to get others involved, operating as more of a passer and spot-up shooter in the half-court. On Saturday, however, Ball made it his mission to get to the rim, demonstrating an ability to both finish and draw fouls. He went 6-for-7 from 2-point range, and knocked down all of his career-high nine free throw attempts. For example, instead of settling for a contested pull-up 3-pointer when facing a mismatch against Brook Lopez, he took the slow-footed center to the rim, and finished with a pretty left-handed finger roll.
More importantly, Ball kept that same energy and game plan in the clutch, as he continually attacked the Bucks defense just as it looked like Milwaukee was starting to pull away. Ball re-entered the game with his team trailing 111-110 about midway through the fourth quarter, and sparked a 16-3 run to close out the game. Ball scored seven of the 16 points, including five free throws, and picked up two key steals down the stretch. He even pulled out some James Harden chicanery by extending his arms to draw a foul in the paint.
Ball also made a pivotal and-one layup to give the Hornets all the momentum they needed to finish the game out. We've seen Ball's finesse game around the rim, but this one was particularly encouraging since he went up strong and finished through contact against Khris Middleton.
Ball is averaging just one point per possession around the basket, which is in the 25th percentile according to Synergy Sports Technology, and he entered Saturday night averaging just two free throw attempts per game. If he's able to maintain the aggressiveness he showed against the Bucks, it will only open up lanes for his game-changing passing. Case in point: After the and-one, Ball used quick hands to pick up a steal, drew two defenders in the lane, and found Devonte' Graham for a wide-open dagger 3-pointer.
Just 19 years old with a slight, 180-pound frame, nobody expects Ball to plow his way to the rim every single possession. But the attacking mindset -- getting into the lane to score, not just to pass -- could prove instrumental for Ball's eventual success. It's just one game, but if LaMelo is able to consistently get into the lane and finish around the rim, his potential as an NBA point guard goes through the roof.