CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LaMelo Ball is thrilled to have a chance to play for the Charlotte Hornets. But the 6-foot-7 point guard is more excited to play for the one of the greatest basketball players of all time in Michael Jordan.
“Man, straight blessing, for real,” Ball said of the six-time NBA champion and current Hornets owner. “I don't even have enough words to say, I'm just blessed."
The Hornets selected Ball with the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft, giving Jordan’s team a player with immediate notoriety and a rookie who can help put fans in the seats once the coronavirus subsides. Ball has amassed more than 5.6 million followers on Instagram — which is 600,000 more than last year’s No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.
“He’s a very young talented player who plays the kind of pace that we like to play,” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “He has a flare to his game that maybe has some entertainment to it, maybe more so than some other players. (But) that's not why we drafted him. We drafted him because of his size and length and the way he can handle the ball and the way he pushes the ball.”
Charlotte later addressed its lack of size by selecting 6-10 centre Vernon Carey Jr. from Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year, with the 32nd overall pick in the draft.
The Hornets then traded their second round in 2024 to the New Orleans Pelicans to acquire Kentucky 7-foot centre Nick Richards, the No. 42 overall pick, according to person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to the Associated Press on Wednesday night on condition of anonymity because the details of the trade have not been announced.
Charlotte also drafted guard Grant Riller from the College of Charleston with the 56th overall pick.
Coach James Borrego said he can foresee Ball on the floor at the same time with Charlotte's current starting backcourt of Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier, the Hornets' two leading scorers last season. Graham averaged 18.2 points per game in his second season, while Rozier averaged 18 points per game after coming over from the Celtics.
Ball said he's all for that.
“I feel like I fit anywhere,” Ball said. “It is positionless basketball. I feel like I can get it and go.”
Kupchak said he envisions Ball playing some point wing alongside four other players who are 6-7 or shorter.
Ball is most comfortable with the ball in his hands and brings exceptional ball handling and court vision to the NBA after averaging seven assists per game last season for Australia’s Illawarra Hawks of the National Basketball League. He finished 17th in the NBL last season in scoring, averaging 17 points per game although he only played in 12 games.
Ball first earned national attention during his freshman year at Chino Hills High School in California where he won a state title playing alongside his older brothers LiAngelo and Lonzo, who now plays for New Orleans Pelicans. Ball left to play professionally overseas after his junior season of high school, first playing in the Lithuanian league and later for the Hawks.
Lonzo and LaMelo are the first brothers to be selected in the top five.
“I feel like I was born to do this,” Ball said.
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Steve Reed, The Associated Press