This year should have hurt a little extra for LiAngelo Ball. His younger brother LaMelo was just named NBA Rookie of the Year, his older brother Lonzo landed a big contract to be the starting point guard for the Chicago Bulls — and he was languishing without an NBA contract. Sure, there’s no doubt he was happy for his brothers, but the sting of being the middle child struggling where your brothers succeed is a lot to deal with.
The story of the Ball family’s path to the NBA might not be the big “three Lakers” dream father La’Var once envisioned when his sons began entering the league, but a touch of hyperbolic success we were once promised may be starting to come to fruition. Lonzo moved past the early jitters of star expectancy to carve out his place as a solid starting guard in the NBA. LaMelo entered the league with equal parts hype and doubt, but he quickly silenced his critics and proved to be a star in the making while turning the Hornets into must-watch team.
Meanwhile, LiAngelo was functionally out of the game. A short G League stint with the Thunder affiliate, then a Summer League invite with the Pistons that never materialized into a contract appeared to end his NBA dreams. The 6’5” guard didn’t boast Lonzo’s passing gift or LaMelo’s creativity, leaving him in the perfect middle child no man’s land.
How LiAngelo Ball ended up on the Hornets’ Summer League team
LiAngelo finally caught a break with the help of his famous younger brother. A bubble-like Hornets practice atmosphere led to each player being allowed to invite one person into training to work out with them. LaMelo picked his older brother. Watching LiAngelo work out and practice, Hornets brass quickly realized the league may have given up too soon on the other member of the Ball family. LiAngelo was offered a Summer League spot, and little was expected of him from fans. On the outside looking in it seemed like nepotism. Keep the star rookie happy entering his second year, let his brother in. No harm, no foul.
However, all that changed on Sunday night when LiAngelo made his debut for the Hornets against the Blazers and exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. To be clear, it’s not like he lit the world on fire and dropped 30 on Portland or anything like that, but LiAngelo proved he could offer a niche Charlotte was lacking.
LiAngelo Ball NBA Summer League highlights
LiAngelo Ball’s Summer League debut was a huge success:
Ball’s final line: 16 points, 5-of-8 from three-point range, two rebounds, two assists, two steals — in 16 minutes.
The unexpected quality to his game on Sunday was how confident he looked with the ball in his hands. This was not a case of a player who acted scared while facing down a big opportunity. LiAngelo shot the ball well off the screen showing a quick release, he was also eager to chase down rebounds in the paint and create for himself off opportunities. It was the kind of high-energy, impact play you want to see from a player fighting for a roster spot.
On Monday the Hornets played largely flat as a team. LiAngelo wasn’t able to follow up perfectly on his game against the Blazers, but he showed some flashes.
Ball’s final line: 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and five rebounds in 19 minutes.
While not nearly as impressive as his first game, the willingness to make plays on the offensive glass is what stood out. LiAngelo’s highlight moment of the game came on a missed three, which he quickly chased down before dropping a floater in that earned him an and-1. It showed touch in the paint, awareness of the play, and high effort to chase down his own rebound.
Could LiAngelo Ball actually make the Hornets?
There may be an opportunity for LiAngelo Ball to finally find a home in the NBA. Yes, it will be an uphill battle to find a place on the roster, but maybe Ball’s skill set works as a basketball fit in addition to his connection to his brother.
Scoring 16 points in 16 minutes is a heck of a stat, but it’s that 5-of-8 shooting from three that likely got the Hornets’ attention. This offseason the team parted ways with two of its most critical rotational guards in Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk, both of whom were relied on to supply perimeter shooting off the bench. Instead the team decided to overload on athleticism, selecting James Bouknight and Kai Jones in the first round of the NBA Draft, and adding Kelly Oubre Jr. as their marquee free agent. All guys who will support LaMelo Ball and give us plenty of eye-popping highlights this season, but leaving the Hornets woefully lacking in shooting.
As it stands Charlotte really only have four reliable perimeter shooters on their roster: Gordon Hayward (41.5 percent), Terry Rozier (38.9 percent), Ish Smith (36.7 percent), and LaMelo (35.2 percent). The loss of Graham and Monk translates to 5.3 made threes a game off the bench that have to be accounted for, and Ish Smith, especially at age 33, isn’t a player who really likes to shoot from deep.
The opportunity may have been created by his brother, but LiAngelo is doing his best not to squander it. It’s far too early to say he’s “made it,” and there will need to be numerous outings like Sunday night to find a way onto the Hornets’ opening night roster, but keep watching whether he’s draining shots from deep. If this turns into a pattern you might even see the middle Ball child find a home in the NBA.
LiAngelo Ball may never be the star his brothers are, but being the middle child gets you used to being overlooked like that. In the end this might be the best result for him.