Rumors have linked the Charlotte Hornets with free agent Lonzo Ball. How would he fit next to his Rookie of the Year brother, LaMelo Ball?
LaVar Ball always dreamed of his sons playing together in the NBA. But now it looks like it may be with the Charlotte Hornets instead of the Los Angeles Lakers. Lonzo Ball is currently a restricted free agent and The Athletic’s John Hollinger has reported there is talk of a double sign-and-trade that would send Lonzo to the Hornets, with Devonte’ Graham going back to the Pelicans.
LaMelo Ball won Rookie of the Year and seemingly transformed the fortunes of the moribund Charlotte Hornets with his electric passing and chaotic creation ability. He averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, on a respectable 53.9 true shooting percentage. On paper, there may seem to be too much overlap between him and his brother, but that view misses some key variables about how the Hornets want to play and how Lonzo’s game has evolved of his four NBA seasons.
Lonzo Ball would be a great wing complement for LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets
The first point is that what made the Hornets special last season was not just Ball but the team’s ability to throw multiple ball-handlers at opponents. Even with injuries they still played about 48 percent of their minutes last season with at least two of this group on the floor — Ball, Graham, Terry Rozier, Malik Monk and Gordon Hayward. They kept defenses on their toes with relentless dribble penetration and kickouts, knowing that wherever the ball was swung it was going to end up in the hands of someone who could hit an open jumper or attack against a bent defense to create another, better opportunity.
So the question is not really whether Lonzo Ball can fit with the Hornets as another ball-handler, it’s how his particular skills fit in place of Graham. (For what it’s worth, Malik Monk was made an unrestricted free agent and is likely gone, but the Hornets also drafted James Bouknight, an athletic scoring wing from UConn who will take some of his minutes).
The perception of Lonzo as a shaky shooter has persisted but he made 37.6 percent of his 7.2 3-point attempts per game over two seasons in New Orleans. He ranked in the 73rd percentile in scoring efficiency on spot-up possessions, a category that includes both spot-up jumpers and plays where he drove to score against a closeout. Lonzo is nominally a point guard but he averaged fewer frontcourt touches per game last season than either Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram and only barely edged them out in time of possession. He has increasingly functioned as a secondary creator, someone who can lead and push the ball in transition but just as often works off-the-ball in halfcourt settings.
Plugging Lonzo into Graham’s minutes would also be a big defensive upgrade and give the Hornets additional lineup flexibility because of his size — Lonzo is comfortable defending wings and has five inches on Graham. At points, Graham has looked like an elite 3-point shooter over the past two seasons but his overall 3-point percentages are essentially the same as Lonzo’s.
Basically, when you factor in Lonzo’s defense and comfort with the secondary creator role, you can argue that he’s not just a good fit but a significant upgrade over Graham. And that’s not even counting any brother-to-brother mind-meld chemistry the Hornets would benefit from. Hollinger later clarified that the deal he’d heard about involved Lonzo being rerouted to the Bulls but Hornets fans should be hoping he’s wrong.