When the Charlotte Hornets signed LiAngelo Ball to play for their summer league squad, critics shouted nepotism. But he has earned his spot.
The 22-year-old may have gotten extra attention because his younger brother, LaMelo Ball, is the face of the franchise. Over the past few years, Ball has had chances with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Detroit Pistons. But this summer has proven to be the best run he has had with an NBA organization.
So what’s gone right for LiAngelo in Las Vegas?
Looking back, scoring has never been a problem for Ball. As a junior in high school, he put up 32 points against Montverde Academy’s RJ Barrett and 31 points against Sierra Canyon’s Marvin Bagley III while averaging a team-high 27.4 points per game en route to a national title.
Then, during his senior campaign, Ball led all California players in scoring and had insane outbursts that reached figures like 72 points (playing against Rancho Christian’s Isaiah Mobley and Evan Mobley – although Evan was still a freshman), 65 points, 60 points, 56 points and 52 points.
Even when he played overseas, Ball was one of the leading scorers on his team during the games he played in Lithuania. He connected on 41.5 percent of his shooting attempts from beyond the arc and he was legitimately one of the most effective shooters in the league.
Ball’s jump shot has ultimately been his calling card at every level of play during his journey through basketball. For even more detailed evidence, we obtained some data of three games Ball played on the AAU circuit for Big Ballers VXT17U as far back as July 2015.
He averaged 1.05 points per possession on his jump shot, which ranked 82nd percentile among competitors on the Adidas Gauntlet.
There was no problem with his efficiency but there were some questions about his skill set as a shot creator. Within this sample size, among his 37 jump shots, only two attempts came off the dribble and approximately 95 percent of his jumpers were catch-and-shoot opportunities.
This trend continued a few years later when he played for Vytautas CBet Prienai-Bristonas. He averaged 1.09 points per possession on his jump shot at that level, which ranked in the 83rd percentile among international players and Top 20 among those in the Lithuanian League who had at least as many attempts in 2017-18.
He showed some improvement with his self-creation as 26.3 percent of his jump shots came off the bounce rather than the catch. Still, that was an overwhelming majority of his looks coming off the catch and set up by his teammates.
Where does that leave him now a few years later during his time with the Hornets thus far?
First and foremost, after three games, his jump shot has actually been more efficient than ever. He is averaging 1.58 points per possession on his jumper, which ranks in the 98th percentile (!) at this point.
That included an absolutely wild half-time buzzer-beater from way downtown against the San Antonio Spurs. He has also managed to find ways to draw contact from his defenders on his three-pointers so he could get to the line for the four-point plays.
🚨 COUNT IT 🚨
— NBA (@NBA) August 12, 2021
Once again, though, he is rarely putting the ball on the floor and only 12.5 percent of his jumpers have come off the dribble. He’s not finishing offensive possessions in other ways, whether it would be basket cuts or one-on-one in isolation, which means defenders will very likely find ways to run him off the line at the NBA level.
Ultimately, his offensive role is still that of an effective floor spacer as someone who needs to be guarded on the perimeter if you don’t want him hitting the open three.
Regardless, most of his possessions are simple stand-still jumpers. It is rare to see him take anything off movement or have a play drawn up for him like a pick-and-pop, dribble handoff, pindown or even shooting off a screen.
The flashes he has had of being able to accomplish that offer insight into his best path to the pros, like this possession against the Portland Trail Blazers:
LiAngelo Ball comes off two down screens and hits the C&S 3 from the top of the key. pic.twitter.com/sSIojSPoDJ
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) August 8, 2021
However, if he is primarily just a catch-and-shoot guy, what else does he provide to his team that can add value at an NBA level?
Even looking back at those AAU games, the box scores all had something in common. Lonzo would record something absurd like 16 assists while LiAngelo would sometimes not record any. During those three appearances, from the tape and stats we saw, the assists he did record were just outlet passes for leak out in transition and never in a set offense.
Overall, his assist-to-turnover ratio was just 0.7 and he didn’t provide a ton of value beyond his scoring.
Then a few years later in 2017-18, he added just 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game during his professional debut when he played overseas. While he was out there, Ball also recorded 1.2 turnovers per game and his assist-to-turnover ratio (0.7) was still not fantastic.
Nowadays, his handle is a bit better as his assist-to-turnover rate (1.0) is better than it ever has been in the past. However, his playmaking still isn’t there as he has just two assists and both have come in the open floor. He showed good instincts on these looks – but there hasn’t been any reason to believe he’ll ever provide even tertiary playmaking.
LiAngelo Ball tips it through traffic for the Nick Richards lay-in! #NBASummer
📺: NBA TV pic.twitter.com/0Id0DWIPgu
— NBA (@NBA) August 8, 2021
Meanwhile, he’s only grabbing one defensive rebound per game and he hasn’t yet recorded a block.
No team is ever going to sign Ball to run their offense and he has never had a reputation either as a glass cleaner or as a lockdown defender. Of course, for him to ever get NBA minutes, he’ll need to add something beyond just an ability as a knockdown shooter.
Even the most elite shooters can’t be one-dimensional and at this point, we’re getting excellent production from Ball but nothing that differs from anything we have seen from him at any other level of play.