Sitting on the bench in expensive tracksuits and watching all the action unfold in front of him isn’t exactly how PJ Washington would have preferred to spend the past two weeks.
A hyper-stretched left elbow suffered on November 3 sidelined Charlotte Hornets’ tall man, an injury extensive enough to keep him out of the last seven games. Although he has trained twice this week, he is not quite ready yet. That number will drop to eight when the Hornets (9-7) host Indiana (6-10) on Friday night in their four-game homestand final.
Until he’s back on the pitch, Washington will do the same as everyone else: wait and see what LaMelo Ball has up his sleeve for a recall following the string of notable outings he’s had. do lately.
“LaMelo, he’s just a great player,” Washington said Thursday. âHe can dominate the passing of the ball, he can dominate the rebound of the ball, he can dominate the marking of the ball. Few guys in this league can do it as a point guard. So for him to be so young and already able to do what he does is just great.
âHis future is bright and he will only go where he wants to go. So for him, I’m glad he’s on my team. Fourteen assists (Wednesday) night, I think he had 17 rebounds the other night and he can score with the best of them. So being this young and doing all of these things is unheard of. “
Ball is a potential triple-double of walking – or running in his case – every night. He averages 18.8 points, 7.5 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game.
With his talent for scoring, his ability to anticipate opposing passes and his fearless approach to wiping the glass, he finds a variety of avenues to leave his mark on the action. It even raises eyebrows or two with his coach, signaling the 20-year-old’s steady improvement in less than a full calendar year with the franchise.
âI saw the flights while watching his draft film,â said James Borrego. âHe played a lot. He was passing a little in the passing lanes. It was his instinct there. So that didn’t surprise me. I think the bounce, especially having 50-50 balls versus 7 feet in traffic, I didn’t see that much on the movie.
âI saw some of the passing lane stuff, though. I thought it would translate. We had to back it up a bit too much sometimes. But I think the 14 assists don’t surprise me as much as the 17 rebounds the other night. For a leader, you don’t see that too often. I don’t know the last point guard who had 17 rebounds. It was the biggest surprise for me.
Russell Westbrook of Los Angeles accomplished it most recently, winning 19 against Indiana on May 8 while with Washington. Ball has yet to hit that number, but it could be a plateau he can climb given his talent for breaking glass.
âHe steals rebounds sometimes,â Washington said with a laugh, âbut most of the time when he gets rebounds, we push in transition and we shake things up. So I think being with him is just that. awesome. He does everything on the floor that you want a point guard to do. He makes winning plays, he involves his teammates and he does it at such a young age. So like I said, it’s never seen.
To help curb some of the mistakes that plagued him early in the season – like fouls and turnovers – and also show him where he excels, Borrego meets Ball at least twice a week individually. This is if the schedule allows it with travel and other factors. One of the many tasks on Borrego’s checklist is to work closely with Ball every week.
The two have their personal film sessions lasting around 20 minutes where Borrego goes over some of the finer details with Ball. Spending time together is essential to Ball’s development.
âIt’s really a matter of decision making,â Borrego said. âIt really is. âWhat do you see here? What are your readings here? What do you think of this game offensively, defensively? ‘ Part of it is responsibility, and part of it is just: “You are in the right position, you are in the wrong position. âI show him positive points, I show him areas for growth. These are not all areas of concern to me.
âI like showing him as much positive as I show him areas for growth. It is important for a young person. They have to see themselves doing it right, and he’s doing a lot of things really well. So I want to honor that and I want to show her those clips as well. ”
This includes when Ball bets pay off. Even if it does cause a backswing or two every now and then.
âThen you look the other way as a coach and you feel good,â Borrego said. âBut there are times when you can’t overdo it. And that’s something I learned. I remember seeing Manu (Ginobili) doing the same with Pop (San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich). And sometimes you want to pull your hair out and in the next breath he makes the game that wins the game for you.
“So it’s the balance and I think Melo understands the time, the score, the situation, ‘When I might get a chance.’ I think right now I must be wrong about (being) a little more solid right now, especially in our defense in the half court. Not taking too many risks. But what makes him special are his plays instinctive.
And as Ball learns when to be aggressive and the appropriate opportunities to fall back and be more conservative, it will push his rise to even higher heights.
âI trust him right now,â Borrego said. âA lot of those conversations happen in the game. If he’s doing too much or if the chances are too high. … if he throws too much in the double blanket, that can be a problem. There will be instances throughout every game where he will go and try to make plays. And I agree with that. We just can’t have them at the wrong time and have too much.
âAnd it’s that balance that I have to walk with him. Again, I will watch the movie with him (Friday) morning. We will examine his decision-making, on the ball, outside the ball. And it really comes down to his decision making. And I can see him thinking about it every time his instincts want to play more games. But I see growth from him: âNow is not the time. So it is important. As long as he is aware of that, and we grow up and tackle him in the game or after the game, he will only improve in this area in the future. “
This story was originally published November 18, 2021 6:34 pm.