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DETROIT, MICHIGAN – MAY 04: LaMelo Ball #2 of the Charlotte Hornets drives to the basket against Jahlil Okafor #13 of the Detroit Pistons during the first half at Little Caesars Arena on May 04, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo : Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
In one of the tightest Rookie of the Year (ROTY) races in recent history, LaMelo Ball emerged victorious, capturing the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy for the 2020-21 NBA season.
Ball is the third player to win the annual award with the Charlotte franchise, joining Hornet greats Larry Johnson (1991-92) and Emeka Okafor (2004-05).
Ball racked up 84 first-place votes and earned a total of 465 points from a global panel consisting of 99 sportswriters and broadcasters. Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards gave Ball a close fight, receiving 15 first-place votes and finishing in second place with 309 total points. Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton rounded out the top three with 114 points.
Ball wins award despite having an injury-plagued season
Ball captured the award despite playing just 51 games this 2020-21 season due to injury. That is the fourth-fewest games played by a Rookie of the Year winner in the award’s history.
Paul Hoffman holds the record for fewest games played by a ROTY winner with 37 during the 1947-48 season, but it should be noted that Hoffman’s team played just 48 games that season.
It is important to mention that the current season was shortened to just 72 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, that didn’t deter voters from selecting Ball as the winner, as they were impressed with the rookie guard’s play for Charlotte this season. Drafted third overall by the Hornets in the 2020 NBA Draft, Ball made an immediate impact for the floundering franchise, averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per game for Charlotte this season.
The 19-year-old Ball, who briefly played in Lithuania and Australia before beginning his NBA career, led all rookies in the assists and steals departments despite missing 21 games with a fractured wrist. He captured the imagination of NBA fans with his electrifying play, becoming the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double, recording 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists in just his 10th career game against Atlanta Hawks on January 9.
Ball had a stellar month of February, averaging 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 1.7 steals through 13 games played. He joined Luka Doncic and LeBron James as the only teenagers to record averages of at least 20 points, six rebounds, and six assists in at least ten games over a single calendar month.
Edwards and Haliburton provide stiff competition
He had stiff competition, however, as Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton also delivered outstanding performances this 2020-21 season. Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, initially struggled at the start of the season but finished it with aplomb. He stepped up big time in the absence of D’Angelo Russell in the Wolves lineup, averaging 23.8 points per game after the All-Star break as he made vast improvements on his shooting percentages.
On the other hand, Haliburton proved to be a steal for the Sacramento Kings in the 2020 NBA Draft. Selected 12th overall, Haliburton made those teams who passed on him regret their decision, averaging 13.0 points and 5.3 assists while shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc.
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