Following a 21-game absence due to a fractured wrist, the Charlotte Hornets finally had star rookie LaMelo Ball return to the lineup.
When Ball suffered the injury, not only was he the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, he also had the Hornets sitting in a solidified playoff spot in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
During his time out of the lineup, the Hornets maintained the course by going 10-11 in those 21 games, but they had fallen from sixth to eighth place in the East, trying to hold on to a spot in the "Eight-Nine Game" in the Play-In Tournament.
With Ball back in action, the Hornets got back to their winning ways, coming away with a 107-94 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
It didn't take very long for Ball to pick up right where he left off as a walking highlight reel. In his very first stint back on the floor, the 19-year-old dished out one of the most impressive passes of the entire NBA season, finding teammate Miles Bridges on a full-court, underhand pass.
LAMELO FULLCOURT UNDERHAND DIME 🤯 pic.twitter.com/2G77hbfBIH- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 1, 2021
The dish was so nice, you have to see it twice.
HE'S BAAAAAACCCCCKKKK!! 🕺🛸@MELOD1P | #AllFly pic.twitter.com/VAwujBvjAa- Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) May 1, 2021
And even a full month off couldn't disrupt the uncanny chemistry of the Ball-Bridges tandem, arguably the best alley-oop duo in the league.
Did you miss this duo? Of course you did! 😏@MilesBridges x @MELOD1P #AllFly pic.twitter.com/E87v7wpJza- Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) May 2, 2021
Ball was super unselfish in the first half, only taking five shots in 16 minutes of action. By halftime, he was flirting with a triple-double with seven points, five assists and five rebounds.
He would only play 12 minutes in the second half, partially because the Hornets held a commanding lead. But when the Pistons started to make things interesting, Ball did check back into the game in the fourth quarter to help wrap things up.
The star rookie would finish with a strong stat line of 11 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, two blocks and one steal in just under 28 minutes of playing time. He did shoot 4-for-10 from the field, 1-for-4 from 3 and 2-for-4 from the free throw line, showing some signs of rust on his jumpshot, as you would expect after six weeks off.
This kicks off what should be a final stretch of 10 games (now nine remaining) for Ball, trying to get back on top of the Rookie of the Year leaderboard.
MORE: Will Ball still win Rookie of the Year?
Ball has appeared in 42 of 63 available games for Charlotte so far this season and if he were to play in all nine games remaining, he will have played in 70.8 percent (51-of-72) available games.
At or around that percentage of games should be more than enough to still be considered for Rookie of the Year. For reference, the lowest percentage of games played by a Rookie of the Year winner was 61.0 percent by Patrick Ewing back in 1986.
With Ball already averaging 15.9 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, if he were to close the season playing at the same level we've seen all year, it will be hard to deny the No. 3 overall pick's contributions even with a 21-game absence.
His situation will be worth monitoring if he plays in the second end of the Hornets' back-to-back against the Miami Heat on Sunday.
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