Ball topped finalists Anthony Edwards from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Tyrese Haliburton from the Sacramento Kings to win the award, which was determined by a global panel of 100 writers and broadcasters who cover the league. The NBA announced the results Wednesday night.
Ball briefly played in Lithuania and Australia before being taken third overall in the 2020 draft by the Hornets, with his potential as an NBA player still a bit of an enigma.
Any doubts, however, proved to be unfounded, as Ball averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game for Charlotte this season, shooting 35.2% from 3-point range and immediately contributing to winning basketball in a way rookies rarely do.
Despite missing 21 games with a fractured wrist, the 19-year-old Ball led all rookies in assists and steals and made an immediate impact with the Hornets, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in just his 10th career game on Jan. 9 against the Atlanta Hawks.
Haliburton fell to 12th in the draft, where the Iowa State product was happily scooped up by the Kings. He quickly proved that letting him fall that far was a mistake by averaging 13.0 points and 5.3 assists while shooting over 40% from 3-point range and settling in nicely as a long-term fit alongside De'Aaron Fox in Sacramento's backcourt.
Edwards, on the other hand, initially struggled out of the gate after being taken first overall by the Timberwolves out of Georgia. But as the season wore on, Edwards -- who has had a penchant for colorful quotes -- took significant steps forward, averaging 23.8 points per game after the All-Star break and seeing his shooting percentages skyrocket across the board.
Ball's stellar court vision was on display early on with some highlight reel alley-oop passes to Miles Bridges, and it only took 20 games before he was inserted into the starting lineup for good. From there, he established himself as a major piece that owner Michael Jordan can build around in Charlotte.
"I think Melo has adjusted to the NBA game better than any of us ever thought this early in his career," Jordan said in March. "He has exceeded our expectations."
During February, Ball averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game in 13 games, joining LeBron James and Luka Doncic as the only teenagers to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in at least 10 games over a calendar month."
Rookie of the year, and well deserved," Hornets teammate Gordon Hayward tweeted. "Huge congrats (at)MELOD1P! Can't wait to get out on the court with you again. Just the beginning!"
This is the last of the six major individual awards to be handed out by the NBA this offseason. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was named MVP; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was named Defensive Player of the Year, while teammate Jordan Clarkson claimed Sixth Man of the Year honors; and Knicks forward Julius Randle was named Most Improved Player, while Tom Thibodeau won his second Coach of the Year award in his first season in New York.
The league has also announced its All-Defensive and All-NBA teams, with only the All-Rookie teams left to be unveiled.
Like last year, the NBA has done its rollout of the awards during the playoffs, rather than having an awards show at the end of the postseason, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ball is third player in Charlotte history to win Rookie of the Year honors, joining Emeka Okafor and Larry Johnson.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.