With new players and a new life the New Orleans Hornets are hopeful for new results. After fi nishing dead last in the Western Conference standings last year, the franchise nearly held a second Mardi Gras after winning the fi rst and tenth overall picks in the NBA draft. Those selections, Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, will be counted on as an important part of rebuilding the Hornets from a pretender to a contender. Perhaps most importantly, people in South Louisiana are excited about professional basketball again.
A season ago the Hornets went through many struggles. Their record of 21 wins and 45 losses was proof. From the NBA lockout, team ownership (or lack thereof), losing Chris Paul, rookie head coach, injuries, things were not exactly smooth sailing. Takeoff for the 2012-13 season should be much smoother in terms of perimeter issues. The win-loss record is what matters though. And 21-45 won’t cut it.
“We have added an incredibly talented, athletic big man with great length who is also a proven winner. In getting to know (Anthony Davis), he’s also a high-character kid and someone I look forward to helping develop further,” said Hornets head coach Monty Williams after drafting Anthony Davis fi rst overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Now, just a few months removed from winning an NCAA title in the city, The “Uni-Brow” is back. On paper it appears to be a perfect fi t, a defensive big man with huge potential paired with defensive minded head coach.
In his only collegiate season, Davis won six of the seven major National Player of the Year awards. The Chicago native was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player after leading Kentucky to national title in New Orleans. Who knew? That was only the beginning of the relationship.
At 19, Davis led the nation in blocks (4.65 bpg) as a freshman, while leading his team in scoring (14.2 ppg), rebounding (10.4 rpg) and fi eld goal percentage (.623). He broke school and SEC records as well as the NCAA freshman record for blocks in a season (186). Simply put, he was a defensive animal.
With all of that, the most valuable minutes earned may have been his time working with the gold medal winning U.S. Men’s basketball team over the summer. His game action was mostly mop-up duty, but his time around veteran guys like Tyson Chandler, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant is priceless. At 19 years old he’s still so young, yet so talented.
Davis isn’t the only guy who will be the new face of the franchise. Austin Rivers (6’2”, 200 lbs.) will help share a little part of that role. Drafted 10th overall from Duke after just one collegiate season, Rivers joins the league that he knows very well. His father Doc, head coach of the Boston Celtics, raised his son around the game. Now is Austin’s change to make a name for himself, other than Doc’s son. Rivers averaged over 15 points a game as a freshman for the Blue Devils. Expect him to push for playing time from the start.
Even beyond Davis and Rivers the Hornets are young. Veteran guys like Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, David West and Jarrett Jack are gone. The average age of the team is 24.2 years old. That is young. This is a transition period for the Hornets, be patient. We live in a world of instant gratification.
Don’t forget about Gordon.
Even with the promising rookies, Davis and Rivers, Eric Gordon is the guy. Since being shipped to the Big Easy in part of the Chris Paul trade, Hornets fans have grown impatient with him. The team even went against his wishes and matched the offer sheet from the Suns. He played in only nine games a season ago because of injury. But when he played you saw why the Hornets didn’t want to lose him over the off-season. Gordon, a shooting guard, averaged over 20 points a contest in a Hornets jersey. He played in only nine games. Those are potential super star numbers.
The others must fill in.
Forward Ryan Anderson is a much-needed outside scoring threat that was added to the roster in the off-season. Anderson, a three-point sharpshooter, was 39-percent from behind the arc with the Magic in 2011-12. His big frame (6’10”) and outside scoring threat will cause opposing defenses trouble. That is especially the case when he, Gordon and Davis are on the court at the same time.
Another new face, Darius Miller knows a thing about championships in New Orleans. The rookie Miller (6’8”, 235 lbs.), rejoins his Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis and adds young depth to the roster. Forward Hakim Warrick joins the team from Washington.
Al-Farouq Aminu logged valuable minutes a year ago. He’ll be counted on at the forward position in 2012-13. Alongside Davis, Gordon and Rivers, Aminu should be improved.
Robin Lopez was an off-season addition that adds depth at center if he can stay healthy. Also, Jason Smith (7’0”, 240 lbs) is back. He averaged 10 points, fi ve rebounds last season.
Greivis Vazquez will likely start at point guard. He was a solid back up a year ago to Jarrett Jack. His time could be limited if Gordon and Rivers stay healthy. The Venezuelan averaged over eight points and fi ve rebounds a contest. Xavier Henry is another youngster who logged valuable minutes a season ago, who could see action off the bench for depth and injuries. The addition of Roger Mason Jr. helps with veteran leadership.
Heading into the season the Hornets have an aura of rejuvenation surrounding their franchise. Local ownership, young talent to build an organization around and a defensive minded head coach gives hope to the Hornets faithful. It will be hard for the team to be any worse than it was a year ago. They will have growing pains. There are struggles they must get through to build a consistent contender. Expect an upgrade from the 2012-13 version but this unit is a work-inprogress. The upcoming season is a part of the framework for something better down the road. What they have now are building blocks to get there.
Prediction: (37-45) 4th in Southwest Division, 12th in Western Conference
Photos provided courtesy of Robin Lopez, Larry Murdoch and New Orleans Hornets.