The New Orleans Hornets spent this summer completely revamping a team that finished 21-45 last season. In fact, shooting guard Eric Gordon is the only member from last season's opening-day starting five who will return this year, and he only played nine games for the team last season.
The new-look Hornets are younger, more athletic and have significantly more potential than the team that plodded its way to a .318 winning percentage a year ago. Veterans like Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack and Trevor Ariza were sent packing and replaced with a new regime led by No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis.
In 2011, the Hornets were a league-owned franchise forced to trade away its cornerstone in point guard Chris Paul.
In 2012, New Orleans is under new ownership and have been among the league's most active teams this summer with deals for big men like Robin Lopez and Ryan Anderson as well as their most recent signing of veteran shooting guard Roger Mason.
All of the new pieces give head coach Monty Williams a lot of options in terms of how he can attack opposing teams. The rotation has quite a bit of positional flexibility, and that kind of versatility will allow Williams to go with a number of different lineups.
Here, now, are five ways that Monty Williams can maximize his new-look franchise.
In the short term, trading away Jarrett Jack to Golden State opened the door for backup Greivis Vasquez to show the team what he can do as the team's new starting point guard.
The long-term impact of Jack's departure, however, is that it allows more minutes for rookie Austin Rivers to get acclimated as the team's point guard of the future.
Rivers' performance in the Summer League was subpar. He only played in two games and didn't shoot particularly well. Some are skeptical as to whether he can handle being an NBA point guard after being a shooting guard at Duke. Regardless, the potential of pairing Gordon and Rivers together is worth the risk.
Both men are dynamic scorers who can create their own shot and are deadly from behind the arc. With both on the court at the same time, it keeps defenses honest and takes away the double-team out of fear that doubling one will get them burned by the other.
The Rivers-Gordon tandem is going to take some time to work out. Rivers was a shooting guard at Duke, and he never averaged more than two assists a game in his only season with the Blue Devils. He'll need to learn to facilitate and make those around him better, especially Gordon.
Still, having two guys who can create offense can't hurt for a team that doesn't have many scorers. With Jack out of the picture, the door is open for Rivers to be one of the franchise's cornerstones.
It's far from a lock to work out, but if it does, New Orleans will have one of the most devastating young backcourts in the league.
While the trend these days seems to be going away from the old-school way of dominating the glass with bigs, and instead, utilizing a quicker, smaller lineup, that doesn't mean the old way needs to fall by the wayside.
With the additions of Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez, the Hornets could trot out a frontcourt lineup with three guys 6'10" or taller. With his shooting ability, Anderson could easily play small forward with Anthony Davis taking the other forward spot and Lopez entrenched at center.
While not ideal against smaller lineups, the trio is young and athletic enough to be adequate defensively against teams that choose to play small ball. Any guard underestimating this lineup will find out the hard way when Davis chases them down and swats their shot into the third row.
Offensively, smaller lineups aren't going to be able to defend three big men at the same time, two of which being capable shooters. New Orleans' big lineup would have a significant advantage on the boards as well. Anderson put up solid rebounding numbers with Magic last season, and Davis was a monster on the glass at Kentucky.
Adding Anderson and Lopez were moves made to keep Davis at the 4 until his body matures and becomes big enough to handle the physicality of playing on the interior in the NBA. The Hornets are one of the few teams that could get away with playing three big men at once.
It's not a move they should consider permanently, but it's something worth trying out. The advantages on offense and on the glass far outweigh the slight disadvantage they would have defensively. Davis is an elite shot-blocker who can keep opposing offenses honest on the break and is a good enough athlete to run guys down if he has to.
The big lineup with Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez flanking Anthony Davis is intriguing, but in a pinch, the Hornets could shift Davis to center and go with a smaller lineup to counter opponents if the big lineup flops.
The team can go with Anderson at power forward, defensive specialist Al-Farouq Aminu at the 3 and a backcourt of Eric Gordon and either Greivis Vasquez or Austin Rivers at the point. While Davis doesn't have the ideal bulk to play center this early in his career, his long arms and defensive acumen will allow him to hold his own.
Aminu can lock down defenders, and Gordon and Rivers can wear defenses out running up and down the court. It's a solid Plan B for Monty Williams. Davis can run the court well and finish around the hoop with alley-oops or plays close to the basket.
Meanwhile, Gordon, Rivers, Vasquez, and even Anderson, can pick defenses apart from long range. It gives the offense versatility and still allows them to defend small lineups without wearing down the bigs.
The most successful teams in the NBA are the ones that possess a stopper who can shut down their opponent's best player. The Spurs did it with Bruce Bowen. The Kings did it with Doug Christie. The Lakers had Ron Artest. The Heat had Shane Battier (although, LeBron James is an excellent defender as well).
For the Hornets, that guy needs to be Al-Farouq Aminu. The team played better defensively down the stretch last year thanks to Monty Williams opting to start Aminu ahead of former defensive ace Trevor Ariza.
Since then, Aminu has went on a defensive rampage playing in the London Olympics for Nigeria. He was a shot-blocking machine in exhibition games and has kept up that pace once the games started to count.
As the Hornets' new starting small forward, New Orleans could put the 6'9" Aminu on the opposing team's best player and allow the others to focus on offense. Aminu doesn't offer much offensively anyway, so it's worth sacrificing his shots in exchange for making life harder on opponents' best scoring threat.
Aminu has great athleticism and length, and he can play even play power forward if needed to. He's the type of lockdown defender contending teams need in their starting lineup. The Hornets already have a top-notch defender inside in Anthony Davis. With Aminu in place, the Hornets could be one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Most of the highlights you're going to see of phenom Anthony Davis in London will be scintillating dunks and him emphatically blocking shots.
However, an underrated part of Davis' game is his solid jump shot. While Davis' mid-range game isn't Tim Duncan-esque by any means, it's decent enough to warrant the team drawing up some plays that will allow him to score outside of the paint.
Having a big man who can keep defenders from crowding the paint by banking 10-footers off the glass is an excellent weapon to have and will make the paint more spacious for center Robin Lopez. At Kentucky, Davis had a 62.3 field goal percentage, but his true shooting percentage was around 65 percent.
Davis also hit a couple of threes at Kentucky and showed off his shot in his Olympic debut in a exhibition game against the Dominican Republic.
The team will have to work closely with Davis to fine-tune his jumper to make it a bit more reliable, but it's good enough to be a viable part of his arsenal. In time, Davis could develop a baby hook or maybe even become as deadly with a mid-range jumper as "The Big Fundamental."
Still, having a young power forward who can get his points doing things outside of throwing down dunks and rolling in layups will pay dividends for this new Hornets offense.