The lead-up to Anthony Davis' rookie season is filled with both the expected hype and an unusual patience; whether due to Davis' style of play or defensive bent, fans seem uncharacteristically willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of his development and approach to his initial NBA campaign with an open mind. Much is still expected of Davis in the long run, but with the almost universal acknowledgement of how much room he still has to grow, Davis hardly has the hype that burdened John Wall, much less LeBron James.
There's no problem in that, and frankly more top prospects could (and should) be approached in the same way. Davis undoubtedly will go on to have a terrific NBA career, and that journey begins with his relationship with the 2012-2013 New Orleans Hornets and running mate Eric Gordon. Austin Rivers may be Davis' draft classmate and eventual sidekick, but for the moment Gordon has the honors. The synergy of those two players could have a serious bearing on the entire Hornets franchise, and though we don't yet know which directions Davis' skill set might stretch, we have at least a vague idea of how the two centerpieces in New Orleans might work in the immediate future.
A Two-Man Game
Gordon's last and only pairing of this magnitude pitted him with Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, and many will expect him to share a similar pick-and-roll relationship with Davis in New Orleans. It's certainly true that Gordon can hold his own as a ball-handler in pick-and-roll scenarios, but he shouldn't be expected to work strictly with Davis to form the crux of the Hornets offense.
The fundamental problem is that Gordon is good but not great in these particular situations—capable of supplementing an offense with an alternative look, but hardly deserving of explicit strategic focus. Gordon's vision is simply too limited and his ball-handling a bit too sloppy to warrant running him through pick-and-roll sets on a terribly frequent basis, all of which makes the offensive interplay between Gordon and Davis a bit less direct.
A Straightforward Fix Gone Awry
Given the complications with the Gordon-Davis pick-and-roll described above, the easiest—and most direct—solution would be putting the ball in the hands of another ball-handler capable of running foundational two-man action with Davis, thereby freeing up Gordon to be a threat off the ball. Gordon is an effective outside shooter with good placement instincts, and though he's capable of doing far more than parking in the corner to await a kick-out pass, his optimal role might feature plenty of movement and significantly less ball control.
The problem with that approach for the time being: Monty Williams' insistence on utilizing Rivers as a transitional point guard. Every indication from Williams thus far points to Rivers being a frequently used ball-handler for the Hornets this season, even though there's little reason to believe that Rivers could be successful as a primary playmaker on the professional level. No one expects Rivers or any guard to come into the league fully formed, but his underlying skills and tendencies don't at all suggest that he'll be able to initiate and maintain a high-level offense. Rivers could well buck the odds and become a dynamic threat off the bounce, but for the moment his head-down driving and inability to make next-level passes make him a less-than-optimal floor general as well as a less-compelling alternative to Gordon's sometimes overstretched ball-handling.
Defending Inside and Out
Gordon and Davis make for a far more natural pair on the defensive end, where the rook's very evident defensive chops should blend beautifully with Gordon's tenacious on-ball pressure. Gordon may not have the size of some of the NBA's other top perimeter defenders, but he's nonetheless able to swing between several positions due to his foot speed, instincts and strength. It's going to take some time for Gordon and Davis to feel one another out as a defensive tandem, but in those two players, Williams has the foundation of a versatile and viable defense.
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