5 Reasons Future Is Bright for the New Orleans Hornets
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The New Orleans Hornets have something special in the makings. It could easily be said that whichever team landed the No. 1 overall pick in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes would have found themselves in the same luxurious position.
The Hornets have Davis and a bright young cast of stars that has many labeling the Hornets as a "sleeper" team in the Western Conference.
Fans and analysts around the league are making the bold assertion that the Hornets may even find a way to sneak into the eighth seed in the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
It's too early for those types of dreams.
With former Clipper Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, the Hornets have an inside-outside tandem that could potentially develop into the kind of duo that anchors a championship team.
It's early to say such things in light of the fact that Davis hasn't yet played his first NBA regular-season game, and Eric Gordon spent most of last season injured.
But optimism should never be quelled due to uncertainty.
If things develop for the Hornets, they could easily be a Cinderella team by next season. It would be eerily reminiscent of their predecessors, the Charlotte Hornets, who built a contender in short time after coming into the league in the 1988-89 season.
They made the playoffs by their fifth season in the league and upset the Boston Celtics. The notion of going from the ground up to a Cinderella team in five seasons is a reasonable expectation for an NBA team.
Young teams do take time to gel into playoff threats, but within three to five seasons, it's quite possible that this New Orleans team begins to shock and upset teams in the postseason.
It all hinges on how Davis develops offensively and if Gordon can remain healthy and become the perennial All-Star that he was on his way to being prior to the knee injury. It's also dependent upon whether the role players can fill their respective niches to complement the Hornets' main two weapons.
Let's look at some reasons Hornets fans can boast that they have the best and most promising young franchise in the Association.
1) Anthony Davis Is the Best Rookie Big Man Since Dwight Howard
Any guy who can trademark a unibrow is all right by me.
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Anthony Davis was the first consensus No. 1 overall pick since Blake Griffin in 2009 (or since John Wall in 2010, but his stature with scouts was not as high as Griffin's), and the first since LeBron James to draw the "sweepstakes" label with regards to teams praying they land the right to select him.
There hadn't been this much hype to land the first overall selection in nine years, and that lends truth to the "once in a decade" adage regarding franchise players.
They just don't come around that often.
Davis is still raw and will need time to develop. His body is still maturing, and he'll need time in the weight room. But the tools in place to allow him to mature into a premier NBA center are intact. Davis has excellent footwork, the product of growing up playing point guard. Accordingly, he also handles the ball and runs the court extremely well.
The idea that Davis could make the Hornets a 50-win team seems far fetched. The expectations of a David Robinson-like impact lack factual basis. Robinson was more mature (both physically and developmentally) than Davis after fulfilling his Navy commitment and joining the Spurs in 1989-90. It will take time for Davis to mature into the type of player that impacts a team significantly enough to reverse its fortunes entirely.
But that doesn't mean that in time Davis might not mature into a Hall of Fame talent. John Calipari called Davis the best college shot blocker of the last 20 years, and his impact as a defensive player should show from day one. It's the offensive aspects that will take time to refine.
All indications at Kentucky were that Davis had the determination and basketball IQ to learn the game of basketball well enough to succeed at the NBA level. If he is able to continue his current learning curve, he will be a top-three NBA center along with Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum in three seasons.
The potential of Davis is the primary reason the Hornets are a squad on the rise.
2) Ryan Anderson Is Underrated—And Very Good
It's unclear how the Hornets will utilize newly acquired Ryan Anderson.
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The 2011-12 Most Improved Player of the Year, Ryan Anderson came at a huge discount for the Orlando Magic.
A throw-in in the trade that sent Courtney Lee and Tony Battie to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter, Anderson quickly flourished in his second NBA season as he found himself playing in an offense Stan Van Gundy had designed for Rashard Lewis.
Lewis' skill set as a power forward is very comparable to the Cal product's. Anderson became a "stretch-4" for the Magic, camping out behind the three-point arc to launch his silky-smooth jump shot.
Anderson has a quick release and is a high-volume shooter. He's also an excellent rebounder for a player whose leaping ability is no better than average. The Hornets thought enough of Anderson to sign him to a $10 million a year contract in the sign-and-trade that sent Gustavo Ayon to the Orlando Magic.
Anderson will be worth every penny of that.
There are concerns as to whether Anderson can flourish without Dwight Howard commanding double and triple teams to leave Anderson open. After Anthony Davis develops more, however, the effect Anderson experienced in Orlando may be recreated in New Orleans.
Even if that never happens to the same extent, Anderson has improved at creating his own shot, and no longer truly fits the mold of a guy who can only spot up for jumpers.
Anderson has a long way to go in terms of becoming the kind of guy who can be considered a true triple threat (shoot/pass/rebound), but he's still only 24 years old and he's improved dramatically every season in the league.
Once the Magic removed Brandon Bass from the equation, Anderson's minutes skyrocketed from 22 minutes per game in 2010-11 to 32 last season as the primary starter at power forward.
The outstanding statistical production of Anderson should not have been a surprise, because the quality of his play has been at this level for three seasons now.
In fact, he actually averaged more points per minute in his second season in the league, so the precedence set was significant. In other words, people who had seen Anderson play weren't surprised by last year's success at all.
Anderson will play a crucial role in determining whether this Hornets team can get to the next level, and if he continues to develop as a player, he could eventually be the type to make at least one or two All-Star teams before his career is over.
3) Eric Gordon Can Be a Perennial All-Star
Eric Gordon's health is crucial as he is their No. 1 option.
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Eric Gordon has two great things going for him as a player: he's an outstanding athlete and outstanding shooter with a diversified skill set.
Gordon will form the key point of a talented New Orleans backcourt that could pose a lot of problems for opponents this season. He's a great combo guard, which will help as the Hornets attempt to develop Austin Rivers as a prototypical point guard.
Gordon will lower Rivers' usage to a level that won't be as overwhelming for the Duke product, which will aid in his development as a player.
Gordon can also mentor Rivers a little, and show him what it takes to succeed in the NBA. Gordon doesn't have extensive experience himself, because he is still only 23 years old, but he's already played four NBA seasons.
Gordon posted 21.3 points per game in 2010-11 and should be able to better that this season. His PER of 18.56 in 2010-11 could increase to as high as 21, which would put Gordon in elite territory among NBA shooting guards.
Reasonably, Gordon could even be the kind of player to average 25/5/5—a Joe Johnson-like production level on a team that can reach far greater heights than Johnson's Hawks ever achieved.
The talent that surrounds Gordon will enable him to get a lot of quality shots, and he is a career 45.2 percent shooter, a high mark for a player who will shoot in high volume as the primary scoring option this season.
4) Austin Rivers Has Serious Potential as a Closer
Austin Rivers hits the shot of his life so far.
Kevin Garnett is a good identifier of talent, and prior to the draft said to WEEI that Austin Rivers could develop into a true closer in the NBA. He has the talent to finish games, to hit key shots, and he isn't afraid to take them.
Last season at Duke, he hit a huge game-winner against North Carolina (see video) and that kind of greatness will carry over to the NBA stage. He has good isolation moves and great range on his shot, which should enable him to take and make some real daggers late in games.
As Rivers develops, the Hornets may find he is best suited as a shooting guard, but regardless of which position he plays, his talent is going to allow him to succeed just as his heralded father Doc Rivers did.
Doc thrived as a true pass-first point guard, while Austin seems to be more of a scoring point, but he has the court vision to succeed at the one spot. His ball handling is good enough.
All of the tools that could make him a great point guard will render him a successful two-guard if not.
Rivers will be a crucial piece to this Hornets team, despite naysayers who say Rivers both came out too early and was over-hyped coming out of high school. His undeniable skill set and NBA pedigree will lead to success, bet on it.
5) They Have Young Role Players to Develop
Robin Lopez will man the five-spot as Anthony Davis matures alongside him.
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Robin Lopez is not as good as his twin brother Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets, but he is a better defender and plays much harder. His per-36 scoring reveals he could eventually be a double-double threat.
Lopez averages 14.4 points per-36 over his career, in addition to 8.4 rebounds. He also swatted away 2.4 blocks per-36 last season.
If Lopez gets starter's minutes this season, his production could warrant some Most Improved Player of the Year votes— in the same manner that Anderson's per-minute production suggested far greater things were possible.
Xavier Henry is a good athlete with an excellent body for a shooting guard. His shooting just needs a lot of work. He's a good rebounder for a 6''6" guard and averaged five rebounds per-36 last season in his second year since coming out of Kansas in 2010.
Henry's NCAA career was celebrated enough that it made him a lottery pick, so expectations remain high for Henry, and he should be able to become a very productive backup for Eric Gordon.
Al-Farouq Aminu should fulfill the role that Trevor Ariza did during the Chris Paul era. Like Ariza, Aminu's primary asset is his defense and intangibles. His impact isn't really seen statistically (yet?), but he did put up some defensive stats, with 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per-36.
Though the NBA doesn't keep deflections as an official stat, Aminu excels at disrupting offense in the same manner that Andre Iguodala does, who is basically the high upside of Aminu, with a low side more comparable to Matt Barnes.
As to whether he will be more Iggy, Ariza, or Barnes, that really all depends on how hard he works. The trio of aforementioned wing players all achieved success because they were able to play defense first and learn offense second, but only Iguodala made an All-Star team, so it's quite possible that Aminu flies under the radar despite big contributions.
This year's second-round pick Darius Miller may be capable of producing first-round production. As a freshman at Kentucky, he saw 26.1 minutes per game for the NCAA champion Wildcats while producing 9.9 points per game and 2.1 assists per game.
Standing 6'6", Miller has a lanky frame with a 6'9" wingspan, and he has a vertical leap of 37". Draft Xpress gives Danny Green as a best-case scenario and if Miller develops into the same talent Green has with the San Antonio Spurs, the Hornets will have to be very satisfied with what the 46th overall selection brought them.