The early success of the New Orleans Hornets has been one of the biggest surprises of this season. Despite some bad luck with injuries, the Hornets have managed to persevere and will enter their November 14 showdown with the Rockets at 3-2.
New Orleans has yet to have franchise shooting guard Eric Gordon suit up for them this season. After being held out of the preseason to give his knee more time to heal, it appears Gordon is another four to six weeks away from returning to the starting lineup. The team has also soldiered on without No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who missed two games with a concussion before returning on November 9th in a win over Charlotte.
The first two weeks of the season saw New Orleans face four of last year's playoff teams in a row. The Hornets managed to go 2-2 in that stretch, with wins over Chicago and Utah. The win over the Bulls was particularly impressive because it happened on the road with both Davis and Gordon sidelined.
The key for New Orleans has been the emergence of some young role players. Robin Lopez was acquired over the summer to provide help defensively and on the boards, but he has really been a revelation offensively. Lopez is averaging 11 points per game, as of November 12, to go along with his 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu has been solid on both ends of the court as well. He's scoring 12.8 points per game while also leading the team in rebounds (8.6 per game) and steals (2.0 per game). Aminu is also averaging a little over a block per game through five contests.
Point guard Greivis Vasquez has done a great job running the offense, averaging 8.8 assists per game. Prized free agent acquisition Ryan Anderson has picked up where he left off last season with the Magic. He's averaging 15.2 points per game and shooting 35 percent from the three-point line.
The biggest factor in New Orleans' success has been its defense. They are third in the NBA in points allowed, giving up a mere 88.6 per game. They have three players in the Top 25 in blocks, including two in the Top 10. Aminu is tied for 11th in the league in steals.
Of course, you can't talk about the Hornets without mentioning the immediate impact that Davis has had. The time spent with Team USA has really shortened The Unibrow's learning curve, and he's been stellar on both sides of the ball. A concussion forced him out of two games and most of another, but he still leads the Hornets in scoring with 17.3 points per game. He's also averaging 8 rebounds and 2.67 blocks a contest.
It's easy to attempt to wow you with some fancy numbers, but how about some visual evidence?
Let's take a look at each of the Hornets' three wins this season. We'll start with New Orleans' first victory of the season, which came at home against the Utah Jazz. The game came down to the wire, with Vasquez hitting the game-winning layup in the closing seconds.
In the video, you'll see the Hornets lose Davis midway into the second quarter after he's hit in the head by Austin Rivers' elbow. In his absence, other guys stepped up, especially Robin Lopez. Lopez scored 19 points and added 7 rebounds. Late in the highlight reel, you'll see Lopez's aggressiveness on the boards, as well as the team's willingness to feed him the ball inside.
Another guy who was big in that Utah game was Ryan Anderson. The reigning Most Improved Player scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds. He also went 5-for-9 from behind the arc. The fact that others were able to fill the void after Davis went down shows the quality depth this team possess. It is also a good sign of the team's poise that they were able to steal a victory from a playoff team in the final seconds.
The team's next big win came against the Chicago Bulls on November 3rd. With Davis out, the other big men filled in admirably. Robin Lopez scored 16 points and blocked four shots. Jason Smith added 16 points and two blocks. Ryan Anderson scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The success of the big guys is amazing, considering they were going up against a tough defensive team in Chicago with a quality center in Joakim Noah. The Hornets were physical inside, and they out-worked an equally athletic team on the road. The Hornets held the Bulls to 33 percent shooting as a team and just 17.6 percent from behind the arc.
Midway into the highlights, you'll see Aminu's defense on display. He blocks a three-point attempt by Kirk Hinrich and then takes the loose ball coast-to-coast for the score. You'll also see Greivis Vasquez doing his part by knocking down three-pointers as well as finding the open man inside. He is really developing into a solid starting point guard with his ability to score and facilitate.
Finally, the Hornets' third win of the season came in the November 9th showdown with the Charlotte Bobcats. This game was all about the return of Anthony Davis from his mild concussion and he showed no rust from his brief time off. The No. 1 overall pick scored 23 points and added 11 rebounds and five blocks in his triumphant return.
In this video, you see all of Davis' talents on display. He's aggressively attacking the basket but also finds ways to score by utilizing his jump shot. You should also keep an eye on the way Davis handles the basketball. He's an excellent dribbler for a guy his size, and he has an incredible knack for creating offense for himself by driving to the hoop. Davis is also getting better posting up inside, despite the lack of ideal bulk on his thin frame.
On defense, he doesn't wait for the action to come to him. He steps outside of the paint and uses his length and athleticism to contest mid-range shots on the wing. Davis also managed two steals in this game, as he continues to have an impact on both ends of the court.
Davis wasn't the only bright spot in the team's win over Charlotte. Anderson led all scorers with 25 points, shooting 5-for-10 from the three-point line. Aminu provided some ink on various categories on the stat sheet. He scored 14 points but also added six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. More and more, the decision to hand Aminu the starting small forward job is paying off for the Hornets.
The Hornets entered this season with a lot of young talent and promise. However, because of their youth, it would be understandable if it took the team some time before it could make a serious playoff run. The absence of their best player in Eric Gordon was supposed to hinder the team even further.
Instead, the Hornets have opened some eyes in the season's opening weeks. They are playing solid defense, and they can really stretch the floor with a bevy of shooters on the roster. New Orleans has also benefited from getting immediate production from their No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Davis.
The 3-2 start is a nice surprise, especially given the injuries and the tough early schedule. The key going forward will be health and the continued development of their young core. As great as Aminu, Vasquez and Lopez have played, Austin Rivers and Xavier Henry really need to step up.
It will be interesting to see just how good this Hornets team can be once Gordon is back in the fold. With a proven go-to scorer in Gordon, a rising star in Davis, a great supporting cast and good defense, this good early start may be less of a surprise and more of a sign of things to come.