Ranking Anthony Davis Among the Most Impressive Rookies in Hornets History

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2013

Ranking Anthony Davis Among the Most Impressive Rookies in Hornets History

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    New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis has played well enough in his debut season to have his name mentioned with some of the best first-year players in the franchise's history. The No. 1 overall pick continues to put himself in the running for Rookie of the Year with stellar play on both ends of the court.

    Davis is coming off a 17-point/nine-rebound performance against the team that seems to be his favorite opponent this season, the San Antonio Spurs. The former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging 18.7 points and nine rebounds in three meetings with Tim Duncan and company. Against other teams, Davis averages 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game (statistics as of Jan. 8).

    For the season, Davis is scoring 13.7 points a night. He's also the team's leader in rebounds (8.3 RPG) and blocked shots (1.9 BPG). He's been a key part in New Orleans winning four of its past seven games.

    As Davis progresses, the race for top rookie honors will become more interesting between him and current front-runner Damian Lillard, of the Portland Trail Blazers. There's plenty of time left for Davis to close the gap on the Blazers guard.

    For now, let's take a look at how Davis' first three months stack up against other rookies in the Hornets' history.

    Before we get started, here's a quick disclaimer: these rankings are based solely on the player's rookie season. Some of these players went on to better careers with other franchises, while others bounced back from slow starts as rookies to become viable NBA pros.

    However, there will be a career ranking at the bottom of each slide to help cover all of the bases.

10. David West, 18th Overall Pick, 2003

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    David West entered the 2003 NBA draft with an impressive resume and the stigma of being an undersized power forward. Thanks to the latter, West slid down to the Hornets at No. 18, behind notable busts like Reece Gaines and Mike Sweetney.

    On the bright side, the 2002 National Player of the Year landed on a Hornets team filled with talented veterans such as Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn. On the flip side, West found playing time hard to come by with the power forward position held down by veteran P.J. Brown.

    Despite being Brown's heir apparent, West averaged 13.1 minutes per game in his first NBA season. In that small amount of playing time, the Xavier product contributed 3.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

    West wouldn't get his big break until the 2005-06 season, where he started 74 games and averaged 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. From there, West established himself as one of the league's best young power forwards.

    West made up for his lack of size with a sweet mid-range game and still managed to put up modest rebounding numbers. He went on to make consecutive All-Star appearances in 2008 and 2009, and went down as one of the best players in Hornets history before signing with the Indiana Pacers last season.

    Career Ranking: 4th

9. Baron Davis, 3rd Overall Pick, 1999

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    Baron Davis was a unique talent when he left UCLA. He had the size and power to back down to defenders, while also having the uncanny athleticism to blow by opponents and viciously attack the rim. The Hornets snatched up Davis in a talented 1999 NBA draft that also included Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton and Jason Terry.

    Unlike David West, Davis got considerable minutes as a rookie despite the presence of veteran point guard David Wesley on the roster. However, much like West, Davis wasn't very productive in his rookie season.

    The former Bruin played in all 82 games for a Hornets team that finished second in the East and made it to the conference finals, but he averaged just 5.9 points and 3.8 assists per game.

    Davis fared better the next season. This time around, Davis was the starter for all 82 games and he averaged 13.8 points and 7.3 assists per game.

    The rest of Davis' Hornets career was tumultuous, to say the least. Injuries, struggles with his weight and problems with the coaching staff marred a promising career. Davis made his only All-Star appearance as a Hornet in 2002, but was sent packing to Golden State for Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis a couple years later.

    Davis had some excellent seasons with the Warriors and, later, the Los Angeles Clippers. However, his career was always hampered by injuries and the constant question of what could have been if he could have managed to stay in shape.

    In total, Davis played for five teams throughout his 12-year career. Most famously, the Clippers sent an unprotected first-round pick along with Davis to Cleveland in exchange for Mo Williams. That pick turned out to be No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving.

    Davis managed to play in 29 games for the Knicks last season, but back and knee injuries ruined his productivity. As a Hornet, his legacy was ultimately overshadowed by his eventual replacement, Chris Paul.

    Career Ranking: 5th

8. Kendall Gill, 5th Overall Pick, 1990

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    Kendall Gill will forever be remembered in pro basketball history for his inexplicable flat top fade and being an NBA journeyman. Gill was one of the highlights of a rather lackluster 1990 draft class that included bad boy Derrick Coleman and legendary point guard Gary Payton.

    Gill ended up on an upstart Hornets team that had only been in existence for a couple years. Gill had some promising talent around him in his first year with guys like Dell Curry and Rex Chapman, but the team didn't reach its potential until Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson arrived a couple years later.

    The then-Charlotte Hornets went 26-56 in Gill's first season. Gill, meanwhile, only made 36 starts but managed a modest 11 points per game. Gill's biggest flaw was his inability to shoot the three. For his career, Gill was a 30 percent shooter from behind the arc.

    Despite this glaring weakness, Gill bounced back in his second season with the Hornets. He averaged 20 points per game and followed that up by scoring 17.3 points a night in his third year. That, however, was the last Hornets fans saw of Kendall Gill for a while.

    In 1993, the Hornets traded Gill to the then-Seattle Supersonics (now, more commonly known as the Oklahoma City Thunder) in a deal headlined by guard Dana Barros. Gill ended up back with the Hornets two years later, when Seattle traded him back to Charlotte for Hersey Hawkins and David Wingate.

    The Hornets reunion didn't last long, though. Seven months after returning to Charlotte, Gill was traded to the Nets for Kenny Anderson and Gerald Glass. For his part, Gill averaged 13.2 points a game in his short second stint with the Hornets.

    Gill played for four more teams before calling it a career after the 2005-06 season. While his Hornets tenure was short-lived, it was still productive.

    Career Ranking: 7th

7. Marcus Thornton, 43rd Overall Pick, 2009

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    If you want to be technical, Marcus Thornton was actually drafted by the Miami Heat. However, the former LSU standout never took a dribble in a Miami uniform, as he was traded to New Orleans on draft day.

    That deal turned out to be a huge steal for the Hornets. On a team that was aging on the wings with veterans like Morris Peterson and James Posey, Thornton turned out to be a productive young cog for the Hornets.

    Thornton made 17 starts and appeared in 73 games in the 2009-10 season. He averaged 14.5 points per game, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the arc. He looked like he would be the Hornets' future at shooting guard.

    However, the front office had other ideas. In a trade that looks ill-advised when we think about it today, the Hornets shipped Thornton to Sacramento midway into his second season for forward Carl Landry. Landry put up decent numbers in two seasons in New Orleans, while Thornton has had some very productive years with the Kings.

    In a interesting turn of events, the Hornets went on to draft a guard with a similar skill set in Austin Rivers with the No. 10 overall pick in this past June's draft. Rivers has struggled out of the gate, and you can't help but wonder if the Hornets could have gone in a different direction on draft day if Thornton were still on the roster.

    Regardless, Thornton joined a long list of young talent that ended up being productive elsewhere under the George Shinn era. If he had stayed in New Orleans longer and got more playing time as a rookie, perhaps his rookie ranking and career ranking would be higher.

    As it stands, Marcus Thornton was a former Hornets draft gem, who was foolishly cast off too soon.

    Career Ranking: 9th

6. Anthony Davis, 1st Overall Pick, 2012

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    The first three months of Anthony Davis' rookie season have had ups and downs. He's been surprisingly productive offensively, but fell victim to the injury bug early in the season, just when he was gaining momentum.

    Now that Davis and the rest of this 2012 Hornets team is healthy, it will be interesting to see how both he and the team produce going forward. When he's on the court, Anthony Davis is a breathtaking athlete with a freakish wingspan who can impact the game at both ends.

    He left Kentucky after only one season, but shattered numerous blocked shot records and led the Wildcats to a national championship. He entered this past June's NBA draft as perhaps the only "sure thing" in his rookie class.

    So far, he's flashed the potential to be a franchise cornerstone. He leads the team in rebounds and blocks. He's also progressing offensively, scoring in double-digits in all but one of the December games he played in.

    Davis' career going forward is dependant on two things. First, he needs to stay healthy and add bulk to his rail-thin frame. Second, the Hornets need to keep the core of Davis, forward Ryan Anderson and guards Eric Gordon and Greivis Vasquez intact. The latter would help Davis avoid the pressure of shouldering too much of the load at an early age.

    As far as an NBA comparison, Davis is a unique mixture of Kevin Garnett and Marcus Camby with a little bit of Lamar Odom mixed in. He's a relentless rebounder and shot-blocker, with the uncanny ball-handling skills to take opponents off the dribble.

    With that unique skill set and a developing offense, there's no telling how far Davis can go. He's still only 19 years old and has managed to make a seamless transition to the pros. With time, he could end his career as the greatest player to ever suit up for the Hornets franchise.

    Career Ranking: Potentially Anywhere Between 5th and 1st

5. Rex Chapman, 8th Overall Pick, 1988

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    Some of Rex Chapman's most productive seasons throughout his 11-year career came as a member of the then-Charlotte Hornets. Chapman was the franchise's first draft pick in 1988, after two solid seasons at the University of Kentucky.

    Chapman scored 20.6 points per game for the expansion Hornets. It would be the first of many double-digit scoring seasons. Unfortunately for Charlotte, only four of those seasons came as a member of the Hornets.

    Despite never scoring less than 17 points per game as a Hornet, Chapman was traded to Washington in 1992 for Tom Hammonds. Chapman went on to be one of Washington's better players. Hammonds, on the other hand, averaged just 2.3 points per game in his lone season with the Hornets.

    After a few good seasons with the Bullets, Chapman finally got to the playoffs as a member of the Miami Heat in 1995. "The Boy Wonder" stayed only one year in South Beach before finishing his career with the Phoenix Suns.

    Chapman averaged 17.9 points per game for his career and shot 43 percent from the field as well as 35 percent from the three-point line. He was also an 80 percent shooter from the free-throw line.

    His legacy with the Hornets will be that he was the first of many Hornets draft picks that came and went. His four-year stint with the team was productive, but forgettable thanks to the team's lack of overall success.

    Career Ranking: 8th 

4. Darren Collison, 21st Overall Pick, 2009

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    Darren Collison is a classic case of "What Could Have Been?" Drafted in 2009 as part of a class that included fellow stellar rookie Marcus Thornton, Collison was the perfect insurance policy/heir apparent for All-Star point guard Chris Paul.

    With CP3 battling knee woes, Collison stepped in and made 37 starts as a rookie. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.7 assists a game while averaging a steal per night for good measure. It was Collison's only season as a member of the New Orleans Hornets.

    In the summer of 2010, Collison was traded to Indiana in a four-team deal that landed Trevor Ariza and his incomprehensible contract in New Orleans. A year after that, Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers after making his decision not to re-sign with the Hornets known.

    Collison's tenure with the Pacers was only slightly longer than his one with the Hornets, but he put up similar numbers in his second season as he did in his rookie year. If the Hornets would have decided to keep Collison, it would have softened the blow of losing a perennial MVP candidate in Chris Paul.

    Luckily for the Hornets, Greivis Vasquez is having a career year as the team's starting point guard. As for Collison, the Pacers traded him to Dallas after two seasons in Indiana. The Pacers got seldom-productive big man Ian Mahinmi in return.

    Collison got off to an excellent start in his first season with the Mavericks, but his playing time has taken a slight hit with the arrival of veteran Derek Fisher. At only 25 years old, there's still time for Collison to fulfill his potential as a solid starting point guard, if given the opportunity.

    That opportunity could come in Dallas, but it probably SHOULD have come in New Orleans.

    Career Ranking: 10th

3. Chris Paul, 4th Overall Pick, 2005

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    Chris Paul falling to the fourth pick in 2005 may turn out to be the first- or second-luckiest draft moment in Hornets history, depending on how Anthony Davis' career turns out. CP3 was passed up by Milwaukee, Atlanta and Utah for Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams and Deron Williams, respectively.

    Bogut and D-Will turned out to be solid pros (albeit not as solid as Chris Paul), but passing up CP3 for Marvin Williams is a decision that will haunt the Hawks forever. That slight turned out to pay huge dividends for the Hornets.

    New Orleans got a star who blossomed into the league's best point guard almost instantaneously. Paul scored 16.8 points, dished 7.8 assists and nabbed 2.2 steals per night during his rookie campaign. He won Rookie of the Year and became an All-Star fixture starting in 2008.

    The case can also be made that Paul deserved his first MVP trophy in 2008 over eventual winner Kobe Bryant. Paul's rookie season was just the start of big things for the Hornets. Even as knee issues slowed him down, Paul remained productive.

    Paul carried the Hornets to playoff berths in 2007, 2008 and 2010. By the end of the 2010-11 season, however, the lack of talent around Paul led to him wanting out of New Orleans. The team eventually traded him to the Clippers in exchange for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a draft pick that turned out to be Austin Rivers.

    In Los Angeles, Paul has reinvented the Clippers as a viable championship contender. He led the Clippers through a thrilling seven-game series with the Grizzlies in last year's playoffs before being swept by the Spurs. This season, he has Lob City at the top of the standings with the league's best record at 27-8 (as of Jan. 8).

    Paul's departure is a tough pill to swallow for both the Hornets team and its fans. Paul meant so much to the city of New Orleans and dazzled fans for years with his once-in-a-generation talents. As promising as the Hornets look going forward, it would be nice if No. 3 were leading the charge.

    Career Ranking: 1st

2. Larry Johnson, 1st Overall Pick, 1991

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    Larry Johnson was the Hornets' first true superstar. The man known as "Grandmama" amazed fans with his freakish athleticism, his emphatic dunks and his off-the-wall sneaker commercials. Johnson and Alonzo Mourning gave the early-90s Hornets one of the most formidable frontcourt duos in the league.

    Johnson averaged 19.2 points and 11 rebounds per game in his rookie season. He won the 1991-92 Rookie of the Year award and led the Hornets to their first playoff appearance in his second season. L.J. was a double-double machine, who used the combination of raw power and athletic ability to make up for his lack of height.

    Johnson was a two-time All-Star with the Hornets. However, like so many big names during the Hornets' early years, Johnson was eventually sent elsewhere. The team dealt Johnson to the New York Knicks in exchange for Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus in 1996.

    Johnson become an integral part of a Knicks team that made plenty of playoff runs in the '90s. He formed another great frontcourt duo with center Patrick Ewing and had many great moments in Madison Square Garden before a bad back cut his career short in 2001 at just 31 years old.

    Johnson's numbers with the Knicks weren't nearly as good as his early stats with the Hornets. He still managed to finish his career averaging 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds a game over 10 seasons. He'll always be remembered by Hornets fans for the years spent alongside Mourning, but his career ranking is hindered by his body failing him.

    Career Ranking: 3rd  

1. Alonzo Mourning, 2nd Overall Pick, 1992

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    It was blind luck that gave the Hornets the fortune of pairing Alonzo Mourning with Larry Johnson in back-to-back drafts. Mourning provided the defensive presence that Johnson lacked and together they turned the Hornets into one of the Eastern Conference's most promising young teams.

    'Zo scored 21 points per game in his rookie season. He also averaged 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. Inevitably, he lost the Rookie of the Year award to an Orlando phenom named Shaquille O'Neal. Still, Mourning spent most of the first decade of his career as one of the league's most dominant centers.

    The former Georgetown standout averaged at least 20 points per game for the first four seasons of his career. He also averaged nearly 10 rebounds per game every season from 1992 to 2000. His shot-blocking ability made him the league leader in blocks twice in his career and he also won two Defensive Player of the Year awards.

    However, outside of his 1994 All-Star appearance, all of Mourning's accolades came after he left the Hornets. Just before the start of the 1995 season, the Hornets dealt Mourning to Miami in exchange for a package of players and picks headlined by sharpshooter Glen Rice.

    Mourning turned the Heat into a contender and their rivalry with the New York Knicks was one of the highlights of the 1990s. In 2003, Mourning followed Jason Kidd to New Jersey and became a member of the Nets. A year later, he was traded to Toronto in a blockbuster deal for Vince Carter.

    The Raptors eventually waived 'Zo and he returned to Miami in 2005. In 2006, he was Shaq's primary backup when the Heat beat the Mavericks to earn Mourning his first and only NBA championship. Mourning continued to play, even as injuries and a dangerous kidney ailment wore him down.

    As for the Hornets, Rice did a nice job of keeping them afloat, post-Mourning. The team never achieved any of the success that Mourning's Heat did but they at least got some serviceable years out of Rice and Matt Geiger (also included in the Mourning deal).

    Career Ranking: 2nd