Many interested in the NBA may poke fun at New Orleans for changing its mascot to the Pelicans beginning in the 2013-14 season. But those jokers are likely to eat their words sooner or later, because the currently dubbed Hornets are building the foundation for a new era of long-term success.
Pelicans??? #ImNotRollin— Chris Paul (@CP3) January 24, 2013
Reaction in the city to the new nickname has been mixed, as documented by NOLA.com's Jimmy Smith. That trend has appropriately paralleled the team's play on the court this year.
After a nightmarish start, New Orleans has shown a recent resurgence thanks to improved health. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis has integrated his way into the starting lineup after overcoming early injury setbacks.
Unfortunately, Davis was hurt once again in a recent matchup with the Sacramento Kings, and although he has played in the past two games, the Hornets have lost both.
But high-scoring shooting guard Eric Gordon has also returned after missing the first 29 games in recovering from a knee injury of his own, which has given the current Hornets a much-needed spark offensively. They had dropped 12 of 13 games prior to his return.
Davis and Gordon are two franchise cornerstones that should be in the Bayou to stay for years to come.
Another pleasantly surprising development has been the play of PG Greivis Vasquez. The former University of Maryland standout has filled the stat sheet in averaging 14 points, 4.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game. Only Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul dish out more dimes each contest.
Combine that power trio with the matchup problems the sweet-shooting Ryan Anderson creates in spreading the floor and the imposing presence of Robin Lopez on the inside, and this franchise has a strong nucleus moving forward. Versatile forward Al-Farouq Aminu also shows promise.
Top-10 pick Austin Rivers is shooting just 33 percent from the floor in what has been a disappointing rookie campaign. That said, any contribution the soon-to-be Pelicans can get out of the talented Duke one-and-done down the road would only help the cause. Let's face it: Rivers can't play much worse than he has.
It's too late for the Hornets to contend at this point in the stacked Western Conference, but it's not even the All-Star break yet.
This young team will hopefully stay healthy for the remainder of the year and use the time to gel and improve team chemistry. The fact that head coach Monty Williams preaches defense and has such a talent like Davis makes the future especially exciting for New Orleans hoops.
Plus, one positive of having a down year overall is that the front office will have yet another high draft pick to work with. It could be used to select another marquee building block, or as a trade chip to bring in an established star and help promote the Pelicans brand.
There is plenty of room for optimism for the pending Pelicans, and don't be surprised if the new mascot name translates to a reinvigorated team that emerges as a darkhorse playoff contender next season.