New Orleans Hornets Stock Watch: Risers & Fallers Heading into All-Star Break

Dave LeonardisContributor IIIFebruary 15, 2013

New Orleans Hornets Stock Watch: Risers & Fallers Heading into All-Star Break

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    The New Orleans Hornets' stock is on the rise heading into the All-Star break, with some players hitting their stride while others are still struggling to get going. New Orleans finished the first half of the season strong, winning four of their last five, including a 99-63 trouncing of the Portland Trail Blazers just before the break.

    As a whole, the first half of the Hornets' season has had mixed results. With star shooting guard Eric Gordon sidelined with a knee injury for most of the first two months, New Orleans ended 2012 with a record of 7-23.

    Since then, the team has opened 2013 going 12-11, as of Valentine's Day. The keys to New Orleans' improvement has been a combination of Gordon's return and the inspired play of some unheralded players.

    Guys like point guard Greivis Vasquez and small forward Al-Farouq Aminu closed the first half strong, while power forward Ryan Anderson has maintained a steady, consistent pace all season. Anderson leads all Hornets with 17.1 points per game. He also leads the league in three-pointers made (159) and attempted (396 as of Feb. 14).

    While some have stepped up, others have struggled to follow suit. Forwards Xavier Henry and Lance Thomas have become afterthoughts, while rookie Austin Rivers continues to disappoint in his debut season.

    A lot has changed since the first team stock watch back in December. Let's take a look at who's rising and falling heading into the NBA All-Star break.

Stock Rising: SF Al-Farouq Aminu

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    No Hornets player has helped his cause over the last two months more than small forward Al-Farouq Aminu. The soon-to-be free agent went from Monty Williams' doghouse in December to becoming a key role player in the first two months of 2013.

    With small forward being such a weak spot for the Hornets, Aminu has stepped up to give the team a steady option in the starting lineup. His improved play leaves New Orleans with a tough decision this offseason, as far as Aminu's future with the team is concerned.

    Over the past two months, Aminu has seemed to find his niche. The former Wake Forest star has been a beast on the boards, leading all Hornets with an average of 7.5 rebounds per game. He's also focused more on attacking the basket and using his athleticism to get to the line rather than trying to become a shooter.

    Aminu isn't talented enough offensively to be someone the team can rely on consistently to put up points, but he helps enough in other areas. He's the team's best perimeter defender and his tenacity on the boards really helps a team that has been near the bottom of the league in rebounding (20th in the NBA with an average of 41.3 rebounds per game).

    If Aminu can keep this play up, re-signing him in the offseason will become a priority. The team can use role players to put around franchise cornerstones Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis. The team should still safeguard themselves by drafting a small forward like UCLA's Shabazz Mohammad or Georgetown's Otto Porter.

    As of right now, there aren't many Hornets playing better than Al-Farouq Aminu.

Stock Falling: SF Darius Miller

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    Expectations were probably not very high for second-round pick Darius Miller coming into his rookie season. However, he was promising enough during the Summer League and preseason to give fans hope that the team may have stumbled upon one of the draft's biggest steals.

    Instead, Miller's play has been uninspiring. With the small forward position up for grabs early in the year, Miller failed to capitalize on the opportunity. He couldn't beat out a slumping Al-Farouq Aminu for the gig and eventually the team tried their hand with converted power forward Lance Thomas.

    Now the job is back in Aminu's grasp and, if his play the last two months is any indication, he's not letting go of it anytime soon. Luckily for Miller, the crop of potential backups behind Aminu is so weak, the former Kentucky Wildcat still has a chance to make an impact with the second unit.

    Miller is averaging more playing time (13.1 minutes per game) than the other two vying for the backup spot. The problem is that Miller isn't doing much with that PT advantage. His 1.9 points per game is the worst of any Hornet getting anything resembling playing time on the roster.

    Miller's shooting a decent 38 percent from the field and 33 percent from the three-point line, but isn't putting up enough shots for those percentages to even matter. Miller has scored all of 13 points in 2013. That includes a Feb. 1 game against the Nuggets where he logged 26 minutes, his highest total since Dec. 7.

    The Hornets' landscape at small forward is in line for some change this offseason. Henry and Aminu are free agents and only the latter has a puncher's chance at being retained. The team has options on Thomas and Miller for next season, but neither have given the team a reason to utilize them.

    Miller still has a chance to change that. He's a jack-of-all-trades type who can help out in a number of ways and the Hornets are weak enough at small forward for him to really carve his spot into the rotation.

    It remains to be seen whether that can happen or not. For now, he's a rookie with potential whose days in the Big Easy might be numbered.

Stock Rising: PG Greivis Vasquez

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    Few point guards in the league have had a better first half than Greivis Vasquez. The former Maryland Terrapin went from assumed placeholder to potentially the Hornets' point guard of the future. Vasquez's play has been particularly strong the last couple of months, including notching his first career triple-double against Atlanta on Feb. 8.

    Vasquez is third in the NBA in assists, averaging 9.4 dimes per game. He's used his uncanny size (6'6") to be a factor on the boards and he's been a solid contributor on offense. He's shooting nearly 44 percent from the field and 36 percent from behind the arc while scoring nearly 14 points per game.

    With the position in disarray after the departure of Chris Paul last season, Vasquez has been making his case to be the team's starter going forward. His January production, where he averaged a double-double for the entire month, is proof that he can be effective as a scorer and facilitator.

    The biggest areas Vasquez needs to shore up is working on increasing his speed and becoming a better defender. His six steals in the past three games are a promising sign, but he needs to be a more consistent defender in a conference filled with elite point guards.

    Vasquez has been one of the league's breakout stars. It will take some notable improvement for him to surpass a deep PG group if he ever wants to crack an All-Star team, but his play has been on par with some of the best at his position this season.

     

Stock Falling: PG Brian Roberts

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    This may be a bit unfair, as Brian Roberts has proven he can be a productive player when he gets decent playing time. However, with Greivis Vasquez's breakout season and the team still unwilling to let go of trying rookie Austin Rivers at point guard, there doesn't seem to be much room left for Roberts.

    Roberts is coming off a game against Portland where he notched seven points and seven assists playing mostly mop-up duty. In a loss three nights earlier against Toronto, the undrafted rookie scored 13 points in 15 minutes.

    Roberts has the potential to be a scoring option off the bench. The case can be made for Roberts to absorb all of the minutes given to Rivers and have an increased role with the second unit. That seems unlikely, given how much hope the team has invested in the former Duke standout.

    The minutes have been there for Roberts, who is logging nearly 15 a game. The problem is that his potential will always be blocked by Rivers' presence. That's what makes the second half less promising for the former Dayton Flyer.

    With the Hornets not having much to play for, and possibly already looking towards next season, who do you think is more likely to get more playing time going forward: the undrafted potential free agent or the No. 10 overall pick?

    The Hornets could try to use Roberts' potential as trade bait to help bring in another rebounder or perhaps a more reliable option at small forward for the second unit. A trade would make the team's backcourt less crowded, while also giving Roberts the opportunity he won't find in NOLA.

Stock Rising: C Robin Lopez

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    Much like point guard Greivis Vasquez, center Robin Lopez was acquired with the idea of being a placeholder, but has used his opportunity to put together a breakout season. Lopez is putting up career-highs in scoring (11.7 points per game), rebounds (5.5 a night) and blocked shots (1.7 a contest).

    His PER is an astonishing 20.42 and he's becoming more of a reliable option in the post as the season progresses. Lopez really showed off his scoring potential in a big win over the Pistons on Feb. 11. He dropped 23 points and added 10 rebounds, giving him his first double-double since Dec. 22.

    Lopez has also been a factor on the defensive end recently. In the last five games before the All-Star break, Lopez had eight blocks. With No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis' reputation as a shot-blocker, the tandem of Davis and Lopez gives the Hornets a solid defensive combination in the post.

    Lopez's breakout season isn't without its weaknesses, however. The big man from Stanford still doesn't rebound as well as he should for a starting center. The team is going to need more than his 5.5 boards per night.

    He doesn't have to be the second coming of Moses Malone, but a team lacking productive rebounders like the Hornets needs their starting center to really work the glass.

    In the meantime, it appears New Orleans has found its answer at center. The team has an option on Lopez for the next two seasons and they will only get better as he improves. The offensive numbers are promising and gives the team an option in the post while Davis adds bulk to his lanky frame.

Stock Falling: G Austin Rivers

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    The case can be made that Austin Rivers is the worst guard on the Hornets' roster. That may seem like harsh criticism for a 20-year-old rookie, but consider the seasons Roger Mason, Greivis Vasquez and Brian Roberts are having by comparison to Rivers.

    The kid out of Duke, who entered the draft with a reputation for having the utmost confidence in his skills, has suddenly regressed into a reluctant scorer struggling to find his way in the NBA. Is it too early to call Rivers a bust? Absolutely. After all, it's not like the guys taken after Rivers have been significantly more productive.

    However, the numbers are what they are and, in Rivers' case, they aren't good. Doc's son is averaging six points per game while shooting 35 percent from the field and 31 percent from behind the arc. This is despite playing nearly 24 minutes a night.

    Head coach and longtime family friend Monty Williams has done what he can to make Rivers' transition to the pros smooth, but it's becoming obvious the team needs to start from scratch with No. 10 overall pick.

    Not only has Rivers shown the inability to handle being an NBA point guard (the team's initial hope), his reluctance to shoot has made him a liability at his natural 2-guard position. Rivers hasn't scored in double-digits since Dec. 28. In that span, he has shot more than seven times just once.

    You can say he's over-thinking. You can say he's crumbling under the pressure. You can say he left college too early. All of those would be valid points, but the bottom line is that he's been unproductive. Rivers has gotten the start in place of Eric Gordon the past two games and he scored a combined 15 points in 61 minutes.

    There's still time to salvage Rivers' career. However, his increased playing time is coming at the expense of a guy like Roberts, who could be more productive with Rivers' minutes. Inevitably, Williams will have to cut the apron strings and see if his prized pupil can sink or swim on his own.

Stock Neutral: PF Anthony Davis

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    Since the last stock watch in December, things have been up and down for No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis. At times, he's flashed the potential on both ends of the court that should have Hornets fans rubbing their palms with excitement over what's to come down the road.

    On other occasions, however, Davis has proven to be a work in progress. During the initial stock watch, Davis was still nursing a foot injury that kept him out for a couple weeks. Since his return on Dec. 11, there have been no causes for concern over Davis' durability.

    Defensively, he's proven to be as good as advertised. He has at least one blocked shot in 16 of his last 17 games, including four blocks in a Feb. 11 clash with Detroit. His 1.9 blocks per game leads the team and is good for 10th in the NBA.

    As a rebounder, he's tied with Al-Farouq Aminu with a team-leading 7.5 boards per game. He's had some productive games on the boards, but still needs to work on being a more consistent force on the glass.

    Davis' offense is the area that needs the most work. While he's coming off a big game against Portland where he scored 21 points, that night came after scoring a combined three points in his previous two games (shooting 1-for-13 in that span).

    Davis has the talent to be a factor in the offense and be one of the team's main scoring options. He has a sneaky mid-range jumper, while also possessing uncanny ball-handling skills and quickness to help him attack the basket.

    He's still putting it all together, though. That's why it's hard to say the rookie's stock is rising or falling. He's showing signs of brilliance, but he's been inconsistent. He closed the first half with an excellent performance, but only after a couple mediocre ones.

    He's starting to play at the level he was playing at during the initial stock report two months ago. He just hasn't shown enough improvement to consider him a threat to Portland's Rookie of the Year front-runner Damian Lillard.

    The future is still very bright for "The Unibrow".