One Major Adjustment New Orleans Hornets Must Make for Season's Second Half
The New Orleans Hornets are in desperate need of an infusion of offense, and that could lead to a shaking up of the starting five. With a playoff berth unlikely, it might be time for the team to try No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis at center and move forward Ryan Anderson into the starting lineup permanently.
That move would shift starting center Robin Lopez, in the midst of a breakout season, to the bench. It also would put New Orleans' best offensive lineup on the floor and give everyone a chance to see how their "Big Three" of Anderson, Davis and Eric Gordon can play together.
As of Feb. 23, the Hornets are 23rd in scoring (94.2 points per game) and 20th in rebounding (41.3 rebounds per game). As much of a nice surprise as Lopez's career year has been, his presence in the lineup won't improve those numbers.
Lopez is averaging 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. The main reason for his presence in the lineup is to provide defense and prevent the lanky Davis from getting thrown around by opposing centers. Lopez has succeeded in both areas, but that success hasn't translated to wins.
A starting five of Davis, Anderson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gordon and Greivis Vasquez puts the Hornets' four best scorers and three best rebounders on the floor together.
Plus, Lopez's move to the bench gives the team a nice tandem inside when paired with Jason Smith.
Davis may not have the bulk to handle being a full-time center, but he has the quickness, length and athleticism to combat his lack of strength. Anderson is one of the best shooting big men in the league, and his ability to shoot from deep will force his man to step out of the paint to defend him. The former Cal standout is also a solid rebounder, as evidenced by his clip of 6.4 boards per game.
Aminu has stepped up and given the team a boost over the last few months, emerging as the team's best rebounder. The former Wake Forest star is averaging 7.5 rebounds in his contract year, which slightly edges out Davis' 7.5 boards per game.
Since his Dec. 29 return, Gordon has managed to lead the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game, despite shooting just 40 percent from the field and 34 percent from behind the arc. With increased commitment to getting back in shape and improved health in his troublesome knee, Gordon can become the elite scorer the team hoped he would be when they re-signed him last summer.
Vasquez, meanwhile, is also having a career year. His 9.4 assists per game is tied for second in the NBA with the man he's replacing in New Orleans, former Hornet and current Los Angeles Clipper Chris Paul. Vasquez is also scoring 13.7 points per night and chipping in on the boards as well.
To help strengthen the argument for this new starting five, let's take a look at what each does best.
In this video from New Orleans' 99-63 slaughtering of Portland on Feb. 13, Davis really puts his talents on display. In the first 20 seconds of the clip, Davis plays excellent defense on All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, coming up with two blocks.
Next, Davis uses his length and athleticism to finish around the rim with a put-back dunk off an errant Vasquez shot, then on the receiving end of a Vasquez pass inside. At the 1:30 mark, Davis shows off his jump shot on three consecutive plays, nailing a jumper in the faces of Aldridge and fellow rookie Meyers Leonard.
Davis might not have the bulk to be an ideal center, but he has the talent to at least be a viable option at the 5 spot. Offensively, he's a better scorer than Lopez and is more of a factor on the boards. Davis can also provide as good, if not better, defense than the former Suns big man.
Now, we shift our focus to Ryan Anderson.
Take a look at what Anderson does to the Phoenix Suns in this highlight reel from their Nov. 23 showdown. In this game, Anderson hits eight three-pointers against the Suns. His deep shooting is such a unique weapon for a power forward and opens up the paint for whoever is inside.
Anderson also has an underrated back-to-the-basket game. While shooting from behind the arc will always be his bread and butter, Anderson can be a factor in the paint as well. Still, it is his ability to create space on the floor by being such a dangerous shooter makes him so useful for the Hornets.
Anderson's effectiveness from the outside is a nice change-of-pace to Al-Farouq Aminu's game. Aminu is more of an athletic slasher who is at his best when he attacks the basket. Aminu's presence around the rim is also what makes him such a good rebounder.
As seen here against Utah back on Nov. 2, Aminu is a solid athlete who is a great option in transition when the team is on the run. His ability to finish on the fast break is a plus when the team decides to play at a quicker pace. In this clip against the Jazz, Aminu is constantly attacking the rim and being active on the boards.
With Anderson playing mostly on the outside, Aminu can sneak inside and help Davis out in the paint. He also can provide solid perimeter defense, which will lead to more transition buckets.
When it comes to offense, though, the key is Eric Gordon. Gordon is the team's best scorer. When healthy, he's an excellent shooter who can also be a factor when attacking the basket. Gordon is a weapon regardless of whether he's playing off the ball or bringing it up himself.
If you watch this video from his 27-point performance against the Hawks on Feb. 8, you'll see what Gordon can do when he has confidence in his knee and starts to get into a rhythm. At the :25 second mark, watch how Gordon throws his body into the defender to get the hoop and the harm.
Gordon likes to use his bulky frame to absorb a ton of contact when he goes to the rim. He also has the balance and athleticism to still make a play after taking the hit. In the reel, you also see Gordon's excellent jumper, which is devastating whether he utilizes the step-back or just pulls up right in front of the defender's face.
Last but not least, there's point guard Greivis Vasquez. In the same game as the Gordon clip, Vasquez recorded his first career triple-double. As you'll see in this video, Vasquez brings a lot to the table.
Early in the video, you see Vasquez's sneaky jumper. Vasquez isn't the kind of deadly shooter that Gordon or Anderson is, but he can hurt you if he gets hot. Vasquez also has great size (6'6") for a point guard, which gives him an advantage on the boards.
Most importantly, Vasquez is always looking to get teammates involved. He is constantly finding the open man, whether it is on the break or rolling off the pick. His unselfish play will work well when on the floor with three unique offensive weapons such as Davis, Anderson and Gordon. Their presence will also open up more looks for the former Maryland Terrapin.
At 19-37, the Hornets don't have much to play for. It would take some inspired play from New Orleans and a couple collapses from others to get them into the playoffs. Having lost their past three games, that inspired play hasn't happened yet in the season's second half.
The decision to move Davis to center to get the team's best players on the floor together may not appeal to the sabre-metrics gurus. It may not make a ton of sense given Lopez's improved play and Davis' lack of upper body strength.
However, it is something that is worth a shot. If the Hornets are going to turn things around, it will take a game plan that strays away from the norm. Davis has showed flashes of brilliance. Anderson has been the team's best player all season and Vasquez has been a close second. Gordon and Aminu have picked it up the past two months.
If there an adjustment to be made that will help a team that's near the bottom in scoring and rebounding, this is the gamble that the New Orleans Hornets need to take going forward.
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