Why There Is a Bright Future for the New Orleans Hornets
When you look at the roster of the New Orleans Hornets, you don’t expect this team to have double the amount of losses than it does wins. But that’s exactly what you see.
A team that is 22-46. A team that’s lost seven of eight.
Things haven’t gone quite as planned this season. There’s no doubt this team is rebuilding after shipping Chris Paul to Los Angeles in 2011, but they have put together some premiere talent since.
There are names that jump out at you, most notably 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis and fellow top-10 pick Austin Rivers.
Then there are names that you’ve heard before, but don’t know much about, such as former Maryland Terrapin standout Greivis Vasquez.
This is a team built for the future. Their time isn’t now. Fans will have to wait a year, maybe two, before it will be exciting to watch basketball in New Orleans again.
But, they’re well on their way to becoming competitive.
Here are some reasons why.
Using this season as a stepping stone for the future, the Hornets core players are under contract for at least the next two seasons.
Greivis Vasquez, the most consistent player on the roster, will be a Hornet through at least the 2014-15 season, a year in which the team has a qualifying offer.
Eric Gordon, the highest paid player, and Ryan Anderson are under contract through the 2015-16 season. Gordon has a player option in the last year on his deal.
Rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers have team options in the 2014-15 season as well as the 2015-16 season. They each have qualifying offers in the 2016-17 season.
Center Robin Lopez signed a three-year, $15.36 million deal prior to the start of this season.
Despite the lack of consistency on the Hornets this year, the players are going to be around each other for a while. Barring any trades, there is ample time to right the wrongs, and it will happen quickly.
They will grow and develop together, teaching and learning from each other along the way.
After this years trade deadline passed, Terrance Harris from the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported the Hornets received calls inquiring on the young nucleus of talent. They, of course, passed up any offer, and Hornets GM Dell Demps remarked:
I usually don’t like to talk about actual trade details but what I will say is we got a call on a number of guys but we really like our core, we like our young group and we want to see them grow. It’s a good sign when players call on your team, it means they have value but we like our young group right now.
With multiple years to develop together, this will be a very dangerous group of players.
Anthony Davis Is the NBA’s Next Superstar
It took some time for Anthony Davis to get accustomed to the speed and physicality of the NBA. After all, he was just a teenager when he played his first game.
A lost Hornets season may be a blessing for Davis, who needed this year to improve, adjust and mature. Still, he’s averaging 13.1 points per game, 7.9 boards per game, 1.8 blocks and owns a healthy 21.42 PER in 53 games played.
He’s getting stronger, but still needs to grow into his body to be an effective big man.
After missing a handful of games in the first month and a half of the season, Davis has come on strong in the second half. In his 13 games since the All-Star break, he is averaging 15.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Coach Monty Williams revealed some of his summer plans for Davis to Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune,
As he gets stronger, he's going to have a better jump shot, he's going to be able to develop a post move. This summer, we're going to work on a go-to move for him that he can go-to. His weak-side defense is going to have to get better. But with his ability to block shots, I think that's going to make him a defensive stud some day, especially on the weak side.
To compare Davis to some of the top power forwards/centers in the league, Dwight Howard averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his rookie year. Kevin Garnett averaged 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in his rookie season.
Both Howard and Garnett skipped college and entered the league as teenagers. While it may not be fair to compare Davis to players of such high caliber, it's worth noting how his rookie numbers stack up against some of the best in the game today.
Though Davis has had his struggles this season, the sky’s the limit for him in the years to come. He will turn into a dynamic big man with his shot blocking ability and high field goal percentage (51.3 this year).
There’s a lot to look forward to out of Davis.
Every contender has a superstar. And every contender has a group of role players.
For the Hornets, those role players include Al-Farouq Aminu and Ryan Anderson.
With these players, New Orleans has all the tools they need to be successful.
To complement the star-status of Davis, Gordon, Vasquez and potentially Rivers, these role players know what they need to do to get the job done.
Aminu continues to get better. Posting career-best numbers in his second year with the Hornets, he averages 7.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. His role is clear. At 6’9”, he needs to rebound the basketball.
Aminu has already set a career high with 470 rebounds this season, he just needs to show consistency. Defense is his specialty and he's been the best defender on the team this year. Still learning, the 22-year-old Aminu's time is coming, and it’s just about here.
Anderson’s role is three-point shooting. When the stars have off nights, Anderson sparks the team with his ability to hit from beyond the arc. He’s hit a career-high 183 threes, stepping up when his number is called. He won the Most Improved Player award last season, while continuing to impress.
In the running for NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year this season, Anderson will build off of this year and be a worthy role player on a team destined for great things.
Building a solid group of role players around their star-caliber players, the Hornets are set up for a quick turn around.
Eric Gordon Will Emerge as a Leader
Eric Gordon has suffered through nagging knee issues all season, yet he’s still the leading scorer for New Orleans.
Once he gets his strength and works diligently to condition his knee, it will be a treat to see his production at 100 percent.
This season, he’s not allowed to play the back end of a back-to-back, largely because of the strain it will have on his knee.
With his limited role this season, he will be hungry to prove to his critics that he can handle being the go-to guy. His numbers are a little below his career average, but battling through injury he's had a fairly impressive season.
The veteran of the bunch, at just 24 years old, Gordon is going to develop into a leader on the court. His hefty salary will demand so and he'll need to show his commitment to the team.
The Hornets are being overly cautious with Gordon, ensuring he will be healthy next season, when they expect to be in contention.
Averaging just under 17 points per game, he’s shown he can be a great franchise player. When he signed the max contract of four years, $58 million, that’s what the Hornets envisioned: a franchise player to build around.
In his best season with the Clippers in 2010-11, Gordon averaged 22.3 points per game and 4.4 assists. If he can get back to that level of production, the Hornets will be in good shape going forward.
Seeing the way this team is shaping up, Gordon will do everything he possibly can to stay on the court, which in turn makes the Hornets a much better team.
He will garner the attention of the defense as a shooting threat, leaving his teammates with open looks.
It’s a long process for Gordon to get his explosiveness back, especially pushing off that injured knee, but when you look at the future, it looks bright for Gordon and his team.
Being young is a good problem to have. That means you’re set up for a bright future.
Without a proven veteran to offer guidance, the Hornets have struggled immensely.
Sometimes, as a young team, you need to experience the losing end to really be motivated to win. Losing doesn’t feel good, especially when you lose as often as the Hornets have.
There have been stretches of great basketball, but the inconsistencies on both ends of the floor highlight this teams youth.
John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune spoke with Eric Gordon, who told him:
This is still the youngest team I have ever been on. There are always ups and down when you are on a young team, but we have to learn from them. It’s part of the game and there is just a learning curve.
Looking ahead, this season will prove to be invaluable. The players will become experienced, learn the style and pace of the NBA and learn how to handle adversity. With all the injuries facing this team, there has been plenty of adversity.
Lined up for another lottery pick in June's draft, the Hornets will be able to fill any holes they may have with more young talent. The best bet at this point would be a small forward, someone to complement Aminu.
While still developing, the next couple of years are going to be special for Hornets fans.
This team will be playing its best basketball, living up to its potential in the very near future. A season of maturity will go a long way toward their development and emergence in the Western Conference.