The New Orleans Hornets will return to relevancy in the near future, thanks in large part to the budding tandem of Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon. In an aging Western Conference, the young Hornets have the potential to be an exciting team for years to come.
With Davis and Gordon as their franchise cornerstones, the Hornets have a duo with the talent to dominate on both ends of the court. Gordon, the centerpiece of last season's Chris Paul trade, is the team's best offensive weapon. Meanwhile, the No. 1 overall pick, Davis, has the potential to be a special shot-blocker.
Gordon leads all Hornets in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game. When healthy, he has a nice inside-outside mix to his offensive game. At 215 pounds, he has the strong frame to absorb contact when attacking the basket. He's also a career 36 percent shooter from behind the arc.
Davis' rookie season hasn't been the one for the ages that many might have hoped, but it has still been solid. He is the team's leader in rebounds (eight per game) and blocks (averaging 1.7 per contest) this season. On the offensive end, he's averaging 13.3 points per game and is shooting 52 percent from the field.
Davis is also in the midst of his best month as a rookie. The former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging 16.3 points and 10.1 rebounds a night in the month of March. That's a significant jump from the 11.2 points and seven rebounds per game he was averaging in February.
For all of their combined talent, leading the Hornets on the road back to relevance will be contingent on a few factors.
For Gordon, the biggest key for him going forward will be staying healthy. The former Indiana Hoosier missed the first 29 games of the season with a knee injury. Problems with that same knee kept Gordon out of all but nine games in his first season with New Orleans last year.
The guard has also not been cleared to play in back-to-back games yet, as the team continues to be cautious with their top offensive weapon's health. In his five-year career, Gordon has never played a full season. His career high in games played was 78 back in 2009-10 with the Clippers, which was his rookie season.
In the case of Davis, he has to add more muscle to his lanky frame. The rookie has exceptional quickness and speed for a big man, but he needs to bulk up to be able to handle the punishment of playing inside in the NBA. An additional 20 pounds of muscle would go a long way to helping Davis become the franchise big man he was drafted to be.
Also, like Gordon, Davis has to find a way to stay on the court as well. While his injury history is nowhere near as vast as Gordon's, Davis' rookie season has been hindered by a variety of injuries, from a bum ankle to troubles with his shoulder. So far, he's missed 15 games this year.
When they are on the court together, Davis and Gordon have proven to be a formidable duo. In these series of clips, we will take a look at the pair's individual skill set as well as how they play off of each other.
The first video is from the Hornets' most recent game, a 105-91 loss on March 27 vs. the Clippers. Gordon led all players with 24 points that game, while Davis was the Hornets' top rebounder with nine boards.
In the first minute of the video, Gordon's defense is on display. At the eight-second mark, he jumps in front of a bad pass from Chris Paul and goes coast-to-coast for the dunk. Thirty-eight seconds in, Gordon tips the ball loose from Jamal Crawford and the Hornets gain possession. At 53 seconds, Gordon makes his third steal of the game by breaking up a lob pass.
On offense, Gordon is at his best when he makes a few extra dribbles and then drives to the basket to initiate contact. Even with his reputation for being fragile, Gordon is willing to take punishment if it means drawing the foul or getting the tough bucket. The best example comes at 2:45 when he drives right at Ryan Hollins for the hoop and the harm.
As for Davis, he really put his developing jumper on display in this Clipper game. Throughout the video, you'll see the rookie showing off his range. The No. 1 overall pick would convert six shots from outside the paint against the Clippers.
Davis is most effective when he's at the rim. According to HoopData.com, he's converting 71 percent of his shots around the rim and 50.6 percent of his attempts made within three to nine feet. At the 3:06 point of the clip, you'll see some nice teamwork as Davis gets the basket and the foul after a nice pass from Gordon.
This next clip is from New Orleans' game against the Brooklyn Nets on March 12. It was one of Davis' best defensive performances this season, as he finished with five blocks. The most emphatic of his five swats comes at the 1:50 mark, when Davis spikes Deron Williams' shot into the stands.
On the offensive end, Davis utilized his great length and athleticism. Seven seconds in, he catches a rebound off the rim with one hand and slams it down for the easy two points. At the 40-second spot, Davis rolls to the basket off the pick and finishes with a nice two-handed dunk. Another great highlight comes at the 1:30 mark when Davis adjusts to Greivis Vasquez's pass and converts the alley-oop.
With the combination of a sneaky jumper, unique ball-handling skills and an impressive ability to finish at the rim, Davis has the tools to become a devastating offensive weapon for the Hornets.
In this final clip, it's the Gordon and Davis Show again against the Knicks on Jan. 13. The first play of the highlight reel shows the duo working well together, with Davis benefiting from another sweet look from Gordon.
Gordon had better success with his jumper in the Knicks game than in the earlier clip against the Clippers. At the eight-second mark, he strokes a three-point shot. At 44 seconds in, he nails a tough fadeaway jumper. Finally, at the 1:22 mark, he converts the long two.
When Gordon has his jumper working, he's a tough guy to stop. His outside shot has been a little spotty this season. He's converting just 33 percent of his attempts between 16 and 23 feet, according to Hoop Data. Last season, he was shooting 45 percent from that distance and shot 38 percent from there the year before.
After starting off 6-23 in Gordon's absence, the Hornets are 19-24 since his return on Dec. 29. While that isn't the greatest of records, it's a promising sign for next season, especially if Gordon is able to play in back-to-back games.
With the 20-year-old Davis and the 24-year-old Gordon, the Hornets have a young nucleus that the team can build around for years to come. They also have a couple nice role players in point guard Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez, both of whom are having career years this season.
The team still needs to round out the starting five by upgrading their starting small forward position as well as strengthening their bench. The former could come in this June's draft, which looks to be deep at the three. The team also has considerable cap room to add to their second unit.
For the team to be a fixture in the playoffs, however, their fate rests on Gordon and Davis. Davis will continue to develop as he gets stronger and gains more experience. His March statistics are a promising sign, as he's progressing at a time where most rookies hit the wall.
As for Gordon, the team decided to match Phoenix's four-year, $58 million offer with the idea that he'd be their franchise guy. It is time for Gordon to make good on his end of the bargain by putting together a few healthy seasons. A combined 39 games in just under two seasons isn't what the Hornets hoped for when they decided to trade for him.
The Hornets are going to be a young and exciting team for years to come. To be relevant, though, it all starts with Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis living up to their star potential.