Revisiting Preseason Predictions for the New Orleans Hornets

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIApril 15, 2013

Apr 5, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New Orleans Hornets power forward Anthony Davis (23) prepares to shoot a free throw during the second half against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz won 95-83. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In the immortal words of Denny Green, the 2012-13 New Orleans Hornets "are what we thought they were." With one last game against Dallas remaining and nothing left to play for, the Hornets will likely finish the season at 27-55.

If New Orleans does indeed fall to Dallas on April 17, their record will match the preseason projection made by Yahoo! Sports contributor Mark Hawkins. Hawkins broke down the Hornets' schedule, game-by-game, back in October and fore-casted the team to finish 27-55.

A couple of other sites had slightly higher hopes for Monty Williams' team.

In their yearly summer forecast, ESPN predicted the Hornets would finish 31-51. The article cites a couple tweets from fans. One stated that 31 wins might be "too low", while another thought "37 to 42 wins" was reasonable after looking over the schedule.

On this very site, Bleacher Report correspondent Lindsey Young projected New Orleans to finish 30-52. Young stated that the Hornets' "offseason additions will dramatically improve the team's potential and relevancy."

As for myself, I fell victim to drinking a little bit too much of the Hornets' Kool-Aid. Back in July, I broke down the team's schedule, month-by-month, and had them finishing the season at 42-40 with an "outside shot at the postseason." It turns out that prognostication was just a little bit off.

So, what went wrong for the 2012-13 New Orleans Hornets? The answer is a number of things.

1. Injuries

The injury bug feasted on the Hornets' roster mercilessly this season. It started out with the team's usual suspect, Eric Gordon, missing the first 29 games of the season with a knee injury. When Gordon returned on Dec. 29, the team was a laughable 6-23.

Gordon wouldn't be the only Hornet on the trainer's table. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis didn't suffer any serious injuries, but did manage to miss a few games thanks to some untimely bumps. First, he was out for a couple of games with a concussion after being on the receiving end of an Austin Rivers elbow.

Second, there was a foot injury that kept him out for 11 games. After that, Davis missed time with a shoulder ailment. Most recently, the former Kentucky Wildcat sprained his MCL, costing him the final weeks of this season.

Fellow rookie Austin Rivers had his debut season cut short in March after breaking a bone in his right hand. Rivers was in the midst of a horrid rookie season before the injury, shooting 37 percent from the field and posting a 5.9 PER. However, he was starting to find his stride as one of the team's better defensive guards.

The other big injury was backup center Jason Smith. Smith battled a myriad of injuries throughout the season, but finally saw his season end in March due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. While the loss of Smith opened up more minutes for Davis, it hurt the team's depth up front and robbed them of one of their best big men on the pick-and-roll.

It would have been interesting to see how this team would have finished if they could've kept the core healthy all season. Would the Hornets be in contention for the eighth seed if Gordon's knee doesn't keep him out the first two months of the season? Would Rivers have developed into a strong complimentary piece down the stretch? After a solid March, how would Davis have finished the season?

Those are questions that can never be answered. The only thing that is certain is injuries significantly damaged the hopes of a team that wasn't very deep to begin with. It wasn't the sole reason behind their struggles, but it was arguably the biggest one.

2. Youth and Inexperience

The 2012-13 New Orleans Hornets were a fine collection of young talent. The problem was that most of that young talent was inexperienced and the addition of so many new faces hurt team chemistry. For the Hornets to make the playoffs this year, the team would have had to jell quickly.

When Gordon was physically unable to play early on, the fate of the team was left in the hands of forward Ryan Anderson. Anderson was acquired over the summer in a trade with Orlando and was now being saddled with the daunting task of carrying a young team. To his credit, Anderson has been one of the most consistent players on this year's Hornets.

After Anderson, the next best player on opening day was Anthony Davis. Davis was a 19-year old rookie coming off a championship season with the Kentucky Wildcats. He had very little experience leading a fledgling team out of the basement. It was especially tough for Davis, given the preseason hype he had to live up after being the No. 1 overall pick.

The rest of the team was a group of glorified role players and outcasts. Center Robin Lopez and point guard Greivis Vasquez put up career numbers in their first full seasons as starters, but they didn't have the talent to carry the team on their back.

The only player older than 30 on the roster was veteran shooter Roger Mason Jr, who was starting his first season. The second-oldest guy on the team next to the 32-year-old Mason was Jason Smith, who was 27. It wasn't until the team signed high-energy forward Lou Amundson late in the season that the Hornets had another elder statesman on the roster.

Like most young teams, the Hornets struggled to find their groove. The team panicked during close games. They constantly left the door open for teams to come back, including blowing a 22-point lead to Indiana on Dec. 22 and a 21-point lead in the final minute of the third quarter against the Lakers on March 6.

The Hornets still have a lot of growing up to do. On the bright side, Anderson has emerged as a lethal weapon off the bench. Davis was coming off his best month as a rookie before he hurt his knee. Gordon hasn't had any major injuries since missing the first two months and Vasquez has become a breakout star.

With another lottery pick, the team will become even younger, yet more talented. They enter this summer with less needs than last year which means the core should manage to stay in tact. With a season to grow alongside each other under their belt, the Hornets will enter next season significantly less wet behind the ears.

3. Rebounding

The Hornets are currently 20th in the NBA in rebounding with an average of 41.4 boards per game. Rookie Anthony Davis has done his part on the glass, leading the team with 8.2 rebounds a night.

Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu is right behind "The Unibrow" with 7.5 boards per game and forward Ryan Anderson contributes a nightly 6.3 rebounds as well.

The Hornets' problems on the glass are two-fold. First, injuries to Davis and Jason Smith leave a huge void on the glass. Second, the team's three best rebounders are most comfortable at the same position.

Davis doesn't have the bulk to be a NBA center, so he is entrenched at power forward for the time being. Anderson doesn't have the foot speed and defensive acumen to be a small forward, despite the fact his offensive game thrives on the perimeter. Aminu doesn't have a jump shot requisite to play the 3-spot and would be better served playing power forward.

That causes quite the logjam up front, as playing all three together would cause a calamity of problems on both ends of the court. Making matters worse, starting center Robin Lopez hasn't been a consistent force on the boards. His 5.5 rebounds per game are woefully subpar for a starting NBA center.

Starting point guard Greivis Vasquez has put his 6'6" frame to good use, coming down with a little more than four boards per game. However, he can't be relied upon to remedy the team's rebounding woes.

A team with this many talented big men shouldn't be getting pounded on the glass like they have all season. The team could look to upgrade the center position this summer, but their biggest concern is finding a new small forward.

They will be wise to let pending free agent Aminu walk, as the team has no room for him as a backup power forward. Regardless, the team can't expect to contend in a Western Conference filled with talented front-courts with a group of guys who are constantly getting out-muscled in the paint.

4. Defense

Last but certainly not least, the Hornets' defense was one of underlying reasons for their disappointing season. The team did a decent job protecting the rim, with Robin Lopez and Anthony Davis both averaging more than a block per game.

However, the team really struggled stopping the ball and controlling the opposition on the wing. As great as Greivis Vasquez has been on the offensive end (13.9 points, 9.1 assists per game, 43 percent from the field), he was a defensive turnstile thanks to his slow feet. Quicker point guards like Chris Paul and Tony Parker had little trouble getting by Vasquez.

Small forwards feasted on New Orleans. Beyond the obvious names like LeBron James and Kevin Durant (who dominated everyone), guys like Indiana's Paul George had big nights against the Hornets. George had 54 points combined in two games against the Hornets this year.

Caron Butler went for 33 points in a Nov. 26 showdown between the Clippers and Hornets. In their most recent loss to the Mavericks, Shawn Marion led all scorers with 21 points.

The inability to hinder opposing point guards and small forwards is a huge problem in a Western Conference littered with All-Stars at both positions. Eric Gordon has done his part on the defensive end, but he's too fragile to be relied on as the team's main perimeter defender.

The team will get a boost defensively next season when Austin Rivers returns, but he's still a liability offensively. New Orleans will need to find an upgrade at small forward that can contribute on the offensive end as well as contain opponents on defense. That new starter could come in the draft in the form of someone like Georgetown's Otto Porter or Indiana's Victor Oladipo.

The same thing needs to happen at point guard. Vasquez has had some flashes of brilliance this season, but they haven't come on defense. It may be time for the team to cash in on his big season and dangle him in a trade for someone like Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings or Los Angeles' Eric Bledsoe.

Monty Williams came up under former Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, where tough defense was a priority. The Hornets have a couple skilled defenders, but they continue to get picked apart at the same positions. That can't happen again next season.

In the end, the New Orleans Hornets' season was a byproduct of growing pains and actual pains. Injuries thinned the roster and the players that were left didn't have the experience to lead the team out of the cellar.

There are reasons to be optimistic again next season. The team has cap space to be players in free agency. They'll have a pick somewhere in the top five or six this June and their talented core will continue to grow.

With an exciting trio in Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, the Hornets are too talented to continue to fail. Like many of their fellow bottom-feeders, they'll spend this summer fixing their gaping holes in hopes of living up to expectations next season.


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