Surprises and Disappointments from New Orleans Hornets' 2012-13 Season
With a 27-54 record, we’ll see another lottery pick for the newly formed Pelicans.
Though, throughout the six-month grind, every team has its surprises. Whether it’s players who have outlandish performances or a team effort in a given contest, some things have to go your way. The season wasn’t all bad.
Relying on growth and development for the inexperienced players, Coach Monty Williams had tough decisions to make all season while dealing with a plethora of injuries.
In a season of ups and downs, some players had to carry the weight of the team, while others couldn’t quite live up to expectations.
As the season comes to a close for New Orleans, let’s take a look at some of the season’s biggest surprises and disappointments.
**All stats obtained from ESPN.com**
Disappointment: Failed Experiment of Xavier Henry
Xavier Henry was acquired in January 2012 to help fill the void of injured shooting guard Eric Gordon. He showed promise in his first year in the Big Easy, getting his share of playing time, but he lacked consistency.
This season, as Gordon missed the first 29 games with his oft-injured knee, and Austin Rivers was an inexperienced rookie, Henry failed to sustain a role on this team.
He had his opportunities. Battling through sore knees himself, Henry was given valuable minutes by Monty Williams.
He played 92 minutes during a five-game stretch in December, but scored just 31 points with five assists. Then, his minutes increased again in early February, playing 71 minutes in a four-game stretch. He netted just 19 points without a single dime.
With Gordon unable to play in back-to-backs all season, and Rivers sidelined since early March, Henry has averaged 3.8 points all season, hitting double digits in just three games.
He was full of potential and looked to be a good trade at the time, but his entire NBA career has been a huge disappointment.
Surprise: Al-Farouq Aminu
The 24-year-old Al-Farouq Aminu has started to play more efficient basketball. In his third year, he has started 70 of the 75 games he’s played in, showing durability and consistency night in and night out.
He’s been able to score, rebound and run the floor. His 6’9” frame gives him the length on defense to be a presence inside. This season, he is second on the team with 7.5 rebounds per game.
The former power forward was thrust into the starting small forward role, and he’s made the most of that opportunity.
Matched up against some of the league’s top players, Aminu has managed to score 7.2 points per game. His best game, one of his 11 double-doubles, came against the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 6, when Aminu connected on seven of his nine shots, scoring 16 points and adding 11 rebounds.
The former Wake Forest Demon Deacon has developed into a solid all-around player, showing his value on both ends of the court.
In the words of Monty Williams, Darrell Williams of The Advocate reported:
He’s the best-shape athlete we have. He plays a ton of minutes. He never complains about injuries. He’s probably our best team defender. I don’t know of any (small) forwards in the league who rebound at his rate. And he wasn’t doing all that stuff when he first came.
His production has increased drastically, and it has come in a contract year. He’ll be seeking a pay raise this summer, and his surprisingly efficient season may have forced his way out of New Orleans.
Disappointment: Shooting Guard Play
His lingering knee injury has been the most disappointing. He has recently been cleared to play in back-to-back games, which is just a test of his production as the season winds down.
Gordon's restrictions this season hurt the Hornets. He still leads the team with 17 points per game, but his inability to stay on the court turned into a lost season for New Orleans.
His counterpart, Austin Rivers, wasn’t much better. Still only 20 years old, it took some time for Rivers to adjust to the pace of the NBA. He averaged just 6.2 points per game before fracturing a bone in his right hand against the Lakers on March 6, which ended the rookie’s season.
The explosive shooter out of Duke managed to score in double digits just 11 times in 66 games. Additionally, he failed to score a single point in four games in which he played over 10 minutes.
The No. 10 pick in last year’s draft class, Rivers came to New Orleans with lofty expectations. His defense was non-existent, his scoring efficiency was slim and he’s never been much of a passer, averaging 2.1 assists in his one season in college and his first season with the Hornets.
It’s too early to tell if Rivers will be a bust, but his rookie campaign didn’t help his cause.
Surprise: Maturity and Production of Ryan Anderson
The Hornets made a splash last season after acquiring Ryan Anderson in a sign-and-trade with the Magic for four years and $36 million. Not only did he transition to a new system but to a new role, coming off the bench.
He’s been the sixth man for the Hornets most of the year. Still, he’s getting virtually the same amount of minutes, and more importantly, his production hasn’t diminished.
His dynamic three-point shooting has helped this team stay in games. He averages 16.2 points per game and is second to only Stephen Curry in converted three-pointers, with 212 on the season.
His leadership in the clubhouse has been a blessing for this young team as he’s taken them under his wing. Teammate Jason Smith said to Terrance Harris of the New Orleans Times-Picayune,
During the beginning of the season it was kind of like `I’m a leader, what do I do?’ But toward the end he knows how to wrap his arms around teammates to let them know he’s here. He’s learned that from beginning to end so it’s been a great transformation.
He’s been a constant contributor and is leading by example. He’s missed just one game this season, showing his durability, and has eclipsed 20 points in 24 games.
The young veteran on this club, Anderson had to mature quickly in order to be effective off the bench. His maturation and production has him in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year.
The Hornets knew the player they were getting when they gave him that hefty contract, but his value to this team has been more than they could have hoped for.
Disappointment: Perimeter Defense
The Hornets' inside defense has been a bright spot this year. With the size they possess, they’re able to control the boards and block shots around the rim. Four players average over five rebounds per game.
Defense on the perimeter is presenting team problems. Opponents have gotten too many open looks from outside all season, shooting 52 percent from the field.
When having the lead, the defense seems to relax, and they have squandered four double-digit, fourth-quarter leads this season.
Vasquez, despite his court vision on offense, is subpar on the other side of the ball. He has to get to the spot quicker and contest shots, which he has struggled mightily with.
Point guards have picked apart the defense, either by taking the uncontested shot or finding a teammate on the wing.
In 14 games this year, a shooter has scored 30-plus points against the Hornets. Kyrie Irving did it twice, James Harden reached 30 three times and LeBron James dropped 36 at the end of March.
The Hornets have kept most games close, but those open looks have cost them numerous games.
Surprise: Greivis Vasquez
Greivis Vasquez has been arguably the most surprising player in the entire NBA. After starting 26 of the 66 games he played a year ago, Vasquez has started each and every game he’s appeared in this year, 78.
He’s become the facilitator of a Hornets’ team in need of a leader.
The 6’6” point guard emerged as a candidate for the Most Improved Player Award with his nine assists per game. That is third amongst point guards, behind only Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo. He has the most total assists in the league with 704.
Vasquez earned the confidence of Williams and his teammates through the course of the season, while keeping the defense honest with his shooting. His 25 double-doubles are the second most for point guards, and he has six games this year with at least 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds.
His work ethic and dedication to his craft have attributed to his on-court successes.
Despite not having a well-known name coming into the season, his court vision and ability to run the offense has made him a dangerous weapon and pleasant surprise for the Hornets.