Biggest Issues New Orleans Hornets Must Address This Offseason
The New Orleans Hornets, now called the New Orleans Pelicans, suffered another season of growth and progression.
As the second-youngest team in the league, there were plenty of growing pains. Real pain was prevalent as well. Some of the biggest names on the roster struggled through injury, including Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers.
If the roster can stay healthy for the bulk of the season, the core of this team has a chance to do some special things for New Orleans in the very near future.
Still, for a 27-55 team, there are a number of issues to address. Whether it’s personnel issues or rotation issues, there is a lot of work to be done in the summer.
In order to get back into contention, here are five of the biggest issues heading into the offseason.
5. Improve Bench Depth
To become a complete team, the Hornets need production from their bench.
Ryan Anderson was a blessing this season, averaging just over 16 points per game.
However, the rest of the bench was outplayed night-in and night-out. Brian Roberts did perform considerably well backing up Greivis Vasquez, but he may not be back next year.
Although the bench scored at an average mark of 34.9 points per game, there are a lot of question marks. Only Anderson and Rivers have guaranteed roster spots next year.
Countless times this season, we saw the Hornets jump out to an early lead. When the starters needed a breather, the momentum was crushed and consequently, the lead lost. A couple of quality bench players who can keep the momentum going will quickly turn this team around.
Poor bench play was on display in an early April loss to the Utah Jazz. The Jazz won by 12, but the Hornets' bench was a putrid 2-of-25 from the field.
There is plenty of flexibility around the salary cap, so there are a variety of routes the Hornets can go to find bench depth.
The bench is a very undervalued aspect of basketball. If the backups don’t produce, close games will be lost, which was a recurring problem.
4. Does Anthony Davis Switch Positions?
This past season, Ryan Anderson was one of the most consistent scorers on the Hornets. Because of the presence of Anthony Davis, Anderson was forced to come off the bench.
Moving Davis to center will allow both players to be in the starting lineup. While he’s been criticized for his lack of muscle, Davis has actually played better at the 5 than at the 4. Center is where he is comfortable.
He puts himself into position to block shots and gets to the line more frequently. According to 82games.com, his player efficiency rating is almost five points higher when playing center (25.9) than power forward (20.4).
Though he can knock down a mid-range jumper, Davis’ ability to find the rim from inside is what he’s known for.
He will be a productive NBA player no matter his position, and he needs to improve his post-game, but switching positions is something that has to seriously be considered.
Utilizing the inside game of Davis and the outside game of Anderson will make the Hornets a more dangerous team.
3. Sign Proven Veteran
Last year’s starters had an average age of 23 years old. The oldest of the bunch, 26-year-old Greivis Vasquez, was playing his first season as a full-time starter.
A proven veteran will mentor and guide this team who suffered from youth and lack of leadership.
After parting ways with Jarrett Jack, Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli and Emeka Okafor prior to the start of this season, there was no one to help direct this group of youngsters.
This year was a season of growth and maturity. While this season will prove to have been a valuable experience going forward, the need for a veteran is a huge issue heading into the offseason.
The Hornets need someone capable of allowing the core players to excel with the ball in their hands. We've see how some of the older teams have become the best in basketball.
The New York Knicks were the oldest team this season, finishing second in the Eastern Conference. The second-oldest team is the Miami Heat, a team who just concluded with the best regular-season record in basketball.
A good mix of youth and veterans will move this team in a positive direction.
Free agency doesn’t offer many inexpensive options to suit this role, so the Hornets may have to get creative and work out a trade. They could really benefit with a small forward.
2. Address the Small Forward Position
While New Orleans has a ton of young talent around the roster, the small forward position is in dire need of an upgrade.
With Al-Farouq Aminu set to become a free agent, the Hornets could lose a player who started 71 games this season.
Opponents have had a field day against the small forwards of the Hornets this season. It’s where some of the game's best scorers play.
LeBron James scorched them for 36 points, Kevin Durant for 35 and even Paul George scored 37 on them this season.
The offensive production from the Hornets' small forwards has been virtually non-existent. The trio of Aminu, Darius Miller and Lance Thomas average about 12 points a game. Aminu alone averages 7.5.
The Hornets utilize other positions to find their offense, despite the fact that small forward is a premier position in the NBA.
There are several ways to upgrade here. With the cap room they currently possess, free agency could be a route they take. Josh Smith would be an immediate upgrade. Smith averaged 17.9 points this past season, adding 8.4 boards per game.
Andre Iguodala is another intriguing option. Potentially becoming an unrestricted free agent, Iguodala is a dynamic player on both ends of the court. He would provide veteran leadership, and he has a knack for the rim. With a career average of 15.1 points per game, his durability and veteran presence would change the entire scope of the team.
If the Hornets decide to upgrade via the draft, there are a number of small forwards to choose from. Owning another lottery pick, like Georgetown’s Otto Porter or UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, makes the most sense.
Regardless of how the Hornets' management decides to address this situation, upgrading the small forward position is a must this offseason.
1. Decide What to Do with Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon, the key piece in the deal that sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles, has not lived up to expectations in New Orleans. Since arriving in the Big Easy, trade talks involving Gordon have been persistent.
Playing in just 51 games over the past two seasons, Gordon’s value is extremely low.
Beginning to return to full health at the end of the season, he averaged 20.2 points in the last five games in what might be considered a tryout for a different team.
John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported the team is likely to remain open to trading its franchise player in the offseason.
Not knowing if he can stay healthy is a big cause for concern amongst inquiring teams. If the Hornets were to deal Gordon, the return package would not be anything intriguing.
The best option for New Orleans would be to keep Gordon for at least another year. He can score from anywhere on the court, is quick on his feet and possesses the ability to drive past defenders for an easy bucket at the rim.
Without knowing what a fully healthy Eric Gordon can provide to the team, it's too early to throw in the towel. If his knee can hold up, he has the talent to be a top shooting guard in the league.
Gordon is the biggest issue facing the Hornets this offseason.
Despite all the controversy amid his limited playing time, Gordon still led the team in scoring this season.
General manager Dell Demps has built this team around Gordon. He needs to commit to a full summer of workouts and form bonds with his young teammates to be the player he was signed for.