Scouting the Opposition: New Orleans Hornets
For every home game this season, we’ll be gathering some intel on the opposing team from someone who knows them best — a team employee, a rival blogger, beat writer or broadcaster.
His answers are below:
Hawks.com: Hawks fans got a sneak peak at Anthony Davis in the preseason, and he looked the part of a future star. Midway through his rookie season, is he on track to become a franchise-caliber player?
Jim Eichenhofer: Yes, but it may not happen overnight. The most-discussed aspect of Davis’ background is that he’s only been a frontcourt player for a few years – he had an incredible growth spurt in high school. That rapid growth transformed him from a lightly-recruited, 6-foot-2 guard, to a 6-10 forward/center who every program in America wanted. It was a great story, but in terms of his NBA readiness, he still needs to add muscle and bulk to his 220-pound frame to be able to hold his ground in the paint. He’ll also work this summer on expanding his low-post repertoire. Based on his relatively brief amount of time as a big, he doesn’t seem comfortable playing with his back to the basket yet, so his offense tends to be the result of opportunistic scores, such as alley oop dunks, putbacks and cleaning up fast breaks. He has solid numbers (13.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks in 28.4 minutes per game), but seems to be just scratching the surface in terms of his potential. He also has an accurate mid-range shot (he’s at 53.1 percent from the field), but given all of his natural gifts, it will be a better usage of his tools if he can score more often near the basket. Defensively, his shot-blocking prowess has been impressive, including the ability to occasionally reject the jump shots of surprised opponents.
Hawks.com: Eric Gordon is a terrific talent, but has had trouble staying healthy. What’s the latest with his progress?
JE: Long story short, he’s made an immediate impact on the team in the win column this season, even if his individual statistics aren’t up to the level you might expect yet. New Orleans was 6-23 when he made his season debut on Dec. 29, but has gone 9-7 in the 16 games he’s played. Due to a knee injury, Gordon went over eight months between playing in an NBA game, so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that he still says his conditioning is not at 100 percent. He’s also been held out of the second game of all back-to-backs as a precautionary medical measure, which may be making it a bit harder to get into a groove. Either way, New Orleans is a total of 15-10 over the past two seasons in Gordon’s appearances, but just 22-68 when he doesn’t play. He’s shooting just 39.6 percent from the field (34.8 on three-pointers), but the win-loss ratio is a much more telling stat in terms of the difference he’s made on the Hornets. He always draws extra defensive attention and is a willing passer, which has helped role players such as Jason Smith and Roger Mason capitalize on getting more open shots.
Hawks.com: Ryan Anderson came over from the Magic in the offseason. Is it a surprise to see him leading the team in scoring at this point?
JE: It’s somewhat surprising because Gordon was expected to be the No. 1 scorer, but Anderson was forced to carry New Orleans’ offense early in the season, particularly during a 13-game stretch in which both Davis and Gordon were sidelined. Anderson responded with one of the best shooting months of his career in November. When he played for Orlando, I was always impressed by Anderson’s ultra-unique combination of being one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters, but also a tremendous rebounder. Some skeptics speculated that part of Anderson’s effectiveness with the Magic came from playing with the dominant inside presence of Dwight Howard. But after getting the chance to watch him play on a nightly basis, I actually think Anderson is underrated. He’s been invaluable as the team’s sixth man, capable of making difficult and contested shots at critical times. As part of the second unit, he’s often been on the floor with far less experienced teammates.
Hawks.com: The trade deadline is just a few weeks away – do you foresee the Hornets being active in the market?
JE: It’s always difficult to predict this, but I’d tend to lean toward them not being overly active. As the second-youngest team in the NBA, I think the Hornets will spend the second half of the regular season evaluating and assessing the players on the roster, as they decide how to proceed in 2013-14. Given some of the key injuries this season, the team hasn’t had a great opportunity to gel, making it perhaps a bit more difficult to get a true read on individuals and the roster as a whole. I expect to see New Orleans continue to emphasize the steady improvement of the club’s handful of early-20-somethings. The upcoming draft and summer league will be critical as the franchise moves into a new era as the rebranded Pelicans.
Hawks.com: The Hornets have the worst record in the West at present, but are clearly working to build for the long term. How would you define success for the team this season?
JE: Although it may not be overly consequential in the big picture, over the remainder of 2012-13, I’d like to see the Hornets continue to show that they’re already a competitive team when at full strength. The 9-7 record when Gordon plays hints that New Orleans still obviously has work to do, but is not as bad as its overall 16-33 record indicates. If the Hornets can play .500 or above in the final 33 games, it should give them excellent traction entering next season. More importantly in terms of gauging the team’s success, however, is that Davis continues to develop, as well as players such as 20-year-old rookie Austin Rivers, 22-year-old Al-Farouq Aminu (an Atlanta native, coincidentally), 22-year-old rookie Darius Miller and first-year Hornets starters Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez.