by Steve Geller, Steve@wwl.com,posted Oct 31 2012 8:40AM
The Hornets open the regular season tonight. New Orleans hosts San Antonio. With so many changes for the Hornets, let's take a look at this revamped team. The biggest changes take place up front, with the club possessing four capable players to fill the three spots.
Most eyes will be on the rookie Anthony Davis, the prize of the draft who helped lead the Kentucky Wildcats to the NCAA Championship as a freshman before jumping to the NBA.
The 6-foot-10, 19-year-old is a great defender with a knack for blocking shots. That should instantly make him a favorite of Head Coach Monty Williams.
General Manager Dell Demps made sure to get Davis some help as well. After trading away center Emeka Okafor and swingman Trevor Ariza to clear a starting spot for the rookie, Demps made a deal with the Orlando Magic to secure the services of 6-foot-10 forward Ryan Anderson, while also getting center Robin Lopez from the Phoenix Suns as part of a three-team trade.
Lopez is a 7-footer and a nice option that will eat up minutes in the middle and save Davis some wear-and-tear down low.
Anderson will also be key to giving Davis some room to work. Though he has the body of a big man, the four-year vet has the shooting touch of a sniper. The 24-year-old set career bests with 16 points and 8 rebounds per game with the Magic last season and led the league in three-pointers made on the way to earning the NBA's Most Improved Player award.
Anderson's ability to shoot from the outside will force teams to pull a player out of the paint and give Davis some room to thrown down dunks.
Anderson or Lopez could come off the bench and leave minutes at the small forward spot to Al-Farouq Aminu, who had a strong finish to the 2011-12 campaign.
Eric Gordon became the de facto franchise guy a season ago after coming over from the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, but one season removed from a 22.3 point and 4.4 assist per game campaign, he was limited to just nine contests due to injury. He has seen very little action during training camp as he tries to get ready for this season.
Gordon is one of the league's up-and-comers and is under contract for the next four years after New Orleans matched the offer the restricted shooting guard got from the Phoenix Suns worth $58 million.
While Austin Rivers figures to be Gordon's running mate of the future, it seems likely that Coach Williams will opt to open the season with Greivis Vasquez starting at the point. The second-year guard was one of three players to appear in all 66 games last season for New Orleans, and the club went 12-14 when he started.
Monty Williams figures to throw some different looks out early in the season in an effort to find the right mix of players to generate offense. That should give his bench a changing look throughout the year.
Rivers should see plenty of minutes, even if he doesn't start. The 20-year-old became just the third freshman in Duke's star-laced history to lead the team in scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game. Rivers sprained his ankle twice in the preseason, so how much time he sees off the bat is unknown.
There is also 2nd round draft pick, and 2012 SEC Sixth Man of the Year Darius Miller, as an option. He was a college teammate of Davis'. He should see some minutes, along with forward Hakim Warrick and big man Jason Smith, who averaged nearly 10 points and five rebounds a game last year in 40 games while missing time with a concussion.
Warrick, entering his seventh NBA season, figures to offer this young squad some valuable experience off the bench along with eight-year veteran guard Roger Mason Jr.
The Hornets don't figure to walk over opponents night in and night out, as there will be some growing pains for the club. The Hornets will first have to establish offensive identity, while also making sure young players commit to defense.
Talents like Davis, Rivers, Anderson and Miller are used to winning, and the upcoming season could offer many moments of frustration. The key is turning those moments into lessons that will serve the Hornets down the road. At best, I could see the team vying for the 8 seed in the West.
2011-12 Results: 21-45, fifth in Southwest Division; Missed playoffs
KEY ADDITIONS: F Anthony Davis, G Austin Rivers, F Ryan Anderson, C Robin Lopez, F Hakim Warrick, F Darius Miller, G Roger Mason Jr.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: PG- Greivis Vasquez SG- Eric Gordon SF- Al-Farouq Aminu PF- Anthony Davis C - Robin Lopez
KEY RESERVES: G Austin Rivers, F Ryan Anderson, C/F Jason Smith, F Darius Miller, G Roger Mason Jr.