With Anthony Davis absent from the lineup, the New Orleans Hornets fell to 3-6 last night after suffering a 102-80 loss to the New York Knicks.
The early season hope for the Hornets has crumbled quickly after the team opened up the campaign with a solid performance against the San Antonio Spurs and a stretch of four games in which the Hornets came away with three victories. Since that time, Monty Williams’ side hasn’t been able to put together a winning performance.
What’s ailing the Hornets changes from game to game and can’t be pinned to a lack of any one thing. This is a team in the midst of a multi-year rebuild and is fielding a lineup that struggles to do anything consistently, even the bad things. New Orleans is the kind of team that can win despite turning the ball over five more times than their opponent and lose despite out rebounding the other side or scoring more points in the paint.
On paper, the Hornets are confusing, there are no stats to back up any assertions you can make about them, except one. For the Hornets to win, points in the paint are crucial and without Anthony Davis in the lineup, the Hornets struggle to find the close range buckets to help them win games.
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At no time has this been more evident than on Tuesday night, when the strong front court of the New York Knicks had their way with New Orleans in the paint outscoring them 30-20. Robin Lopez, although much improved, is still a far cry from a dominant force and could benefit from showing a bit of toughness. His game has always been soft and without Davis there to provide his 16 points, 8 rebounds and two blocks per game, the Hornets look vulnerable as Ryan Anderson polishes his game to eventually resemble that of a power forward rather than a perimeter player.
While games like Tuesday’s may be frustrating for NOLA fans to watch, rarely have the Hornets themselves been boring to watch. Point guard Greivis Vasquez is having a career year averaging 8.9 assists per game, the third best total in the league. As a team, the Hornets are 6th in the league in assists, up from 16th last season.
Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu has transformed into a solid contributor in his first season as a steady starter, averaging 12 points, 8 rebounds, two steals and one block per game. His ability to dunk the basketball certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to winning him points with the fans either.
Losing Gustavo Ayon and replacing him Ryan Anderson was a master stroke by general manager Dell Demps as the former Orlando player has brought a real three point threat into the team’s ranks and is averaging a career high 16.4 points and 8 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, Anderson is the team’s only real three point threat, a fact that becomes evident when you consider that New Orleans doesn’t shoot the three much at around 18 times per game and shoots 34% in doing it.
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With exciting rookies in Davis and Austin Rivers, the amount of cap space at their disposal, the potential scorer that could be coming back into the team in Eric Gordon and players like Anderson settling into their lineup, New Orleans has reason to be optimistic even if they do finish this season well under .500.
For a moment, imagine the Hornets are lucky enough to receive another top five pick in the draft. Adding yet another solid young player to the lineup they have may just be the best remedy for success as the franchise builds for the future. A lot of other factors will play into it by years end, but if it were to happen, it could swiftly resurrect the Hornets. Demps has to handle the Gordon situation properly and the team has to get better production out of Robin Lopez or get backup Jason Smith more minutes.
The future holds bright things for the Hornets. Among them an eventual postseason berth down the road, an all star caliber youngster in Davis and a general revival hope for hoops in the Big Easy.