The first divisional game in the Southwest this season pitted the championship contending San Antonio Spurs against the rebuilding New Orleans Hornets.
The outcome wasn’t much different than you might expect as the Spurs came away with a victory, but this game showcased a matchup of two special players in Tim Duncan, arguably the greatest power forward of all time, and the rookie who has the potential to continue the position’s evolution in Anthony Davis.
The first matchup between the pair saw Duncan claim a slight edge, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds to Davis’ 21 points, seven rebounds. While Davis’ performance wasn’t enough to push his team to a victory, it gave the fans in the Big Easy a little reassurance that they have a franchise player in the making.
The Hornets came out of the Chris Paul saga and their ownership debacle knowing they would face a period of rebuilding. Last season, the team kicked off the new era with the third worst record in the NBA earning them the first pick in the NBA draft through the lottery which allowed them to acquire the Kentucky standout.
In doing so, they now have a big man that can score to go along with the other big piece of their puzzle in Eric Gordon and made several promising acquisitions during the offseason in the form of Davis’ fellow draftee Austin Rivers and sign and trade acquisitions Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez. Along with Al Farouq Aminu, who came over in the Paul trade, New Orleans’ new faces gave the defending division champs a run for their money on Wednesday night, a stark contrast when compared to the 10.5 point average margin of defeat they suffered in four losses against San Antonio last season.
Writers around the NBA are likening Davis to a number of power forwards before him, but perhaps the most unfair to the rookie is the comparison to his two time MVP counterpart on Wednesday.
While his length and demeanor somewhat resemble that of Duncan when he came into the league in 1997, it’s a lot to ask a 19-year old to measure up to a player that forever changed the power forward position and is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Davis’ body is not as NBA ready as Duncan’s was when he came into the league as a 21-year old with a full college career at Wake Forest under his belt. The physicality of the game on a nightly basis will undoubtedly test the player who at 6’10” weighs a mere 220 pounds and is still growing.
Taking into consideration that Duncan has a career average of 20 points per game, shoots around 50% and has never played less than 66 games in a full 82 game season, the keys to the comparison are really health, consistency and the ability to play outside the paint. The last two factors are not definite yet, but Wednesday night showed that the potential is certainly there as Davis knocked down a number of jump shots to provide a performance that lived up to his reputation.
In the end, the experience of Hall of Famers Tony Parker and Duncan partnered with the energy of youngster Kawhi Leonard for 66 of San Antonio’s 99 points as they flexed their muscle as the perennial power of the division. The Hornets don’t have the tools in place to overthrow the current power structure in the Southwest just yet, but the idea that they could isn’t as far fetched as you might expect a year on from the Paul trade.
In just one offseason, New Orleans retooled its lineup to include a number of weapons and have created a team around Davis that can compete with anyone. How effective the rookie’s impact is in a division that includes three teams (Memphis, San Antonio and Dallas) likely to see postseason play remains to be seen, but at the very least the Hornets status as bottom dwellers is likely over.
Save the comparisons for a later date. For this season at least, New Orleans can fall back on the tired cliché that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, knowing that they’ve at least found the foundation in Davis.