Enemy: New Orleans Hornets
Coach: Monty Williams
Potential Starting 5: Grievis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Al Farouq-Aminu, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis
Other Key Players: Austin Rivers, Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick, Jason Smith, Roger Mason
Threats: Versatility inside, Energy, Shooting
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 3-1
Without going into specifics, the Hornets cleaned house this offseason, and mustered a return of some nice pieces to move forward with. The consolation prize of Anthony Davis certainly makes the aftershocks of what at first glance seemed to be a CP3 heist sting the fan base a bit less. Though it will be a royal pain in the you-know-what, Anthony Davis has a golden opportunity to polish his chops in this division, playing a healthy amount of games against future hall of fame frontcourt players, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, and a few more against our own Zach and Marc, who are no slouches either. There is a lot that he can learn from playing against these guys, and if he is going to be a top flight player in this league down the line, he should definitely bring a pad and pencil to these match ups. New Orleans didn’t just simply sit on their laurels after winning the first pick, but instead swept the roster of the remaining pieces from the Chris Paul era. After drafting Davis, they went out and acquired the reigning Most Improved Player, Ryan Anderson via sign-and-trade with Orlando. They then rounded out their offseason by trading for Robin Lopez to man the middle.
So assessing what the Hornets have here is quite interesting. Where they lacked in talent last year, they matched in spirit. In spite of their futile positioning, Monty Williams had his guys fighting hard and believing in what they were part of all the way up until the end. The Hornets finished the year going 6-3 in their last 9, and added a nice group of young talent to stoke the fire. First focusing the lens on the guards, Greivis Vasquez looked like a very good point guard for the team. I’ve seen few guys possess the competitive drive that he carries with him to each and every game. He may have overachieved a bit, playing more out of necessity than qualification, but he has entrenched himself in the rotation for sure. The Hornets used their 10th pick in the draft on Austin Rivers out of Duke, who has drawn comparisons to OJ Mayo for the likenesses of their games in size and scoring ability. However, I do think that the similarities end there. While OJ preferred to be ball dominant, I get the sense that Austin is more comfortable and effective with that responsibility. Rivers is a very smooth player with crisp handles, a good shot, and some fantastic NBA DNA to boot. He’ll likely struggle mightily with efficiency in his rookie year, but I see him evolving into a strong future back court mate for Eric Gordon. Speaking of Gordon, the other major component of the Chris Paul package didn’t get to see much of the court last season, which Hornets fans hope does not continue as a trend for him. When healthy, Gordon can be a game-changing scorer. On the front lines, Davis has been one of the most talked about entries into the league in some time. There is not much to be said about him that hasn’t been covered from all angles by the media, so I won’t bore you all with the details there. What I will say is that this cat can be something special. Outside of Davis, the acquisitions of Lopez and Anderson provide a good deal of versatility at the four and five spots. Lopez is pretty much an average center with good size and slightly above average defensive ability. He showed signs of greater promise early on in Phoenix, but never took the leap to a higher level that he was expected to. Maybe the change of scenery could bring him out of his shell. As for Anderson, he came out of his shell last season, emerging from the dark cloud of shadows that Dwight Howard cast over Orlando. He’s a guy with good size that can hit the glass and step out and shoot the three. With the diversity that this trio of bigs gives the Hornets, I’m curious to see if Monty will mix it up and put the three of them on the court together for stretches, as people have been speculating. At the very least, I’m very intrigued to see what Monty does with this squad.
For our Grizzly purposes, the Hornets are a team to keep an eye on for the future, but do not figure to pose too much imminent danger to us this year. As long as the Grizzlies play like they care, they should be able to handle this Hornets team pretty decently. Still, there are definitely some things to look out for. Despite the fact that we have in theory upgraded our long range game, we don’t want to get into a shootout with them. Given our propensity to leave big men that can shoot on an island out there, Ryan Anderson will probably launch bombs away against us, and Gordon, Rivers, Roger Mason and Greivis can all heat up from out there as well, if given the chance. Speaking of Greivis, the guy always plays in 5th gear which could hurt or help us depending on the night. Same as when he played for us. Al Farouq Aminu is a lengthy, pretty good defender that could frustrate Rudy, but I don’t think take him off his game entirely. Lastly, the thing that worries me the most about this matchup is Zach Randolph likely being guarded by Anthony Davis. Davis has the length and shot blocking to suffocate Zach in the post, and the athleticism to press him on his patented slight-fade-away jumper. The battle between them is going to be won and lost by positioning. Still, even if Zbo is neutralized, I can’t see the Hornets managing to beat the rest of our guys with regularity. If pressed, I would say that the Hornets catch us off guard for a game this year, but we take the season set 3-1 again.