New is the operative word for the 2012-2013 New Orleans Hornets.
First, there is new ownership, local ownership, solidifying the franchise on a permanent basis thanks to Tom Benson. Gone are the regular updates on meeting attendance benchmarks. Gone is the conflicted interest of having David Stern and the league operating the franchise.
A gift from Heaven arrived in the form of Anthony Davis as the Hornets landed the top overall pick in the NBA draft. Davis will live up to his billing though he is not a savior.
The preseason has not provided a great revelation as to what we can expect from this year's Hornets.
Eric Gordon has again been absent. His scoring is desperately needed on a team challenged to score. It is fairly safe to say that as Gordon goes, so go the Hornets. Dell Demps and Monty Williams has staked their futures on Gordon buying in, maturing and remaining healthy.
First-round pick Austin Rivers sprained his right ankle in a preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks. It is the same ankle that Rivers has previously had surgery on though the sprain is not connected to the surgery.
The Hornets announced Tuesday that the MRI for Rivers' ankle showed no structural damage. The team said X-rays taken in Dallas on the ankle were negative and list the rookie as day-to-day.
Gordon and Rivers represented gambles on the part of the Hornets organization. In the case of Rivers, the question mark surrounds whether he can actually play point guard at the NBA level.
Greivis Vasquez, who started many games last season, is best suited to be a reserve. If Vasquez remains the starter, the question of whether the Hornets will improve over last year's finish is substantive.
Clearly, the Hornets drafted Rivers to play alongside Gordon, not to take playing time away from Gordon. How these two guards fare will go a long way toward determining the success or failure of this season's Hornets and for years to come.
Can Rivers play the point? The question remains unanswered. Point guards have a natural feel for the game, the ability to visualize what is to come, the ability to see the floor and get the ball to teammates at the right time, in the right place. Rivers may not have those natural instincts but he is confident, competitive and has the ability to penetrate the paint and to shoot the basketball. Whether that translates at the highest level remains to be seen and will go a long way toward determining the success of the Hornets.
Davis has already displayed his ability to block shots, affect shots and rebound the basketball. He has nice shooting touch but will not be a scorer that can carry a squad though his work ethic will certainly enable him to grow that part of his game.
Along with Davis, the Hornets made a solid acquisition in forward Ryan Anderson. New Orleans would love to use him as a premier sixth man, providing genuine scoring punch off the bench. Anderson has deep shooting range and the intelligence to make the decisions. His size is an asset.
The problem is that Jason Smith has been out with a left shoulder strain. Center Robin Lopez has looked fairly solid and gives the Hornets more size than Emeka Okafor did.
Rookie forward Darius Miller has shown promise and will make the squad. Al- Farouq Aminu remains a question mark. His athleticism and length remain a plus. His shaky ball skills and shooting remain concerns. Are we looking at another Julian Wright or can Aminu blossom into a consistent contributor?
The Hornets open their campaign on Halloween night at New Orleans Arena against the San Antonio Spurs, the franchise which Demps and Williams have sought to emulate.
The differences will be obvious. The Spurs are a veteran, aging team with perhaps one more run, one more season in the sun to compete for a fifth league title under Gregg Popovich. The Hornets are a fledgling, youthful squad just beginning the journey toward what they hope will be championship form.
The one veteran on hand to lend his experience is Roger Mason, Jr. The nine-year player should be a calming influence on an inexperienced team. Seven-year veteran Hakim Warrick has a shot at making the roster as well and could serve in a similar capacity to Mason.
Rookie Brian Roberts is a player to watch at the point. He may be worth a longer look by Williams. Shooting guard Xavier Henry and forward Lance Thomas hope to remain from last year's squad. Henry must display better ability to hit perimeter jumpers while Thomas is a working class hero.
With Davis, Gordon, Rivers, Anderson, Smith, Lopez, Mason and Miller, the Hornets have promise for the future. The difficulty may be in the present as young players learn the game, deal with the grind and mature while playing as opposed to watching.
In the long run, this will be Davis' team. In the short term, Gordon, Anderson and Rivers must prove that they can score the basketball to improve upon what was perhaps the league's worst offensive team a year ago. While we know Williams will demand defense of effort from his squad and will get it, the Hornets will go nowhere unless they can prove that they can score the basketball consistently. That is not been the case in the preseason.
As we know, Tom Benson is committed to winning. He will accept nothing less though he understands that the Hornets are rebuilding mode, starting over with a new cast.
Soon, the team will have a new name, a new identity to go along with new players and new ownership, hoping to avoid the same old results. Due to injuries and youth, this team will have to learn by experiencing growing pains on the run, in season. There are many questions to be answered. We will begin getting answers on October 31.
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