New Orleans Hornets’ Cornerstones in Place?
The New Orleans Hornets are in a rebuilding state heading in to the 2012-13 season but, by all accounts, the groundwork currently being laid is looking rock solid.
The trade of franchise point guard Chris Paul last offseason netted the Hornets young and talented shooting guard Eric Gordon to go along with two top-10 overall draft picks accumulated this offseason. Each of those selections were used on players with high upside – first overall pick Anthony Davis and tenth overall pick Austin Rivers.
“I feel pretty good with this Hornets team,” said Gordon, who was ready to jilt the Hornets to join the Phoenix Suns this summer before New Orleans matched the Suns’ max contract offer. “It’s a young and upcoming team, definitely got a lot of new players.”
If he can stay healthy, Gordon is a proven scorer that has the ability to make life easier for this Hornets squad as whole. Knowing that his head, and heart, are back in New Orleans is huge for the franchise moving forward.
As far as each rookie is concerned, Davis and Rivers have relished the opportunity to finally play in the NBA.
“It’s been great,” Davis told HOOPSWORLD of his first NBA preseason and training camp. “Just got to keep working hard. It’s been tough on us, tough on me especially because of guys coming after me. I got to learn how to play through that and move onto the next game.”
Especially in the case of Davis, the 19-year-old has already began to assert his will on the court. The 6’10 standout from Kentucky has made a habit of calling out his teammates early on in his NBA career, something Hornets head coach Monty Williams relishes.
“[Davis] handles the situations with wisdom that’s beyond his years,” Williams said. “He listens, he’s humble and yet he still has an edge. I saw him get on a few guys a couple games ago, and it kind of took me back.”
Davis refused to make a big deal about the revelation and simply explained that he expects the same constructive criticism from his teammates as well.
“If guys are messing up, I’m going to say something to them because I expect the same back,” Davis said. “If I mess up and am out of position, I want them to tell me because it’s going to make the team better. We can’t just go out there and let somebody mess up, we all got to be accountable, that’s what’s going to make us better.”
As far as Rivers, the son of former NBA player and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, he’s seen his share of NBA hardwoods throughout his life. However, Rivers says nothing compares to finally stepping out on the court as a player in the NBA.
“I’ve been on courts and seen things firsthand but it really doesn’t matter because, when you do it yourself, it’s totally different,” Rivers told HOOPSWORLD.” It’s the same experience I share with everybody. A lot of these guys weren’t able to have the opportunities I was blessed with, with my father. At the end of the day we’re both in the same boat when it comes to playing on that floor because I still haven’t done that until this point. You’re speechless when you get out there and you’re so excited and you just want to do everything right. This preseason has been huge for me just because I get to see what I need to work on.”
It’s been a rough go for Rivers early on as he tries to adjust to the NBA game after spending a season at Duke. That being said, working on his game has been the main agenda for the 20-year-old, who figures to play a prominent role in the Hornets’ backcourt this season.
“It’s been a good experience so far, just learning a lot,” Rivers said. “It’s exciting just to finally go out there and play in the NBA. This is a dream that we’ve all been chasing as rookies our whole lives, so to finally get out here and be on that court with the guys that we’ve been watching is very exciting and just makes you want to play harder. I’m just learning a lot and having fun.”
Helping Rivers along through the beginning of his NBA journey is Coach Williams who, according to Rivers, reminds the rookie guard of another prominent NBA coach – his father, Doc.
“They’re very similar because they’re kind of similar players: hard-nosed, work very hard players,” Rivers said. “Monty’s really tough. He’s hands on, he likes to teach and he won’t let you get away with any mistakes, won’t let you get away with anything which is good because we’re very young as a team and it’s going to make us a lot better that way. It’s been very exciting being coached by Coach Williams and I know he’ll lead us in the right direction.”
In terms of Williams, the third-year head coach doesn’t believe babying a player does any good for anyone involved. The Hornets head coach also believes that Rivers’ work ethic is second-to-none in terms of other young players he’s had a chance to work with.
“That’s the league now,” Williams said. “If you coach a guy and you tell him what he’s supposed to do and how he’s supposed to do it, they call it pushing. I’m just coaching. I don’t try to differentiate or put it into any other term. I just coach. [Rivers] works harder than most young guys I’ve ever been around. He’s serious about his craft. He’s learning, and I’ve seen a lot of growth from day one. He’s tougher than I thought. We just coach. I’m just a simple country boy, man, we just coach.”
The duo of Rivers and Davis figure to be a prominent inside-outside pairing for many years to come if everything goes as planned in New Orleans. For Rivers, he says his goal is to put both Davis and the rest of his Hornets teammates in the position to succeed on a night-in, night-out basis.
“I think he’s a great player,” Rivers said of his fellow top-10 overall pick. “I’ve gotten a chance to play with him before college so I know how good he is and how good he can be. It’s kind of like the sky’s the limit with Anthony. My job is to go out here and help the team get better and make Anthony’s job a lot easier because he’ll have a lot of attention on him. I know he’ll handle it fine and I know he’ll play well.”
There’s little doubt that both of these players are going to need some seasoning before being able to reach their true NBA potential. This season figures to be tough sledding for both the Hornets and their 2012 lottery selections in the brutal Western Conference.
But considering the talent and work ethic combined in these two sub-21-year-old players, the current Hornets core could make for a bright future in New Orleans.