A lot of high profile players went down with injuries before the season started, which left teams wondering if they could manage to win a decent number of games until their star players came back. The Indiana Pacers hung around without Danny Granger, while the Minnesota Timberwolves did an admirable job of holding down the fort until Kevin Love returned. The Dallas Mavericks were doing OK without Dirk Nowitzki, but then they went on a brutal losing skid than might land them in the lottery for the first time in more than a decade.
As for the New Orleans Hornets’ attempts to function without Eric Gordon, well, the less said the better.
At first, it looked like this team might be able to put some wins with their talented shooting guard. After all, they had Anthony Davis, the most alluring rookie in the league, and Ryan Anderson, the rare power forward who is deadly from beyond the arc. When you combined that with the ever-improving Greivis Vasquez, it would seem like there would be enough there for the Hornets to be a reasonably solid team until Gordon was ready to return to the lineup.
It just didn’t work out that way. Things were going OK for the first few weeks or so, but there was a serious turn when Davis went down in late November and wound up missing a significant number of games. The team was now missing its two best players, and they quickly nosedived in the standings. Anderson was still his usual solid self, draining several threes and leading the team in scoring, but the team’s lack of depth was painfully obvious now. Players like Lance Thomas and Jason Smith weren’t necessarily terrible, but they weren’t able to pick up the slack and the Hornets quickly sunk to the bottom of the Western Conference.
The biggest problem was — and continues to be — rookie guard Austin Rivers. Going into the draft, Rivers was a highly touted player due to his confidence and his potential to evolve into a top-flight scorer.
Unfortunately, Rivers has struggled mightily to become even remotely effective at the NBA level. He’s inefficient, he can’t shoot at all, his defense is dreadful and whenever he’s on the court, the a Hornets look decidedly worse off. He’s still only 19 so there’s plenty of time for him to improve, but his growing pains have severely submarined the Hornets this season.
Luckily, things have finally gotten better in New Orleans. Davis returned to the lineup, and the Hornets could once again watch their promising rookie evolve into one of the scarier power forwards in the league. This past week, the situation looked even brighter when Gordon finally came back. After watching him struggle with perpetual injuries ever since his arrival in December 2011, the Hornets finally get to see what their highly touted 2-guard is capable of.
There’s just one problem: The team is already 7-24, so just what is this season good for, anyway?
Would the Hornets really be better off tanking the season for another lottery pick, and then trying to figure things out next year? I don’t think so.
If we’re being honest, there’s no way this team can sniff the playoffs. They fell into too deep of a hole too quickly and as talented as the trio of Gordon, Davis, and Anderson is, they still don’t have enough to depth to march back into the race. So in that sense, 2012-13 will be a lost season for the Hornets.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t make the best out of the remaining time this year. If the Hornets can put up something close to a .500 record the rest of the way, it could build morale and establish them as a potentially scary team in the future. Tanking is tempting because the promise of a high lottery pick coming to town is always enticing, but let’s keep a few things in mind.
A. The Hornets already have a major building block in Davis, who will likely be the team’s focal point going forward.
B. This year’s draft is nowhere near as strong as last year’s.
C. The Hornets will likely be in the lottery whether they tank or not.
Taking all of that into consideration, there’s no reason why the Hornets shouldn’t give it everything they have the rest of the way, and try to win as many games as they can. They have a great coach who the players love in Monty Williams and a talented cast who could be quite effective when they reach their full potential. The prospect of sitting Davis and Gordon the rest of the way due to a series of phantom injuries (think Paul Pierce in 2006-07) may be tempting, but the Hornets are better off giving it all they have the rest of the way.
They won’t be able to make the postseason, but they can gain confidence and establish themselves as a skilled young team that will become a major force to contend with in the not-too-distant future.
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