STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
To say that the Hornets overhauled last year’s roster is an understatement. Gone are the starting point guard, center, power forward, small forward and backup power forward, shooting guard, and center. Yet, with a new owner, a top shooting guard, a couple of high draft picks (including a unibrow), the 2012 Hornets are in prime position to surprise. Under coach Monty Williams, the team spent much of last year grooming players for the future and fell out of playoff contention, posting 25 fewer wins than the previous year. The 21-45 record was not as horrendous as it sounds. Young players such as Xavier Henry, Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Gordon were able to lay a foundation for the future and the win total yielded the number one overall pick, Anthony Davis. After drafting Davis, Austin Rivers and Darius Miller, the Hornets' busy offseason continued with the acquisitions of Ryan Anderson, Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick, and Roger Mason Jr. The ultra-young Hornets squad can compete for a playoff seed if they can come together.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
With 10 players under the age of 25, the Hornets could have a tough road to climb, but the upside is immeasurable. The frontcourt includes two seven-footers: the defense-minded Robin Lopez and the offensive Jason Smith. While Smith has served as a backup and spot starter, he was re-signed last season and is familiar with the system. Robin Lopez should come in as the starter for the Hornets. With his defensive brand of basketball, as well as his size and expertise, he should serve as a mentor for Anthony Davis. Davis comes in after one year in college and a summer in the Olympics, and should have a starting role immediately. The rest of the Hornet forwards are currently competing for one starting small forward role and to be the primary backup to Anthony Davis. Ryan Anderson, a 6’10 forward who brings a shooter’s touch to go with his size, was the starting small forward in Orlando, but constantly the weak point on defense. Hakim Warrick, who has played both forward spots and who comes into New Orleans as the oldest frontcourt player, brings veteran leadership and defensive prowess. He will also serve as a valuable teacher for Davis. The only true small forwards on the team are Al-Farouq Aminu, who hasn’t really impressed in his extended playing time and Darius Miller, the rookie forward out of Kentucky. If the Hornets decide not to go with Anderson as the starting small forward, look for Aminu to step into the role.
The backcourt has playing time issues too. Fresh off of a max contract, Eric Gordon returns as shooting guard and will see the vast majority of the minutes. At point guard, Grievis Vasquez and Austin Rivers replace Jarrett Jack. Vasquez has been a backup for much of his career, but can take comfort in knowing that the team stuck with him and dealt Jack. The big question lies with Austin Rivers. Rivers brings a skill set usually found in shooting guards, but started at the point for Duke in college. Rivers should be used as a combo guard, while playing the point, and Xavier Henry should serve as Gordon’s main backup.
Robin Lopez: Lopez comes to New Orleans following a mediocre start to his career. He played in all but two games last season, averaging 5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg and .9 bpg, but Lopez was stuck as a defensive-minded player in a heavily offensive team. Lopez could reach his potential under Williams. He might not put up the numbers to be a force in fantasy, but his contributions to the team as a defensive stalwart will be a big help to the team. Unless in a deep league and looking for defensive stats, Lopez should not be a fantasy option.
Jason Smith: Smith re-signed last offseason due to his loyalty to the coaching staff. Smith should see that loyalty pay off with an increase in production. While playing in 40 games last season, Smith averaged 9.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 1.0 bpg game last year. He made a name for himself as a pick-and-pop shooter and was able to improve his defense and rebounds. With a very young frontcourt and point guard who spent a season playing with Smith, his role can increase and he can be seen as a viable scoring option off of the bench.
Anthony Davis: The most heralded pick in Hornets franchise history, Davis comes in with the hype of an NCAA championship, player of the year, and Olympic gold medal - and he is still a teenager. Davis brings the unique skill set of a defensive forward combined with a guard's upbringing (he underwent an eight inch growth in high school). At Kentucky, Davis averaged 14.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and an absurd 4.7 bpg. While those numbers might not stand as high in the NBA, he is equipped with a defensive coach and a supporting cast primed to help Davis excel. Davis will make an instant impact in the fantasy world.
Ryan Anderson: Anderson might be the player whose role is hardest to predict. He will get plenty of playing time after being acquired and given a hefty extension. He is too slow to defend elite small forwards, but finds himself in a crowded group of power forwards. Standing at 6’10, Anderson's size and his shooter’s touch were sorely lacking in New Orleans last season. Last year, Anderson shot .393 from three, averaged 16.1 ppg, and nabbed 7.7 rpg. Look for him to have similar numbers and be an offensive force this year while improving his defense.
Hakim Warrick: The helicopter returns to the site of his championship-clinching block in the ‘03 Final Four and will be used as a defensive/utility player. Warrick comes to New Orleans as one of two players 30 or older and is versatile enough to spell the small or power forward at times. With the possibilities of Anderson’s defense being an issue and if Davis gets into foul trouble, Warrick will be able to step right in, play well and use his veteran leadership to help the team.
Al-Farouq Aminu: Acquired last season, Aminu remains after the team decided to part ways with Quincy Pondexter. Aminu is coming off of a subpar year where he averaged 6.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and over 22 minutes a game – all higher numbers than his rookie year. Aminu played in every game last year, and earned more minutes and a slew of starts. With Anderson in town, Aminu will likely be relegated to the bench, but his familiarity of the system and a heavy rotation being used should see Aminu getting his playing time. In deeper leagues he may be valuable - if he takes a leap forward this year.
Darius Miller: Drafted this year by the Hornets, Miller brings size and versatility to the team. Standing at 6’8 and playing four years at Kentucky, Miller plays both the wing positions. Averaging 9.9 ppg, 2.0 apg, 2.8 rpg and shooting above 37% from deep, Miller will be a serviceable utility player off the bench and be able to spell multiple positions. Barring injuries, Miller should be seen as strictly a utility player with the possibility of a very rare spot start.
Lance Thomas: Signed last season and appearing in 42 games (starting 10), Thomas averaged 3.0 rpg and 4.0 ppg. As a backup small forward, Thomas looks to be in a position battle with Darius Miller for a reserve role.
Eric Gordon: In the offseason Gordon signed a max contract after signing an offer sheet with Phoenix. In 2011-12, Gordon averaged 20.6 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game and looks to be the offensive spark in New Orleans. Health has been a major concern, as he has missed at least 25 games per year due to injury throughout his young career. Last season, Gordon only appeared in nine games and while a max contract for a player with a proven track record of being hurt is a major risk, the upside that Gordon brings and the value he automatically puts into a young core moving forward is immeasurable. Gordon has the chance to be the unquestioned offensive leader.
Xavier Henry: Acquired in January and playing in 45 total games last season (including an NBDL stint), Henry came around in New Orleans and looks to add a scorer’s touch off of the bench and contribute as part of the youth movement. Playing 17 minutes per game, Henry averaged 5.3 ppg and 2.3 rpg while developing a stroke (.412 3pt%, .395 fg %). At 21, Henry still has much time to develop and with his shooting, he can be a valuable asset and key backup moving forward.
Roger Mason Jr.: The grizzly veteran, the 32 year old Mason was brought in to provide leadership and be an offensive reserve. While appearing in 52 games for the Wizards, Mason averaged 5.5 ppg while shooting over 38% from behind the arc and a hair below 40% from the field. Mason will be used in small ball situations and sets where the Hornets are looking for shooting. For leagues that emphasize deep shooting, the winner of minutes between Henry and Mason can be a key fantasy player.
Austin Rivers: As the 10th overall pick, Rivers has known Monty Williams since he was a toddler and is primed to succeed in New Orleans. Rivers epitomizes a “combo guard.” At 6’4, 200lbs, he stands undersized to be a true shooting guard, but his score-first attitude goes against being a true point guard. While a starting point guard at Duke, Rivers averaged 15.5 ppg and 3.4 rpg but only accrued 2.1 apg. What Rivers has going for him is that he has only one point guard ahead of him on the roster.. Rivers will be a key contributor this year, though it remains to be seen where he will be used more. One thing that is for sure is that he will be able to score.
Greivis Vasquez: Channeling his inner General Grievous, Vasquez used the force and his skills to outplay Jarrett Jack and win the starting point guard job. While playing in every game and starting 26, Vasquez came out of last season averaging 8.9 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.4 rpg and a 2.43 assist:steal ratio. His youth and experience with the team make Vasquez a viable dark-horse fantasy option for the 2012-2013 season. If Vasquez can come out of the gates quickly, establish himself as the starter, and quell doubts about Rivers taking his job, this could be a big season for Grievis.
Greivis Vasquez: In a season where he was battling for his future, Vasquez won the job and posted good numbers along the way. With an increase in playing time, familiarity with the current system and an influx of exciting, new talent coming in, the only thing stopping Vasquez from becoming a fantasy stud is himself.
Al-Farouq Aminu: While winning his position battle last season, Aminu never really took off with his extended minutes. With the new acquisitions in New Orleans, Aminu will receive playing time, but they will come exclusively off the bench and he finds himself in another minutes battle with Darius Miller. Aminu needs to take his level of play to the next level to avoid being passed over for minutes.