Preseason was supposed to answer some questions - and it certainly still will - but tonight leaves us scratching our heads. In the absence of the injured Eric Gordon, Monty Williams tossed out wave after wave of lineup combinatorics, each meeting with varying degrees of failure until the fourth quarter. It took Brian Roberts and Lance Thomas scoring or assisting on 27 of the Hornets' final 29 points to pull out the victory.
Some assorted thoughts and comments:
- Will Ryan Anderson serve as the team's 6th man? It'd be wise to throw his shooting line (1 for 8 on threes, 1 for 3 on twos) entirely out the window because that part of his game will be fine (38.4% on 1163 career three point attempts). He showed his value on the offensive glass as well, albeit against a highly questionable Orlando frontline. Monty Williams may well intend to start Al-Farouq Aminu for defensive purposes, but he'll need to ensure that Anderson receives, at minimum, 30 minutes a night. We won't see 1 for 8 performances out of Anderson very frequently.
- Aminu himself looked wholly unimpressive, extremely suspicious ball-handling still in tow. Monty Williams was unsurprisingly forced to remove him early for offensive purposes. On the whole, New Orleans held Orlando to 80 points on 92 possessions (87 points/100 possessions, or nearly 20 below the league average rate). It's abundantly clear, even at this early stage, that offensive issues will plague New Orleans again this season, and so unless Aminu shows that he can be of actual value on that end, his growth could be stunted. It was a disappointing beginning following an inspiring Olympics.
- It's important to note that many of the Hornets' defensive schemes - who switches where, which vacated zone is covered when, etc. - looked unfinished. As a result, we saw many "blown" assignments from Anthony Davis in this game that I'd refrain from blaming him for (for now). His lack of positional awareness on the defensive glass was troubling, but the timing and power of his blocks were terrific to watch. For a professional debut coming outside of the United States, it wasn't too bad. The learning curve will be steep - Davis picked up a pair of fouls today simply due to the handspeed of his now NBA-quality opponents - and his offense likely won't be terribly impressive even by season's end, but this was a solid enough starting point.
- His front-court partner, Robin Lopez, was much less impressive (0 for 4, 3 fouls, 4 turnovers). Monty Williams will soon learn that force-feeding Lopez with his back to the basket instead of letting him roll hard on pick and rolls is pretty unwise. It worked to some small degree with Emeka Okafor, but Lopez's postgame isn't nearly as refined. More disturbing to me was the fact that Lopez didn't move fluidly at all on the floor. Still, I'm filing this in the "first game/new team/preseason" cabinet. He's way, way better than this, his height and length will be a significant tool defensively given Monty Williams' specific schemes, and used properly in the pick and roll, he can be valuable on offense too.
- Jason Smith brought the energy Lopez did not with a highlight reel dunk in the first half and a couple of nice swats. Between Smith, Lopez, Davis, and Thomas, New Orleans will have a very active frontcourt this season, something Monty Williams will be pleased about. Many will consider neither Smith nor Lopez starting quality centers for good teams, but their quick interchangability is itself an asset.
- In the backcourt, Greivis Vasquez forced plays a little too frequently, Austin Rivers surprisingly emerging as the more level-headed of the pair. That doesn't mean Rivers didn't chuck some of his trademark "hey, look at me, I can brick from 30 feet!" bricks from 30 feet, but he was generally on the lookout for open teammates. More importantly, his ability to get to the rim - largely unseen in Vegas Summer League - returned on a few ocassions. The Hornets will not get too many easy baskets this season, and Rivers' evolving ability to penetrate will be critical.
- Brian Roberts wrapped up an excellent all-around game by icing the win at the end. I'm still very hesitant to call him a legitimate NBA backup point guard, but at this point, that's almost entirely due to historical precedent and not his actual play. His game looks damn clean.
Any other thoughts or player comments?