It's the dawning of a new era in New Orleans basketball, and with so much attention paid to matters off the court this season, I believe it's time to evaluate how our franchise performed during its time on the court. As a result, I want to begin an evaluation of the front office, the roster and the coaching staff and see how they performed, what could happen going forward, and whether or not you approve of their job this season. Without further adieu, the next player we're going to look at is Gustavo Ayon.#15 Gustavo Ayon, PF, New Orleans Hornets
First season in the league (first with the Hornets) out of Baloncesto Fuenlabrada in Spain (1 Year, $1.5 Million remaining on Contract; $1.5 Million Team Option for 2014)
54 Games, 24 Starts, 5.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 61.9 FT Pctg., 53.6 FG Pctg., 16.7 PER, 111 Offensive Rating, 100 Defensive Rating
Best game this season: February 22nd at Cleveland (9 Points, 17 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 2 Steals, 1 Block in 33 Minutes during 89-84 victory)
There were plenty of questions, reasonable questions, when the Hornets signed Gustavo Ayon back in December. First of all, we had no idea who Ayon was. We had no idea what his game encompassed. We had no idea he was even on the Hornets radar. And once we found out his age, we wondered what true chances of improvement existed. Just as I revealed my man crush on Vasquez a couple of days ago, my man crush on Ayon blossomed as the season went on. It became quite clear that this was a guy who played basketball the "Monty Williams way." Hailed as a steal for the Hornets by draftexpress.com and other websites, Ayon stepped in, eventually learned the playbook (while still learning English) and played with a feel for the game that was as refreshing as it was impressive considering all the blocks that stood in the way of his improvements.
Ayon took awhile to crack his way into the rotation and it was only after injuries to Jason Smith, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor that we finally got to see extended minutes for him. And by the time February came around, Ayon impressed a considerable amount of people with his play. He showed a touch with his passes uncommon amongst big men [his assist% ranked fifth among the players at his position; and only two players ahead of him received consistent minutes (Boris Diaw and Nick Collison)]. His rebounding percentage was the third best on the team and his PER was the fourth best on the team. If you believe that Gustavo Ayon was, quite possibly, the most consistent and productive Hornet on the team this season - it may be a notion with some credence.
Of course, conditioning is a big problem with Ayon. He seemed to wear down as the season wore on and only posted two gamescores above 10 from March 5th to the end of the season. And although his age doesn't leave much room for unlimited, untapped potential, he should be in the physical prime of his career. Given all of that, I'm willing to believe that with a full training camp and with more work on learning the language (which would help a lot), we can see some fantastic improvements in Ayon's conditioning and game going into next season.
So where does that leave Ayon's spot with the team? Well, obviously, Okafor's a prime amnesty candidate while Kaman and Landry are unrestricted free agents. Ayon is under team control for the next two seasons and there's reason to believe he'll, at least, be a staple in the big man rotation during that span. With only he and Jason Smith guaranteed (to a certain extent) to be on next season's team, Ayon should have nothing to worry about outside of his own personal improvements. And if he does improve, there should plenty of "ole" chants to go around in the New Orleans Arena next season.