38, 50, and 62. Those are the respective player rankings for Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis as by the 104 voters of ESPN's NBA Rank. As is the case with any team, the merits of each player's rank can be debated via whatever criteria or statistics one chooses, but if we approach these rankings as our predictions for how these players will finish the year in the sport, based on their impact and production, the rankings could vary significantly. When it comes to the Hornets and their "Big 3" then, are they fairly ranked, underrated or overrated? Lets take a look at the other players in the top 62 and see if we can get a better idea.
Anthony Davis, Ranked #62
Clearly this ranking must be taken with a grain of salt, as is the case with most rookie players, for forecasting a rookie's impact in his first professional season is always a difficult task. For instance, last year's 1st overall pick Kyrie Irving was rated #140 before his rookie season (clearly a cautious pick by prognosticators) and has leaped all the way up to #22 after his tremendous rookie campaign. But Anthony Davis is a very rare creature, and the basketball minds at ESPN and their blogs felt strong enough to rank Davis ahead of mainstays such as Ray Allen, Carlos Boozer, Luis Scola and Gerald Wallace. That's pretty prestigous company for the rookie to join, considering there's a ring and a ton of All-Star appearances split between that group.
Yet the question remains: is Davis fairly ranked? Or should he be even higher? Remember, we're approaching these rankings in terms of where these players will finish the season, taking past performance as a barometer but not as a forecast. Given his statistics at Kentucky, his overall skill set and his style of play, not to mention the offensive and defensive system he will be playing under Monty Williams at The Hive, it is not unreasonable to assume the following numbers from Davis:
- 12-15 points per game
- 10+rebounds per game (if he averaged exactly 10 that would put him in a tie for 8th in the league with Marcin Gortat)
- close to, if not over 3 blocks per game (this may be a bit of a stretch, but again this would put him 2nd in the league behind only Serge Ibaka and above the likes of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee)
- 48-50% field goal percentage (good for top 40 in the NBA)
- 70-75% free throw percentage (not bad for a starting center)
Those stats would put him in the ball park of fellow big men Andrew Bogut and Greg Monroe, both of whom cracked the top 50 for this season. And just as a frame of reference; Tyson Chandler, who average 12 points and 10 boards a year ago (along with the defensive presence/rim protection he gives to the Knicks which Davis will certainly give the Hornets) was ranked a whopping #23 by ESPN, and he will definitely not shoot as well from the charity stripe or 3-point line this season. I'm not going to go all out and declare Davis to be a dominating force we haven't seen the likes of since Duncan in '97, but I think we can optimistically (and for the most part realistically) say that Anthony Davis will be a top 50 player in the NBA this season. And the guy has no where to go but up, both figuratively and literally - he will be flying around the Hive this season.
Ryan Anderson, #50
Ryan Anderson is a very interesting case study, and a player whose breakout performance from a year ago (which garnered him Most Improved Player honors) has stat heads and basketball junkies scratching their heads wondering if it was a byproduct of the Dwight-Van Gundy system or if Anderson has just scratched the surface of his potential. There are many similarities between Anderson and that German guy who plays in Dallas (not to get too far ahead of myself and proclaim him to be the next Dirk) and their first 3 seasons in the NBA; there was improvement in each statistical category, only Anderson rebounded better and shot a higher free throw percentage (comparatively) to this point in his short career. And Nowitzki has been the focal point of those Mavericks teams offensively every season, so let's be sure to factor that in to the equation as well.
While having a center like Howard definitely helps space the floor and gave Anderson more open looks, he actually put up more efficient numbers when Howard was out, including being a beast on the boards (especially on the offensive end) which is something this Hornets squad has been lacking in recent years, with Landry, Smith, Kaman and even David West not being good rebounders for their size. His growth as a player suggests that he will continue to improve this year, and even if we only adjust his numbers slightly (18 points, 8 rebounds, 45% FG, 40% 3P, 87% FT) that is still a really excellent good season. How many power forwards realistically check in above that? Let's take a look:
- Kevin Love
- LaMarcus Aldridge
- Blake Griffin
- Pau Gasol
- Chris Bosh
- David Lee
- Josh Smith
- Paul Millsap
- Dirk Nowitzki
And thats it. Garnett and Duncan play center now and should not be included in this group. And thats it folks. That makes Anderson, at worst, the 10th best power forward in the NBA this season. Thats pretty darn good, and you put that alongside a a 6 foot 10 inch Pterodactyl in the frontcourt, and that's a pretty lethal and versatile pairing. Again, as with Davis, I won't proclaim Anderson to be vastly overrated, but compared to the injured (Rose, Rubio), one-dimensional (Chandler, Ibaka, Ellis) and similar production (Randolph, Amare, Cousins) guys ahead of him, I'm going to say Anderson is definitely a top 40-45 player in this league in 2012-13.
Eric Gordon, #38
Oh, Eric Gordon. The most controversial Hornet is also the hardest to place in terms of his spot on this list. No one questions Gordon's skill, potential or ceiling. Even with his injury history he is widely regarded as the best young shooting guard in the game and the heir apparent to the shooting guard throne once Kobe, Ginobili and Wade pass their prime and retire. Sure there are other young guys who can score (Monta Ellis, Joe Johnson), who are very well-rounded (Aaron Afflalo) and who play on elite teams (James Harden), but I would take Gordon over all of them. He will be the go-to-guy, the number one offensive option on his team, and his performance and leadership will ultimately decide how far this team goes this season and in years to come.
To me the comparison between Gordon and Harden is the best one to make in terms of who will become the premier shooting guard in the league 3 years from now. If you look at Gordon's stats from the 9 games he played last season (20.6 points per game, 75% FT, 25% 3P, and a PER over 19) it is a given in this writer's opinion that you will see all of these numbers increase this season. If Gordon is able to play a full season (or close to it) he has the chance to prove he is worth the max contract he received in the off-season, and that is was a mistake to exclude him from the Olympic team (which should be another great motivator for the young man), which Harden made instead. Harden, who remains the "6th man" in Oklahoma City, was ranked #26 overall on ESPN's list. If Gordon plays on par or better than Harden, there is no reason he couldn't be a top 25 player in this league.
So what conclusion can we draw from all of this analysis and all these predictions? Let me lay it out in these terms: the Hornets have three top 50 players in the NBA on their team. Granted, there is no such thing as roster parity in the NBA, as evidenced by the Lakers having four top 20 players and the Thunder having three of the top 25. But if you wanted to balance out the league by giving each team three top players, the math dictates that each team would get three players in the top 90. Thus, having 3 players in the top 90 would make you an "average" team talent-wise. Granted, there are teams like Denver, Indiana or Philadelphia lacking multiple elite players but who have incredible depth, and here are also those whose best players don't crack the top 75.
The Hornets will most likely not be a playoff team this year, and the drop-off in talent between their third and fourth best player (on the ESPN list the 4th-ranked Hornet, Robin Lopez, comes in at #169) is substantial. But there are many franchises that would kill for three top 50 players as the foundation for their team, especially three who are all 24 and under, who all bring different skills to the table, and who, in my opinion, will mesh very well together on the court. Hornets fans have a lot of reasons to be excited this year, but if these three play like they are capable of playing over 82 (or possibly more) games, it's not crazy to say we're underestimating just how special this group can be.