Just 48 hours after opening the preseason slate with a come from behind win over the Magic in Mexico City the Hornets face their second test of the early preseason in the Charlotte Bobcats. Not only are the Bobcats the current tenants of the building the Hornets used to play in in the Queen City, but their new court colors are so bad they're drawing comparisons to the own Charlotte Hornets court days. Even our good friend Ben Swanson at Rufus on Fire is talking about it. But enough court comparisons; let's look at how the Hornets and Bobcats did in their first preseason games before we preview their matchup in the Hive tonight.
First off, I would feel remiss to not give a big New Orleans shoutout to former Hornet and current Magic starting center Gustavo Ayon, who looked really, really solid on Sunday. Ayon put up a 12 point, 6 rebound stat line in 26 minutes, and made his counterpart Robin Lopez (who we'll get to later) look bad on more than one occasion. Ayon looks like he has bulked up quite a bit from a year ago and I think I speak for everyone in Hornets nation when I say we wish him and the Magic the best this season. He definitely deserves to be their starting center (sorry Nik Vucevic) going forward.
As for our guys:
- Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis: They looked like 19-year old rookies...which is what they are. Davis took too many jump shots (none of them good looks, some fading away) and Rivers looked unsure at times running the offense. They did have their moments however; Davis' ridiculous athleticism showed with his closeout ability and blocked shots, he had a couple nice finishes at the rim, and whenever Rivers attacked the rim and drove to the basket something good happened for the team, whether it was a look for someone else or Rivers getting a bucket or free throws. As much as Rivers likes to show off his range, he needs to be more like Tony Parker and pick and choose when to pull up and when to penetrate the D.
- Ryan Anderson: Not the Hornets debut we were expecting from our big offseason signing; 6 points on 1-of-11 shooting (and a dismal 1-of-8 from 3-point land) was a very subpar offensive day. But he hit the glass extremely well (8 boards, 5 of them offensive) and showed he can contribute to the game when his shot isn't falling. And this game was the exception, not the rule when it comes to Anderson's offense this season. Expect a bounce-back game in front of the home crowd tonight.
- Greivis Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu: Perhaps the two most important players to the Hornets core growing as a team going forward, Vasquez and Aminu both struggled on Sunday as well. With Gordon's continuing knee issues well documented, Monty and the team are going need these two guys to step it up on offense, and neither one cut it with their performances in Mexico City. Vasquez does get a bit out of control at times, but a few of the foul calls on him were borderline/bad whistles, and if he settles down (which he's capable of doing) I think he will be fine. Aminu (as Rohan wrote about in the recap) did not show the promise he flashed during the Olympics, but hopefully that was due more to rust and not a lot of time with new teammates. One can hope at least...
- Jason Smith and Robin Lopez: My thoughts on these two are well-documented, and I remain in the camp that even if Lopez is on the team to fulfill the "role" of "starting center who plays only 18 minutes a night and is there to protect the paint and rebound", if he fails at that role like he did on Sunday (his plus-,minus was a whopping -22) he shouldn't be starting. The team can't afford to fall into a deep hole early in the game every night and expect to come back in the 2nd half (the Magic are a bottom 5 team in the league), so Monty should decide whether to start Anderson or replace Lopez with Smith, who brought his trademark energy, ability to stretch the floor, and even a strong two-handed flush that woke up the team. Give me more Jason Smith please.
Brian Roberts, Roger Mason and Lance Thomas: These three were all really nice surprises for the Hornets and were big reasons behind the team's 4th quarter comeback. Roberts was the player of the game in my opinion, and (again piggybacking off of Rohan) he showed that he could actually be a decent backup NBA point guard, which I was very skeptical of before watching him play. Mason can do two things well; play defense (at least team defense in Monty's system) and shoot the 3-ball. With this team desperate for offense, especially with Eric Gordon's continued absence, Mason may get more playing time than originally expected, which is not a bad thing for the team all things considered. Thomas provided some solid play and tough buckets for the team down the stretch. I wanted to include Darius Miller on this list but he only saw 7 minutes of time on the floor; hopefully Monty lets him play a little more versus Charlotte.
As for the Bobcats, they too opened up preseason play on Sunday, coming up with a 100-88 victory over the Washington Wizards. The game marked the debut of Anthony Davis' former teammate at Kentucky and 2nd overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG put up a nice line of 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals, and his matchup with Aminu will definitely be one of the most intriguing of the game. New head coach Mike Dunlap chose to start 7-foot, 275 pound center Byron Mullens at power forward alongside Brendan Haywood, clearly going for a size advantage on Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin. It will be interesting to see if Dunlap throws those two out there against the Hornets tonight.
While the Hornets have a glut of forwards on the roster creating a logjam in terms of frontcourt playing time, the Bobcats have the same problem in their backcourt. Ramon Sessions, Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon and Gerald Henderson all have an argument to start and play heavy minutes, though their games are all very similar. Dunlap went young with Walker and Henderson on Sunday (with the veterans Gordon and Sessions both coming off the bench), but expect a fluid situation there as well, as any of the four could start/play a lot.
If you can recall from a year ago when these teams meet the product on the court can be very, very ugly; expect more of the same in New Orleans tonight. The Hornets are still trying to settle the roles of all the players on the team as well as integrate the 11 new Hornets into Monty Williams' system; Charlotte has a rookie starting at small forward (MKG); two sophomores expected to play a lot (Walker and Biyombo) and a few other young players who are big contributors (Mullens and Henderson). They will be working out the kinks as well.
Expect to see more minutes from the younger guys on both teams (I hope to see some of Charlotte's other rookie Jeff Taylor instead of Matt Carroll or DeSagna Diop), especially for the Hornets. Rivers vs Walker, Aminu vs MKG, Davis vs Mullens are all intriguing matchups and good opportunities for those players to show how they stack up with their peers. Hopefully Monty plays Darius Miller more to see if he can suck some minutes away from Henry or Aminu if they struggle. And hopefully Anderson makes more than one 3-pointer in front of the home crowd. The preseason is fully upon us. Let's hope we score our first basket sooner than the halfway mark of the 1st quarter. That's too much time to stand at the Hive if you ask me.