They are an organization in transition. They got lucky in the draft with Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, but they have to try to win with young players, and that is almost impossible to do in the NBA. It's just going to be a process that requires some patience. They're headed in the right direction.
They have to focus on building a winning culture. From Day 1, coach Monty Williams needs to convince these guys that they can win. No one expects them to make the playoffs, but they shouldn't be the worst team in the league, either. If they can jump above Houston [in the Southwest Division], that will give them something to build on. You don't want to have them lose so much that they get beat down and wonder how to win. How do Davis and Rivers react to the losing? How does Williams handle that? He has to keep them mentally in it -- which is something he did with his team last season.
I'm very impressed with Williams, who is one of the better young coaches. His on-court demeanor is solid in that he has complete control of his emotions. His X's and O's are good. He's a very good defensive coach. His teams are well prepared. I get the impression he has the respect of his players. He is Doc Rivers-like. The Hornets were very competitive last season even with a lot of injuries and the losses of Chris Paul [in a trade with the Clippers] and David West [in free agency to Indiana]. That tells me that Williams has their attention and that guys are responding to him.
[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Hornets this season]
Williams used to put the Paul's hands and do less coaching. But last year he had to run a lot more sets and try to grind it out. It was a struggle for them offensively. Losing West hurt them more than people realize. He is probably the best pick-and-pop player in the NBA. Without Paul, they did not run as much pick-and-roll. With their young guys and a lack of a go-to guy in the half court unless Eric Gordon can stay healthy and take on that role, they have to play more up-tempo to generate offense.
I worry about playing Davis at center with that thin body. To bang with the 5s over 82 games -- he'll never last. They need to use him at the 4 a lot and force-feed Robin Lopez minutes at the 5. In some situations, you can play Ryan Anderson at the 4 and Davis at the 5.
Davis is a monster defender. He might be one of the best frontcourt defenders in the NBA as a rookie. He has incredible timing and that wingspan gobbles up a lot of shots. He's pretty rough offensively. He can take you off the dribble a little and there might be a low-post game in there with some work. But right now his biggest contribution is going to be on defense.
[Ben Golliver: Handicapping the Rookie of the Year race]
Anderson is a great pickup. He is so much more than a guy who played off of Dwight Howard in Orlando and shot threes with that quick release. They can play him in pick-and-pop and run him off screens. He's a better post-up player than Davis or Lopez. Plus, he is a tremendous offensive rebounder -- he has the kind of rebounding gifts you can't teach. He's adroit at seeing how the ball comes off the rim and going and getting it. It will be interesting to see how they use him because it was easy for him to be a floor spacer in Orlando when Howard was the focal point in the post. Anderson will need to do more things in New Orleans.
Lopez is a key player. If he can play well, they can keep their players at the right positions. If Lopez can play 28-30 minutes effectively, they might have something. That would enable them to keep Davis at the 4 and look at bringing Anderson off the bench. No one knows if Lopez can do it, though. He didn't prove in his first four seasons in Phoenix that he's up to handling that kind of workload. Let's see if he can be more than a guy who plays 15 minutes a game off the bench.
[Rob Mahoney: Southwest Division preview]
Gordon's absence had a lot to do with their difficulty scoring last season [when the shooting guard played only nine games because of a knee injury]. If he can stay healthy, Gordon is a legitimate No. 1 offensive option because he can shoot from the perimeter and draw fouls going to the basket. Late in close games, he has to be the guy who makes it happen for them. Gordon doesn't need to be a volume shooter, though. He needs to be more economical and share the ball. It detracts from the offense if he is putting up 20-25 shots per game. He needs to get 17-18 points and keep the ball moving.
Austin Rivers' adjustment will take time. He is really a 2 and the hardest thing to do is go from a 2 to a point guard in the NBA. It wouldn't surprise me to see Greivis Vasquez get a lot of minutes or even start at point guard. He's another combo guard, but he has more experience.
They are on the rise. With another good lottery pick, a free-agent addition and Williams, they can be a playoff team in two or three years.