Hornets Beat: Season Preview (Part 1)

Published: October 22, 2012

Our writers take a look at the upcoming season and answer a few pertinent questions.

Austin Rivers could be in line for major minutes if Eric Gordon’s knee keeps him out of more than just the preseason

1. What would have to either happen or not happen for you to view this season as a success?

Michael McNamara: All I want to see this season is an effort to try multiple things with this roster. Monty has kept his foot on the breaks since he has been here, but now we have some athletes and if we are in the bottom three in the league in pace again, I will be disappointed. On the defensive end, I want to see an emphasis on rebounding and I want to experiment with some zone. This season is the last one where the expectations are low- take advantage of that and experiment.

Mason Ginsberg: Eric Gordon needs to prove that he can stay on the court. This team is not a championship contender (this year), so anything that can be interpreted as a positive indicator for the future will make this year a successful one. Eric Gordon’s health is at the top of that list.

Jake Madison: Eric Gordon needs to stay healthy and Anthony Davis needs to avoid a career ending injury. I’d also like to see development from the likes of Aminu and Vasquez. I just want to see improvement over last season. Given how bad that was, it won’t take much

Jason Calmes: No relocation controversy, no season-long player drama, no bad contracts signed, top 5 defense, and re-sign Dell. All five are required for success.

Joe Gerrity: I agree with McNamara about the need to experiment, especially in regard to running the floor. Frankly I’m tired of watching the slow pace.

2. How many games does Eric Gordon have to play for you to exhale the breath you’ve been holding in since we matched his max-offer from Phoenix?

MM: 70+ games every year for the next three years. If he plays 75 this year and 10 next year, I will still be holding my breath. He has to show me over multiple seasons that he is not injury prone for me to remove the label that he has earned for missing so many games over the last three seasons.

MG: 65 or more would really be nice. I can stomach an injury… as long as it is unrelated to his right knee. If he can prove that knee is stable, I’ll be beyond satisfied.

JM: 70 at the minimum. The Hornets are paying him far too much money to stay off the court for a significant amount of time.

JC: 83 starts minimum. If he’s worth it, he needs to deliver, and adding scoring while reducing turnovers to the point where this team is in the top-half-ish of the NBA with rookies on the rise and some cap room falling in our lap is just fine.

Joe: I’d be happy to see 65 this year, as long as any time missed isn’t due to a knee injury. If the knee acts up, I may be waiting to exhale for years to come.

3. Al-Farouq Aminu is expected to start at small forward despite a less than stellar preseason. Does he keep the job all year, and if not, who takes it from him?

MM: I don’t think anybody takes the job; I think AFA gives it away. He just doesn’t have the ability to stay focused for 30+ minutes a night, and quite frankly, I think Darius Miller is the better player right now. Ask yourself this: If AFA was drafted 49th and had the same career up to this point, would he be the favorite to hold down this job? I say no, and at some point, Monty is just going to have to put the best 5 on the court.

MG: I wish I believed that he would, but I just don’t at this point. It’s a shame, because he really has a ton of potential on defense, but his offensive game has improved only slightly since coming into the NBA. Unfortunately, that is not going to cut it for a starting SF in the NBA. Even though I’m not a fan of how the lineup would look on the court, we’re probably in line for some heavier doses of a Vasquez-Gordon-Davis-Anderson-Lopez than I had hoped.

JM: Monty Williams takes the job away from Aminu, not a player. Should Aminu struggle I expect we’ll see a rotation of Miller, Lance Thomas and Anderson at the spot.

JC: He keeps it. He’s steadily improving, his mental disasters are waning while his flashes are waxing. Miller is the obvious choice to replace him in terms of skill set, but he may be pushed out more by the combination of a populated frontcourt and the moral and business imperative to play Davis as much as responsibly possible. He may be the 2012-2013 forward version of 2007-2008 Mo Pete in terms of minutes and rotation.

Joe: I’d like to say that Monty will ride the Aminu train well into the season, and it could happen if Aminu lays off the thanksgiving dinner every morning (why else would he be so tired?). But, the reality is that Lance Thomas, Darius Miller, and even Xavier Henry will get a few shots at the starting if and when Aminu inevitably dozes off in the first quarter. Whether or not any of them will be able to keep the spot is another question entirely.

4. Greivis Vasquez is expected to start at point guard. Does he keep the job all year, and if not, who takes it from him?

MM: Vasquez keeps his job by default. He is a bottom three starting point guard, but Austin Rivers is still at least a year, maybe two, away. The hope is that Eric Gordon stays healthy and essentially plays “point guard” on the offensive end, limiting the damage Vasquez can do.

MG: He keeps it. Athletically, his upside is limited, but he’s still improving as a distributor and also has room to improve his jumpshot. In the scope of the entire NBA, he’s still only a fringe starter at best, but he’s a decent enough option for this season. Long-term, hopefully Rivers can take over as the team’s starting PG, but that won’t happen this season.

JM: Rivers won’t be ready to take the position away from Vasquez this season. I actually expect Gordon to be the team’s primary ball handler on offense even though he is labeled as a shooting guard. I don’t care who the ‘starting point guard’ is; I just want the two best guards to play.

JC: He loses it if Gordon plays a good bit. If Gordon can bring it, then an overflowing frontcourt and an increased presence of creators with ball-handling skills will diminish what Vasquez adds relative to how he subtracts.

Joe: Vasquez will hold onto the spot all year. Rivers just won’t be NBA-ready this season, and there’s a reason that Brian Roberts, who I expect will be solid in a reserve role,  wasn’t in the NBA prior to this year.

5. Who will prove to be more valuable– Jason Smith or Robin Lopez?

MM: Jason Smith is still the most underrated player on this team and I expect him to give the Hornets a huge shot in the arm every time he comes onto the court. Lopez will have his moments and will prove invaluable against certain bigs, but night in and night out, give me Smith.

MG: Based on pure talent, Smith is certainly the better all-around player, but I believe that Lopez will be more valuable to this Hornets team. In a lot of ways, Smith is a poor man’s Ryan Anderson; by no means is this a bad thing, but Lopez’s role as the only true center on the team will prove to be more valuable this season. He recently told Hornets.com that the thing he is most looking forward to at the start of the season is “to push around and get physical”, which is exactly where he can be most valuable to the team.

JM: If Smith keeps improving like he did last season, I’ll take him. The Energy he brings to the court is on another level. You’ll see him grabbing rebounds he has no business getting. A guy like that coming off the bench to take on the opponents’ second unit is very valuable.

JC: When? In the games, Smith (if this shoulder thing works out). In the offseason, Lopez . . . when he turns into cap space.

Joe: While Smith remains one of my favorite players, Lopez is going to fill a larger hole for this Hornets team. Jason just isn’t the guy to bang down low with big centers, and until the Hornets get an Aaron Gray type backup, Lopez is the more valuable player.


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