What to Expect When You Are Expecting: AD vs. Zo

As part of a reoccurring piece, Hornets247.com takes a look at the rookie seasons of franchise players to get an idea of what to expect from Anthony Davis.

The Team

1991-92 Charlotte Hornets

The first four years of the Charlotte Hornets’ existence were a struggle, to say the least. The team never finished with more than 31 wins and had top-5 draft choices following each season. In fact, the 1991-92 team was the first in their short history to finish with an offensive or defensive rating inside the top 20; their offensive rating of 107.1 ranked 17th out of the league’s 27 teams. The team scored a ton of points (109.5 per game), but this was mostly a function of owning the 2nd fastest pace in the NBA. Defensively, they were a mess, as their 110.9 defensive rating was 4th worst in the league.

From a player personnel standpoint, the team was led by their top-5 picks from the prior two drafts. Larry Johnson, the #1 pick in the 1991 NBA draft, burst onto the scene and made an immediate impact at the power forward position. He played in every game that season and led Charlotte in minutes played, averaging over 37 per game. Among Hornets players with at least 500 total minutes, Johnson ranked first in PER, rebound rate, turnover rate, and win shares. The other young star on this Charlotte team was sophomore shooting guard Kendall Gill, the fifth pick in the 1990 draft. Gill led the team in scoring and was the only other player besides Johnson with a PER over 16. Apart from these two players, however, the team had little to write home about besides its youth; none of the team’s players with over 500 total minutes were older than 28.

The Player

Alonzo Mourning

Despite being tied for the 7th worst record in the NBA, Charlotte got lucky and ended up with the 2nd overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. Though they weren’t fortunate enough to land Shaq, the Hornets’ consolation prize was still pretty sweet – Alonzo Mourning. The rookie center out of Georgetown instantly made his presence felt, leading the team (among those with 500+ minutes) in PER (20.6), rebound rate (16.4%), and block rate (5.8%), while coming in 2nd in true shooting percentage (58.6%) and win shares (8.2). He was a first-team all-rookie selection, and finished in the top 5 in the NBA in free throws (both made and attempted) as well as blocks.

The Impact

The Charlotte Hornets made an unusually significant jump with the addition of Mourning to the roster. The increase in wins from 31 to 44 is realistic, but the truly impressive part was reaching the second round of the postseason. Led by Mourning and Johnson, the Hornets defeated the 48-34 Boston Celtics three games to one in their best-of-five first round series before being clearly outmatched against the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Statistically, the team improved drastically on both sides of the ball. While maintaining the league’s 2nd fastest pace, the Hornets were able to improve their offensive rating from 107.1 to 109.5, good for ninth best in the NBA. The improvement on defense was not as substantial, but still meaningful; going from 110.9 to 109.7 moved them from 24th to 19th in the league. At this point, you’re probably noticing what I noticed as well; this team was a little lucky, too. Charlotte’s net rating was -.2, yet the team still managed to finish six games over .500.

Compare and Contrast

The Hornets team from 20 years ago strongly differed from this current Hornets team in its style of play. While Zo and LJ’s Hornets employed a run-and-gun, up-tempo game plan, Monty Williams’ Hornets are a defense-first, slow-paced group. Offensively, they will struggle much more than the 1992-93 Hornets did, but they will be far more respectable on defense.

Despite these differences, the teams are similar in regards to each one’s stage in the traditional NBA team “life cycle.” Both are young and boast a great deal of potential; in fact, the Hornets’ current “Big 3” of Gordon, Anderson and Davis are probably superior to the 1992-93 trio of Mourning, Johnson, and Gill. After them, however, the rest of the Charlotte Hornets’ roster is reasonably deeper than this New Orleans Hornets group; as things stand right now, ’92-’93 Dell Curry, Johnny Newman and Muggsy Bogues certainly trumps ’12-’13 Smith, Vasquez and Aminu.

What we can Learn from Zo and the Charlotte Hornets

The main lesson that the 1992-93 Charlotte Hornets team can teach us is that reaching the postseason is not a completely unrealistic goal for the 2012-13 Hornets. Based on pure talent during the seasons in question, the Charlotte Hornets appear to have an edge on the New Orleans Hornets, but guess what? Based on Expected W/L record, the 1992-93 Hornets “should” have been 40-42, a record that would have resulted in the team missing the postseason entirely. Instead, they landed the 5th seed and upset an aging Celtics roster in an unlikely run to the second round of the playoffs. I will admit that I expect the 2012-13 New Orleans Hornets to be watching basketball at home when May rolls around; however, the 1992-93 Charlotte Hornets are proof that a top draft pick like Mourning (or Anthony Davis) in addition to a little luck can lead to unexpectedly strong results.

5 responses to “What to Expect When You Are Expecting: AD vs. Zo”

    • I feel like the Hornets current bench is being underrated.

      We’ve got a few great energy guys coming off like JS14 (as proven during the 1st preseason game), Rivers, Thomas, and Anderson (assuming he keeps coming off the bench).

      Also, I’d like to see the Hornets wear the purple away jerseys of the early 90s and wear Gold w/Creole Blue pinstripes @ home. (at least that’s what I do in NBA2K)

  1. Except that Mourning played four years at Georgetown and came into the NBA as a man. His rookie year he averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks. We need scoring, especially low post scoring, and I don’t see Davis scoring at this pace for several years. So I don’t see Mourning type improvement for the 2012-13 Hornets or a playoff spot, and Mason agrees about missing the playoffs in 2012-13.

    • I don’t see Davis scoring at this pace for several years.

      Right about the time he leaves in FA for a max contract in a Big Market… 🙁

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