The New Orleans Hornets were the worst in the West last season after trading Chris Paul for a guard who spent the season on the shelf, a center well past his prime, a prospect whose best work has come in a flailing Olympic effort and a draft pick. Stunning. But the turnaround has been rapid, and don't be surprised if this team more closely resembles a mediocre team than one which is abjectly awful. I swear that's a compliment.
FEATS OF STRENGTH
The thing about the Hornets is that there are some individually good players here. Eric Gordon, if he can get healthy, is a top-five NBA two-guard (along with James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili). Getting healthy, however, has proved to be a problem.
Ryan Anderson, if used as he was in Orlando, is an excellent power forward -- perhaps the best stretch four since Dirk Nowitzki himself. He's not by any stretch an adequate defender, but he can rebound like hell, and word is the Hornets now have an elite defender in the paint. He's the third strong player on the roster. He's Anthony Davis, the No. 1 pick in the draft. He's the type of rookie who will both make a huge impact in Year 1 and will have lots of room to grow. Assuming health.
Add in a nice coach in Monty Williams and you see why the Hornets should be better than the typical bad team. They'll still be bad, though. Just not really, really bad. We won't rue the day the Hornets and Bobcats meet.
Well, yes we will.
Note that despite the loads of losses, New Orleans finished No. 15 in defense in 2011-12. Replacing Chris Kaman with Davis could improve that, but Anderson for Gustavo Ayon and Austin Rivers for Jarrett Jack are defensive downgrades.
AIRING OF GRIEVANCES
This team is going to have a huge learning curve on offense. Davis is skilled and versatile, but offense isn't going to come easy in the NBA; the size and quickness of NBA big men will turn good college plays into NBA turnovers. Anderson is an elite shooter, but Stan Van Gundy's offense was dedicated to getting open shots out of Dwight Howard double-teams. Davis isn't getting double-teamed when the season starts, and maybe not at all in '12-13. So Anderson may be forced to create more than he'd like to, which should hurt his efficiency.
The point guard situation is ... dicey. Greivis Vasquez would be a decent back-up. Austin Rivers would be a promising two-guard. You see the issue, yes? The Hornets will either be rolling with an eighth-man trying to organize this new offense, or will have a young, impressionable shooting guard doing it. It's dicey. It makes me wonder if Kendall Marshall should have been the pick at No. 10. I know you pick for talent and not for need. But dang, this team really needs someone to organize the offense, and I don't think either Vasquez or Rivers can do it. That means that Gordon, Anderson and Davis will be creating their own shots way too much.
But at least there is some to create some shots here. Unlike the Bobcats.
It will be miraculous if ...
We aren't bored of the unibrow comments by December (are we already bored?).
Austin Rivers is compared favorably to Chris Paul in any category at any point this season.
Ryan Anderson doesn't follow Nicolas Batum on every single "overpaid free agent" list for the first few months of the season.
Hugo the Hornet has a season without incident.
Tom Benson isn't named supreme ruler of Louisiana at some point.
Some company markets unibrow jewelry. Well, "tries to market."
Eric Gordon plays 82 games.
THE HUMAN FUND
Let's get sincere.
Team MVP: Anthony Davis
Team X-Factor: Austin Rivers
Team Finish: 5th in Southwest | 14th in West
Best Championship Hopes: 2017
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.