The New Orleans Hornets (they’re not the Pelicans just yet) are a team in flux. They started the year with the specious ROY, Anthony Davis, and his inexorable brow grabbing most of the headlines. But it didn’t last. Davis went down with an ankle injury. Plus, after matching Phoenix’s offer sheet for the off guard they got in the Chris Paul trade, Eric Gordon, they waited for him to recover from a patella tendon disorder and bone bruise in his right knee.
Well last night, Gordon started just his second game of the season, and the Hornets got their second set of back-to-back victories this season when they defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 95-88 at home. It’s been a long time since the people of New Orleans had something to cheer about relating to basketball, and we’re hoping they continue to trend upwards because they have an exciting roster that could make some runs this season if they can stay healthy.
That’s a big if, though, even as Eric Gordon seems to lack the reticence normally reserved after a month of inactivity and ponderous knee issues. If you watched him last night, he started the game pretty cold from the field, going just 3-for-11 in the first half, but he was attacking the rim with a confidence that has to make Hornets fans happy. Just check out his shot chart from last night.
As you can see, Gordon shot just 4-for-10 in the restricted area, and he also missed a few just outside the lane. But he didn’t lose his confidence. Even struggling from the field, he kept attacking and was awarded with three trips to the line where he was a perfect 6-for-6 on the night. But all his shooting woes changed in the game’s final eight minutes. Gordon sank a couple long two-pointers and a step-back three to beat the shot clock and help a struggling Hornets team get the win after they were on the precipice of wasting an excellent first three quarters against the mighty Borg from San Antonio.
It wasn’t just Gordon that helped New Orleans get the victory, though, and it’s worth noting how well balanced this rotation appears with everyone healthy. Before the last couple weeks, the only thing the Hornets seemed to be missing was a player like Gordon that could get buckets down the stretch when teams like San Antonio tighten their grip on any offensive maneuvering in the game’s final moments.
Greivis Vasquez has been on a tear at point guard lately. Since Christmas, he’s been averaging 19.1 points per game, 10.6 assists and 5.9 rebounds in seven games. He’s also shot 52.6 percent from the field and 47.6 percent on three-pointers as the Hornets are 4-3 in that stretch, including wins in their last two. The last time New Orleans won two games in a row it was early November, and it’s just the second time they’ve done so this season.
Another reason for the Hornets improved play is the health and continued development of Anthony Davis. After missing time at two different points this season, Davis has appeared in 21 of the Hornets’ 34 games so far this year. In that limited action, Davis has managed to play efficiently enough to be ranked among the top 20 in PER for forwards who average over 15 minutes a game (via Hoopdata). His 19.6 Player Efficiency rating is the second-highest among the top rookies, trailing only Andre Drummond, who is playing less than 20 minutes a game.
Davis’ ankle finally appears healthy, and he’s bouncing all around the floor, catching oops on the wing and dashing in to put back offensive rebounds. There was one moment last night where Tim Duncan helped the young star-in-the-making up after he’d been knocked to the floor and lost the ball out of bounds. When Duncan goes out of his way to help you to your feet, you know you’re legit. After struggling to score since a 25-point outburst in a loss to the Raptors on December 28, Davis had 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting last night to go with nine rebounds, three steals and a block. He appears ready to make good on the promise we saw during his lone NCAA championship-winning year at Kentucky.