So the 2012 NBA Draft ended a few hours ago and most of the analysis has begun. The fact is that it’s impossible to know right now who made the right choice and who let the surefire All-Star pass. Those are conclusions that won’t be reached until years from now. Even the selection of consensus #1 prospect Anthony Davis will be looked back differently in a few years if he has the same bad luck with injuries that has limited Greg Oden and cut short Yao Ming’s career or if the situation in New Orleans devolves into a mess like Washington was after they took Kwame Brown or the Clippers was when they took Michael Olowakandi.
But all signs point to Davis being the kind of transcendent player that shifts franchises’ standings as well as the landscape of the league. Defensively he’s a terror for opponents. He has great ball-handling abilities and brings a great basketball mind. With comparisons to Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, there is a lot to hope for and expect from the young man they call “The Unibrow.”
Obviously, Davis’ development will take time. He is only 19 years old and is still growing. He will need to put on muscle to contend with the other NBA big men. He will have to continue developing his offensive game. And as the Hornets add talent around him, Davis will have less of a burden to bear but he will have to discover how best to mesh his talents to the whole. He will be the focal point, but there’s no reason for him to be the only man carrying the load. Duncan has Ginobili and Parker. Garnett has had Pierce, Allen and Rondo. Basketball remains, after all, a team game.
Hopefully with the 10th pick, the Hornets landed a complimentary piece. There’s no mistake that, in taking Duke G Austin Rivers, the Dell/Monty brain trust is taking a gamble. Rivers has as many detractors as he has fans. There will be questions regarding his unwillingness to pass the ball and his defensive skills will have to be developed. The phrase “more turnovers than assists” will follow him from college basketball and his attitude will be questioned any time he speaks out and demands the ball. And, of course, there’s the question as to what position he’s best at: point guard (where some think the Hornets want him) or shooting guard (where the Hornets expect to have Eric Gordon starting).
At the same time, Rivers is as young as Davis (19) and brings with him both an array of attacking moves as well as a high basketball IQ (just like Davis). Furthermore, having grown around the game, Rivers knows what is expected of him and knows that all that matters is pleasing his coach, Monty Williams. Finally, isn’t it nice to have players who look forward to playing in New Orleans? Rivers wanted to be here due to the team that is being built and due to his knowledge of Monty and Dell – former teammates of his dad, Doc Rivers. If there is one positive to Austin Rivers, it is this: he appears to be the kind of player who seeks out a challenge and will work hard to overcome it.
A quick word also for Kentucky F Darius Miller, whom the Hornets tabbed with the 46th pick in the Draft. Miller played with Davis at Kentucky and displayed good skills there as well as a strong character ethic – respecting his coaches’ decision to put Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ahead of him. Miller will immediately slot into the backup SF role and be tasked with challenging Al-Farouq Aminu for that starting spot. Again, basketball is a team game – and you need depth as much as you need talent.
It’s a strange time for the “downtrodden” Hornets. Everyone is paying attention to them both locally and around the nation – even if, as the Chicago Tribune did, they still can’t get it that New Orleans has a team besides the Saints. While that team is mired in the bounty scandal BS and cannot find a way to reach a long-term deal with Drew Brees, it has fallen to the Hornets to be the beacon of good feelings. Since the Lottery Night shocker, you are noticing more interest in the team and I hope it’s a sign of things to come for the team.
Lest we forget: this was a team that most around the nation and some in New Orleans wanted to leave behind in Oklahoma City, like a puppy who you dump in front of the neighbor’s door right before the kids come out. The punditry hasn’t stopped talking about poor Seattle Sonics fans and how it should have been the Hornets who became the OKC Thunder or should have remained in Charlotte while the Bobcats never existed at all.
But now the Hornets have every opportunity to begin their existence in New Orleans fresh and clean. They have a young, intelligent GM/Head Coach combo in Dell Demps and Monty Williams – who must be signed to long term deals fast before the Knicks come a-knockin’ – a young core of Davis, Rivers and Gordon – who has been offered an extension with an eye towards a long-term deal – and a fanbase that is ecstatic about having them hear and watching them grow and develop.
It will take time. The Thunder were poor before they were great. The Heat lost in the Finals before they won them. Teams take time to grow and develop. The good news is that there is a chance for this team to become a championship contender and a relevant force in the NBA. And for those New Orleans residents who haven’t jumped in and who stayed on the sidelines during the Baron Davis Era or the Chris Paul-David West Period, now is your chance. Jump aboard the bandwagon! It’s going to be a fun ride!