June 29, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Hornets owner Tom Benson presents a jersey to first round selection Anthony Davis during a press conference at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Premature Southwest Division Preview: New Orleans Hornets

New Orleans Hornets
Record: 21-45
Offensive rating: 100.9 — 28th
Defensive rating: 105.1 — 15th
Pace: 88.3 — 30th
eFG%: 47.6% — 21st
Defensive eFG%: 48.5% — 11th

Burning question: How good can New Orleans be?

Unless you expect New Orleans to immediately contend for a title next year, New Orleans is very likely to exceed your expectations. Now that they are infused with young talent and a defensive minded coach, their next step in their development is to find pieces that fit around their best assets, Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon. Jarrett Jack is a capable scorer and Austin Rivers can create for himself better than the majority of this years class. They certainly have something here.

The remnants of the Rashard Lewis deal — which cleared upwards of $12 million this year and more next year — will prove to be especially valuable when they are able to retain Gordon and still have cap room. I can see New Orleans contend for a playoff spot next year though I don’t quite expect them to assert themselves into the NBA elite for a couple of years.

Player(s) to watch: Anthony Davis.

Is there any doubt? Davis’ jaw-dropping combination of length, athleticism, acumen and energy makes him a pretty compelling player to watch. Not to mention that his conspicuous eyebrow attracts a lot of attention as well.

Davis, statistically, has the potential of putting up some wild numbers and I am excited for the occasional nights where he’ll make 7-of-8 shots while blocking five shots. That kind of production in play. I gave a quick glance to his advanced numbers and … wow. 35.1 PER. A true shooting percentage of 65.4% and a ridiculous block percentage of 13.7% (higher than his turnover rate by the way).

I’m really jealous of New Orleans Hornets fans right now.

Important statistic: Pick-and-roll ball handler efficiency.

While the Hornets only mustered up 100.9 points per 100 possessions last season — only Charlotte and Toronto were worse — their pick-and-roll offense was one of the few bright spots on their team. New Orleans hit the roll man about a third of the time and they converted on these opportunities 49% of the time, good for 0.97 points per possession.

New Orleans was especially proficient when their ball handlers finished the possession. They shot 40.9% from behind the arc on 66 attempts which amounted to 0.85 PPP, good for fifth in the entire league. Their primary ball handler, Jack, was even more effective in the pick-and-roll. Jack finished with an unreal shooting efficiency, as he shot 50.6% from the field.

Now that the Hornets have selected Davis, whose agility and length could make him into a bonafide pick-and-roll weapon, their attack can stand to get better. Not to mention that Gordon only played nine games last season and, in a limited sample size, scored 1.21 PPP. I’m not ready to chalk New Orleans as an elite offense but they will be an incredibly difficult team to defend in pick-and-roll situations.

Tags: Anthony Davis Austin Rivers Eric Gordon Jarrett Jack New Orleans Hornets

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