Despite drafting one of the best defensive forces in recent history to come out of college, according to most scouts and GMs, the New Orleans Hornets have proven to be one of the worst defensive teams this season. Currently they rank 2nd worst in defensive efficiency, just a smidgen ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats, by giving up 107.2 points per 100 possessions.
#1 overall pick Anthony Davis may be the only above average defensive player in Monty Williams’ rotation. The Hornets committed their second lottery pick to one-and-done Duke guard Austin Rivers, who has disappointed in his short time in the Bayou to say the least. On offense, his embarrassing .390 eFG% and .422 TS% shooting line has lead to Basketball Prospectus and ESPN writer Kevin Pelton to question if he is having the worst NBA season ever.
On the other hand, the Hornets pulled off something resembling a heist this offseason dealing Gustavo Ayon for a signed-and-traded Ryan Anderson. Anderson is shooting north of 40% from three point land, proving his breakout season last year with the Orlando Magic was no fluke, with or without Dwight Howard. Robin Lopez, along with Hakim Warrick, was also brought in by way of trade this offseason for almost nothing tangible, 3 future second round picks and two players currently not on an NBA roster. Lopez has responded with his best year as a professional, averaging 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game in only 26.6 minutes a game.
Davis, Lopez, Anderson and even Jason Smith have made for a very strong front court, despite some iffy rebounding. The guard play has been less than stellar, but Eric Gordon’s return may change its fortunes. After missing all but nine games since the lockout in 2011, Gordon returned from a knee injury to drop 24 points on the Bobcats Saturday. In full health, he can be an explosive, though undersized, shooting guard that can get points in many ways, similar to the arsenal James Harden displayed last night.
After playing backup point guard in Memphis and last year behind Jarrett Jack, Greivis Vasquez has filled in decently for a team with few other options. He recently received an award for Western Conference Player of the Week by averaging 21 points, 10 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in the last three games. Though not a great offensive or defensive talent, he excels at not making mistakes with better than a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio and knows his role as a facilitator on a big man-heavy team.
The Hawks should continue a streak of scoring 100 points in four straight games. Against such a poor defensive team, Josh Smith and Al Horford will have their way in the post and the guards can light up a defense giving up 40.5% shooting from long range, worst in the NBA. The Hawks should bury a worse opponent early and look to start another winning streak.