Hornets.com 1-on-1: Radio analyst John DeShazier
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
John DeShazier joined the New Orleans Hornets in 2012-13 as the club’s new radio analyst. He’s calling all 82 regular season games on the Hornets Radio Network, along with play-by-play broadcaster partner Sean Kelley. As the official halfway point of the regular season approaches (Game No. 41 is Monday vs. Sacramento), DeShazier provides an update on the first half of the 2012-13 Hornets campaign and looks back at the team’s recent successful stretch:
Hornets.com: After starting the season 6-23, the Hornets have been a significantly improved team since the return of Eric Gordon on Dec. 29. Was it as simple as being able to get the high-scoring shooting guard back in the lineup? Or is there more to the team’s drastic turnaround?
DeShazier: Gordon isn’t the sole reason, but he’s a substantial part of the reason that the team is 6-2 when he has played, 5-1 when he starts. I think his presence has allowed teammates to fill the roles they were slated to occupy when the season began. Without him, players like Greivis Vasquez and Ryan Anderson had to carry heavier loads in terms of scoring and creating for teammates, and Anthony Davis might have been counted on more heavily to produce offensively than originally was in the plan. With Gordon, and his ability to create looks for himself and his teammates, the team has appeared more relaxed and more comfortable. I don’t think there’s any question that he has had a calming influence, particularly from the standpoint of the team having confidence it can execute offensively in tense situations.
Hornets.com: Based on statistics and percentages, Gordon has actually not shot well, particularly compared to his NBA career norms. Are there things he has brought to the floor that might go undetected by casual observers?
DeShazier: Even though he hasn’t shot well, his scoring has been timely and he has shown the ability to produce in the clutch. Three examples really stand out in my mind: He had 17 points and six assists in the second half of the comeback win against Charlotte, eight of the team’s 10 points in overtime win against Dallas and eight of the team’s 25 points in the fourth quarter in the win against San Antonio. Against Dallas, specifically, he was 1-for-9 from the field entering overtime, then made three of his four overtime attempts against the Mavs, including the game-winning, three-point play with less than 10 seconds left. Having him on the floor gives the Hornets a bona fide closer who can finish games and create plays when nothing is available. Also, his defense if pretty underrated. He’s solid on-ball and as a help defender. And we have to remember that, really, he’s not in top form (he’s only played eight games) and he still might not fully trust his leg. When he rounds into form and has back his explosion, he should contribute even more.
Hornets.com: Given the quality stretch, there have been some rumblings lately among fans and segments of the media about making a run at playoff contention. Has that entered the conversation yet among the team?
DeShazier: I haven’t heard it, and I really don’t think players are looking at that right now. Coach Monty Williams does a pretty good job of reminding them to play one quarter at a time, and he certainly reminds everyone that even though the team has played well recently, it doesn’t have a winning record and has a lot of growing up to do. Playoff talk right now would be really ambitious, given how strong the Western Conference is and the fact that playoff teams probably are going to have to win a minimum of 42 to 44 games. Now, if the Hornets manage to rally to a .500 record, then that kind of talk could gain some legitimacy. But if players are thinking about anything past playing well in the next game, they’re probably a few hundred miles ahead of where Williams wants them to be focusing.
Hornets.com: Speaking of the Western Conference, the Hornets’ next 10 games are against the West, including numerous contests vs. clubs that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Do you view this stretch as a chance to continue to validate the competitiveness of this team while at full strength?
DeShazier: Absolutely. I didn’t think a true evaluation of the team could be made until all the key parts were available. What we’ve seen lately is the fact that when the Hornets play with passion and keep down their turnovers, they give themselves a real chance to win because they have three players (Anderson, Vasquez and Gordon) who can, and have, made big shots down the stretch (and lately, Roger Mason can be placed in that category). The team actually showed up pretty well when it wasn’t at full strength against several playoff teams, so that had to boost confidence and create the belief that it would be fine when all of its parts were available. But now that it’s healthy, it really has to like its chances when it plays to its potential.
Hornets.com: What’s been the most pleasant surprise of 2012-13 so far for the Hornets in the first half of the season?
DeShazier: Vasquez, by far. He’s at a career high in points (14.3), assists (9.1), rebounds (4.4), field goal percentage (44.4), three-point percentage (39.7) and minutes (34.4). If the season ended today and he wasn’t named Most Improved Player, I’d wonder what voters were looking for. He’s really a confident player (he deserves to be) and he’s pretty fearless. One of the best things about him is that he still has been willing to be daring and to take over for stretches even with Gordon on the court, which makes the Hornets all the more dangerous. The only negative has been his turnovers (3.4 per game). That’ll be helped by experience and the fact that with Gordon, he won’t have to be the primary ballhandler and playmaker as often. Plus, playing point guard in the NBA is a meat grinder nowadays. Vasquez hasn’t been ground up by the challenge.
Hornets.com: Other than the obvious of trying to win as many games as possible, what are the team’s primary objectives in the second half of the regular season?
DeShazier: Probably, just developing more cohesiveness. Almost half the season passed before the team had all its parts available. Because of that, the Hornets really were in a hole, 6-23 overall and an 11-game losing streak mixed in over the first 29 games. Once they gain that cohesion, and playing off one another becomes more reflexive, they’ll continue to gain the confidence and consistency they’ll need to compete every night. If they do that, and put themselves in position to be successful, they’ll get their share of wins. Possibly, fatigue will become a factor – Davis only played 40 games in his one season at Kentucky and none of them was against the likes of Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Josh Smith or Dirk Nowitzki. And Robin Lopez, after 38 games, was three minutes shy of tying his career season high in minutes played (which happened in 67 games). Vasquez has never played this many minutes, either. So those workloads could come into play. But part of being a pro is learning to take care of your body, getting the proper rest, eating correctly, etc. The Hornets are a young team finding their way, so hopefully they’ll continue to grow together and remain healthy.