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, including the team’s current four-game road trip against Western Conference foes. DeShazier provided this update from San Antonio, where the Hornets will face the Spurs on Friday evening at 7:30:

Hornets.com: A great deal of discussion during Wednesday's loss to the Clippers was on Eric Gordon, who said he is hopeful to be back on the court for a game in December. Most people know what Gordon is capable of as a player, but based on the first 25 games without him, what are the areas where you project he can help this team the most?
DeShazier: First, the underrated aspect of his game is that he defends. Gordon really will upgrade the individual defense against opposing shooting guards, and team defense. That will help the Hornets get back to the defensive identity they want to have under Coach Monty Williams. Second, as you mentioned, people know what he can do offensively, but it’s hard to overstate how important it is to have a closer for NBA games. When you have that player in whose hands you can put the ball, and he can score in a variety of ways (including getting to the foul line) or set up teammates for better looks offensively, then the chances increase that the offense won’t fall off in the last three to four minutes of a game. Gordon easily and comfortably can slide over to point guard and initiate the offense during those final minutes, and he can give the Hornets that player who can be productive even when everyone in the building knows he’s going to have the ball.

Hornets.com: After recent narrow losses at Oklahoma City and Portland, New Orleans is now 1-7 in close games this season (games with a final margin of four points or fewer, or in overtime). Other than a young team gaining more NBA experience in crunch-time situations, what needs to happen to start turning some of these defeats into victories?
DeShazier: Mainly, what has to happen is the Hornets have to make a key defensive stop here and there. The team hasn’t had many players who, in the past, have been counted on to carry the offensive load in clutch situations. So that might explain why the offense has been sporadic in those situations. The way to counter that is to do make it happen defensively. The good part about the team putting itself in those positions is if it continues to do so, the belief is that it’ll learn how to finish off opponents. Players better will know the tendencies of opponents as they make the loop around the league and those mental snapshots should help the Hornets players understand what opponents like to do and what makes them uncomfortable offensively down the stretch.

Hornets.com: It sounds like a cliché, but there are several statistics (such as average margin) that indicate that New Orleans has played much better than its 5-20 record. Do you hear or sense frustration from the players about being in so many games – especially on the road – but not getting the bottom-line result?
DeShazier: Absolutely, they’re bothered/angry/agitated/frustrated about failing to close the deal. I think that’s a good thing, actually, because these guys genuinely seem to care. What would be troubling is if they weren’t upset and were succumbing to the inability to win as often as they’d like. They’ve played in a few especially tough venues – Oklahoma City, Portland, Golden State – and have acquitted themselves well in losses. But each time, they’ve also taken the losses hard, haven’t had a happy-to-be-close mentality. That’s a good thing.

Hornets.com: Anthony Davis has now been back on the floor for six games, after he had played in six prior to his ankle injury. Are there any nuances or changes in his play that you’ve noticed between those separate six-game stretches?
DeShazier: The only thing I’ve noticed – and I have to issue a caveat here, because he might’ve been doing this earlier and I just wasn’t as aware of it then as I am now – is that he seems to be getting open a lot deep on the baseline offensively, along the end line. He kind of hides there and opponents seem to not notice him until it’s too late, and he’s received a pass and dunked or completed a lay-in. Otherwise, he pretty much has been the same as before. He’s doing a good job drawing contact and getting to the foul line, too. When he was with the Hornets’ second unit, when he first came back from injury, he played a little more center than previously but other than that, he’s looking like he has rounded back into form.

Hornets.com: Fellow Hornets lottery pick Austin Rivers has significantly improved his effectiveness and offensive efficiency in the past week, highlighted by a 27-point game vs. Minnesota. What are the reasons behind his recent surge?
DeShazier: I think being pulled from the starting lineup for nine games, as Roger Mason Jr. started at shooting guard, might have helped slow down the game for Rivers and allow him to study the game a little more from that perspective. He’s a confident guy, so seeing the ball drop through the hoop a few times didn’t hurt. Going back to the Memphis game (15 points, 7-13 from the field on Dec. 7), it looks like that’s where he turned a corner. He came off the bench and produced offensively against a legitimate title contender and, too, he was part of the unit that Coach Williams trusted to close out that game. He has seemed less reluctant to shoot his jump shot and because he has had success there, it enhances his ability to penetrate.

Hornets.com: What are your early impressions of recent addition Dominic McGuire?
DeShazier: He really has been a nice addition. He’s a big (6-9, 235), physical defender who’ll rebound and doesn’t shy from contact. Obviously, he doesn’t know the offense well because he didn’t have training camp or the first 22 games to learn it. But he has been allowed to initiate it several times – bringing the ball up the court, passing off and settling into the post, where he gets a return pass and surveys the defense. That’s been an interesting twist. Defensively, he can’t be bullied and pushed around and he adds a level of toughness that every team needs.

Hornets.com: Looking ahead, the post-road trip schedule includes a quick turnaround with a Saturday home game vs. Indiana, followed by a three-day hiatus from games Dec. 23-25. What will be the team's focus during what's probably a needed brief break from the hectic schedule?
DeShazier: A much-needed day off is on the schedule but after that, figure on that time being used to put Gordon through a couple of rigorous workouts with his teammates, to gauge his readiness to play. Assume that Coach Williams will try to simulate game conditions so Gordon can, hopefully, step back on the court immediately ready to contribute. Also, the repetitions will help his teammates. We have to remember – which is hard to do sometimes – that these guys haven’t played together before this season and they still haven’t totally acclimated to each other. Adding Gordon to the mix further extends the acclimation process; whatever teammates learned about him during voluntary workouts has to be re-learned and given that he was injured, they might not have seen the “true” Gordon during those workouts. Also, they can get more repetitions defensively, to better instill the principles that eventually should make them successful on that end of the court.