Veterans impressed with defense, maturity of No. 1 pick

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

As a collective group during the 2011-12 regular season, the New Orleans Hornets averaged 4.79 blocks, ranking 21st out of 30 NBA teams. Meanwhile, as a freshman at the University of Kentucky, Anthony Davis averaged 4.65 blocks – by himself.

While no one believes it’s realistic to expect the 6-foot-10, 230-pounder to reject shots at that rate in the pros – he averaged about two per game in preseason – his presence in the paint could help the defense-first Hornets become even stingier. The No. 1 draft pick’s prowess on D isn’t restricted only to the vicinity of the rim, however. In college, he even managed to block numerous three-point attempts. His foot speed and agility also allow him to match up against players of various sizes and skill sets.

“He’s very versatile on defense, because he can block shots, whether you’re a guard or a big,” said Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon, who was immediately impressed by Davis in preseason workouts. “He’s very long. He can defend guards. A lot of bigs can’t sustain (staying with their man) off of one dribble, but he can really guard. And his timing is probably one of the best I’ve seen.”

As Davis racked up 186 blocks at Kentucky in just 40 games, the Hornets’ top shot-blocker last season was Chris Kaman, with 77 swats, followed by Gustavo Ayon’s 46. Neither player returned to NOLA. Although it’s difficult to predict exactly what the 19-year-old’s impact will be in Year 1, his teammates have taken note of how receptive the Chicago native has been to coaching. That bodes well for Davis’ long-term objective of developing into an all-around force.

“Defensively will be his main (strength),” Gordon said. “Offensively, he’s still progressing, but I think he’s going to be a major part of what we do.”

“You obviously see the talent, but the one thing I didn’t know was the person,” said Hornets reserve shooting guard Roger Mason of learning more about Davis in preseason. “It was a pleasant surprise to see that he’s like a sponge. You can tell he wants to get better and wants to be great. Just seeing his work ethic and seeing how he listens was encouraging. He’s got all the tools to be one of the top players in the league for a long time.”