Best of the Hornets' First Half

February 18, 2013

A brief look back at some of the highlights from the first half of the New Orleans Hornets’ 2012-13 regular season:

In his first season with the Hornets, Ryan Anderson was quickly and unexpectedly moved into the role of No. 1 scoring option in November, when projected top scorer Eric Gordon and first overall draft pick Anthony Davis were both sidelined by injuries. Anderson responded with one of the best shooting stretches of his NBA career, often putting up big numbers despite being targeted by every opposing defense. Anderson’s whatever-the-team-needs mentality was again on display when New Orleans returned to full strength health-wise. The fifth-year pro willingly accepted a role as a sixth man who can provide instant offense, a critical component for a team whose bench has struggled through bouts of inconsistency. The durable 24-year-old also appeared in all 53 first-half games, leading the Hornets in scoring average at 17.1 points despite coming off the bench 36 times.

Voices from Twitter
@RogerOsorio_: Easily Greivis Vasquez! Consistently improving as the season has went on. The team goes as he goes.
@Chaddered: Ryan Anderson for consistently hitting 3's when they are most needed!

Greivis Vasquez isn’t just the player on the Hornets’ roster who has made the biggest leap in performance this season – he also deserves consideration for the NBA’s 2012-13 MIP award. Just two seasons ago, the native of Venezuela was a seldom-used rookie reserve for the Memphis Grizzlies (Vasquez often describes his role there as “12th man”). Last season, Vasquez was the Hornets’ backup point guard behind Jarrett Jack. This season, he’s drastically increased his effectiveness in scoring, perimeter shooting and distributing, the latter already an area of strength for him. At the All-Star break, the 26-year-old ranks third in the NBA in assists per game, behind only Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. With both Rondo (out for season with knee injury) and Paul (recently temporarily sidelined with knee injury) having missed games, Vasquez’s 499 total assists is No. 1 among all players. Not bad for the 28th overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft.

By virtually all accounts, during his four previous seasons with Phoenix, 7-foot center Robin Lopez was a relatively limited offensive player. He was never anywhere near the focal point of the Suns’ attack, with a career scoring average of just 5.8 points. These days, NBA fans who regularly watched Lopez in Arizona may not recognize the upgraded 2012-13 version of the player. Working diligently with the Hornets’ coaching staff, the Stanford University product has noticeably expanded his low-post repertoire and is averaging double-digit scoring (11.7 points) for the first time as a pro. In one telling stat, Lopez has already scored more points (619) this season than in any of his four full campaigns with the Suns. Like Anderson and Vasquez, Lopez appeared in all 53 first-half games, another area of improvement for the 24-year-old pivot. Lopez played in 242 of 312 possible regular season games (78 percent) with Phoenix.

It’s no coincidence that when New Orleans reserve 7-footer Jason Smith missed seven consecutive games due to injury from Dec. 14-26, the Hornets ended up extending their longest losing streak of the season to a frustrating 11 games. When Smith returned to the lineup three days after Christmas, the Hornets were 6-22 overall. Since then, they’ve gone 13-12. Over the past two months, the fifth-year pro has been something of a fourth-quarter secret weapon, relied upon by Monty Williams to play effectively in pick-and-rolls on both ends of the floor. In an NBA that has become obsessed with efficiency, Smith is the epitome of a player who does a lot in a relatively brief amount of time. The Colorado State product is averaging 7.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in just 17.0 minutes. He’s also shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 85.7 percent from the foul line.

Voices from Twitter
@btejeda1: Roger Mason. As the oldest on the team he is teaching the rookies on our team about knowing your role and keeping composure.
@THETommyBlaze: Has to be Al-Farouq Aminu. His athleticism and newfound hustle on D along with his dirty work on the boards is tremendous for this team.
@ChampIAN_33: Jason Smith!!! With limited minutes his impact can't be measured, all while doing it efficiently and being clearly injured!

For a team that is 15 games below .500 at the All-Star break, the Hornets have a rather lengthy resume of quality victories, including winning road games in difficult venues such as Chicago, Boston and Memphis. However, it’s difficult to top New Orleans’ 105-98 victory on Nov. 26 against the Los Angeles Clippers in the Staples Center. The undermanned Hornets were on a six-game losing streak, wrapping up an arduous four-game road trip and facing a Clippers team that earlier had charged out to a franchise-record 8-2 start. New Orleans shot a blistering 15-for-25 from three-point range, though, with Anderson and Vasquez connecting on five three-pointers apiece.

Voices from Twitter
@MrWayneKeller: I felt the best win was against San Antonio. Felt like the most complete game and true vision of what the team wants to be.
@mknkachow: Probably the win over the Clippers before they went on their winning streak. Big win over a top team.

Several of the NBA’s marquee teams won’t visit New Orleans until the final few weeks of the schedule, including Miami and the Clippers (twice). Through the first three months of the season, the most memorable Hornets home triumph probably occurred Jan. 7 vs. San Antonio. The Spurs had won six consecutive head-to-head meetings with the Hornets, dating back to the 2011-12 season, but the Hornets prevailed 95-88. Honorable mention goes to the Nov. 2 contest with Utah in which Vasquez scored the go-ahead layup in the final seconds of an 88-86 victory.

Although New Orleans ranks near the middle of the pack in foul shooting as a team (12th out of 30 teams, at 76.4 percent), the Hornets have two players shooting over 90 percent at the midway point. Two others are over 85 percent. Roger Mason has only missed once in 31 attempts, while Brian Roberts is 51-for-55. Frontcourt players aren’t generally even above average from the charity stripe, but Anderson shoots 87.9 percent and Smith is at 85.7.

The Hornets preach defense on a daily basis, one of the biggest aspects of their team identity since Williams took over as New Orleans head coach in 2010-11. Unfortunately, amid a combination of injuries and inexperience, the Hornets have had several stretches in which they’ve frequently given up 100-plus points. New Orleans ranks 27th in defensive efficiency among 30 teams. On the plus side, the Hornets closed the first half by allowing a season-low 63 points vs. Portland. The club’s previous best defensive performance was 77 points.