By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 1, 2013
For three consecutive years, the Detroit Pistons have chosen a player in the top 10 of the NBA Draft, which has yielded a promising core of center Greg Monroe (No. 7 pick in 2010), guard Brandon Knight (No. 8 in 2011) and center Andre Drummond (No. 9 in 2012). Though not all of their four top-10 draftees are homegrown, the New Orleans Hornets are also building their roster partly from recent high draft picks, headlined by last year’s No. 1 choice, power forward Anthony Davis.
Friday evening’s matchup in the Crescent City between the Pistons and Hornets will serve as another test for the emerging talent of each squad. Barring a miraculous close to the 2012-13 regular season, neither club is headed to the NBA playoffs in April, shifting the focus a bit to player development and long-term objectives.
New Orleans has a total of nine first-round draft picks among its 13 roster members, including five players who were selected in the lottery portion of the draft. In addition to Davis, guard Eric Gordon was the seventh overall pick in 2008, while forward Al-Farouq Aminu was chosen eighth overall two years later (also by the Los Angeles Clippers). The other Hornets lottery picks are Austin Rivers (10th in 2012) and Xavier Henry (12th in 2010 by Memphis).
Some of the Hornets’ potential was on display when they visited the Pistons on Feb. 11, a blowout 105-86 victory for New Orleans. Ryan Anderson (the 21st pick of the 2008 draft by then-New Jersey) led the Hornets with 31 points, including 5-for-9 three-point shooting. Robin Lopez (15th pick in 2008 by Phoenix) gave the Hornets an inside presence to go with Anderson’s long-range accuracy, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds. He also blocked two Detroit shots.
The rosters of Detroit and New Orleans carry a combined total of nine rookies. NOLA’s Davis and Rivers are joined by fellow first-year NBAers Darius Miller (46th pick in 2012) and Brian Roberts (undrafted).
Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Greivis Vasquez vs. Jose Calderon
Two international players who rank among the NBA’s leaders in assists meet for a third time this season. Vasquez (of Venezuela) is third in the league at 9.4 per game, while Calderon (of Spain) holds the eighth position at 7.4. Calderon was traded to Detroit from Toronto in late January.
Detroit and New Orleans have experienced relatively similar 2012-13 seasons, with a poor start followed by much-improved play over the last two months. The Pistons began the regular season with eight consecutive losses, finally breaking through for their first win Nov. 14 in Philadelphia. Detroit was just 7-21 in late December, but went 15-16 over its next 31 games (New Orleans was 6-23 when Eric Gordon made his season debut Dec. 29, then went 14-14 in the next 28 contests). Since breaking up the core group that captured the 2004 NBA championship, Detroit has experienced a rough past few years. The Pistons went 25-41 during the abbreviated 2011-12 season, which was actually a small uptick in winning percentage from the previous two years’ records of 30-52 and 27-55. Detroit is likely headed to the NBA draft lottery for a fourth straight time.
New Orleans area native Greg Monroe, a 6-foot-11 center, leads the Pistons in both scoring and rebounding. The Georgetown University product continues to get better; he opened the month of February with eight consecutive double-doubles in points and boards. The 22-year-old left-hander possesses an array of effective low-post scoring moves and is an above-average passer.
On the rise
Rookie big man Andre Drummond was called the ultimate high-risk, high-reward player when he entered the 2012 draft after just one season at the University of Connecticut. So far, the Pistons appear to have made an excellent choice. The ninth overall pick, who was taken one spot before the Hornets tabbed Austin Rivers at No. 10, packs major production into his playing time, averaging 7.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in 19.7 minutes.
In addition to Drummond’s efficient bench production, the Pistons have several reserves who are capable of having game-changing nights. Point guard Will Bynum isn’t always in the rotation but had a 31-point game at Atlanta this season. Charlie Villanueva has been a disappointment since signing with Detroit as a free agent, but once scored 48 points in a game as an NBA rookie.
On the sideline
Now in his second season with Detroit, Lawrence Frank is often praised for being one of the most prepared head coaches in the NBA. In his previous stint as a head coach, Frank took over for Byron Scott in New Jersey and set a league record by winning his first 13 games in the post. The Pistons went 25-41 in Frank’s first year at the helm.
Did you know?
Over the past 20-plus seasons, Detroit has been one of the NBA’s most successful franchises, though the Pistons are currently in a down period. Behind legendary guard Isiah Thomas, the Pistons won back-to-back league crowns in 1989 and 1990. Led by an unheralded crew of hard-nosed contributors, Detroit won its third NBA championship in 2004, defeating a Hall of Fame-laden Lakers squad in the Finals.
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