New Orleans Hornets' forward/center Jason Smith as he takes a jumpshot over Memphis Grizzlies' forward Rudy Gay in a preseason game on December 21st, 2011 in the New Orleans Arena. Photo courtesy of Storm Surge Photo's Matthew McIntosh.
In the first Hornets game in the New Orleans Arena in nearly 8 months, the team faced off the against Southwest division rival Memphis Grizzlies. Who they played wasn't really that important; as a fan, you just want to see quality minutes from the important players, and maybe a few pleasant surprises along the way. That being said, here are my 5 keys to take away from tonight's final Hornets preseason game.
- Surprise! Eric Gordon can really shoot the ball, and he can play some solid defense too. The Commissioner contributed 17 points on 12 shots to go along with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. He was consistently causing trouble on the defensive end as well, making his match-ups work for everything.
- Jason Smith looks improved on both ends of the floor. He's always been a hustler, but his hustle turned into points and blocks tonight instead of turnovers and fouls. If he can stay disciplined and pick his spots, he could earn himself some valuable minutes off the Hornets' bench.
- Quincy Pondexter is looking more active and aggressive than last season. I don't want to read too much into one game, but Q-Pon looked like a different player out there. He doesn't look lost on offense, and he was all over both the offensive and defensive glass. He finished with 14 points on just 7 shots, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block. I don't expect quite that kind of regular offensive production from Quincy, but if he can make similar contributions on the glass, he can be an asset off the bench for New Orleans.
- Chris Kaman is looking like the Hornets' go-to scorer in the post. With Okafor sitting this one out, Kaman more than picked up the slack inside, scoring 18 points in 22 minutes of action on only 10 shots. The biggest reason for his scoring production was due to his ability to get to the free throw line with regularity, converting 8 of 13 attempts. Kaman will continue to see big minutes, whether in the starting lineup or off the bench, and it would be a nice boost for the Hornets if he can continue to get to the charity stripe so frequently.
- Team concept - good D leads to easy O. After the game's first 6 minutes, the Hornets were tenacious on defense, giving Memphis trouble all night. Frequently, that defense turned into fast break opportunities. Jarrett Jack wasn't the same scorer we saw in the Hornets' first preseason game, but he was a good facilitator in transition, assisting on multiple fast-break buckets.
- Coach Williams knows who his backup point guard is going to be for the Hornets' season opener in Phoenix on the 26th. He wouldn't "give it away", as he put it, but I think it's reasonable to assume that Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson is the guy. He turns 29 next month, so he's not exactly glowing with upside, but he's done a good enough job in this brief preseason to earn a chance to prove his worth when the games begin to count. Either way, however, expect the Hornets to diligently pursue trade options for a more reputable backup PG. On most NBA teams, Squeaky is a 3rd string PG at best, not a backup.
- As to be expected regardless of the actual results, Monty expressed his desire to see vast improvement from the team defensively. He said that he "saw an improvement from the first night, but certainly not where we want to be as a team."
- When asked what he would most strongly emphasize before the team's first regular season game, Coach Williams immediately replied "offensive rebounding." Apart from Pondexter's impressive 6 offensive boards, the Hornets struggled in this regard, and Monty obviously thinks his team can do much better in that aspect of the game.
- When asked how important the returning players would be to the chemistry of the team, he immediately brought up Jason Smith, and how he seemingly "came into camp with an attitude", as he is "still proving himself in the NBA."
- Monty made a point to bring up Gordon's physicality on defense, as he's obviously a huge fan of his overall game. He noted that he expects Gordon to basically do his own thing on offense, and will obviously be relying on EG to put up lots of points.