PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 26: Eric Gordon #10 of the New Orleans Hornets celebrates after scoring the game winning basket against the Phoenix Suns during the season openning NBA game at US Airways Center on December 26, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Hornets defeated the Suns 85-84. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It was always positioned to be a memorable night - the first time we would see the Hornets since Chris Paul destroyed the Los Angeles Lakers, demanded a trade, didn't demand a trade, was almost traded, was traded, wasn't actually traded, and then, surprise!, was traded. But 47 minutes of grimy, gloomy, grungy, uninspired basketball proceeded to then beat that notion about the head with a baseball bat. You expected real basketball after everybody just took six months off? You actually thought Ronnie Price V. Greivis Vasquez would result in a pleasant evening? Joke's on you, stupid person that enjoys basketball!
But then the final minute happened. With one fadeaway 20 footer and an equally important defensive play on the other end, a game that had gone from significant to insipid was all of a sudden unforgettable. The Commissioner had arrived.
Let's not get too carried away, of course. The Phoenix Suns aren't a playoff caliber team, and it's likely that this performance will go down as one of their worst of the season. One point wins generally will not predict the future very well. And for all his late game heroics, Eric Gordon isn't Chris Paul. But (and this is an important but!) he's our future. Chris Paul is history. The goal now is to build with an eye towards the +6 paradigm, which calls for Eric Gordon + Monty's Defense + ???. The last one we'll need to address via the draft, but nights like this - where the first two elements of the equation shined - are just as important to that +6 future. If everything falls perfectly over the next few seasons, we'll remember tonight, trivial as it may seem now, as the beginning of it all.
- Let's start with Eric Gordon for obvious reasons. I'm just going to shout words here because Eric Gordon! Body control! Explosion! Hesitation dribble! Eurostep! Under the legs dribbling! Upper body strength! Clutch! (Which is a cliched concept that may or may not actually exist, or at the very least, be provable statistically!) Footspeed! Defensive awareness! Perimeter stopper! Chinstrap!
- It looks for all the world like Carl Landry will be offensive option #2 this season, which, given the rest of the roster, isn't entirely unreasonable. What is less reasonable though is the Hornets' apparent belief that he's an exact like-for-like replacement for David West. This is dumb. 6 of Landry's 15 attempts came from outside of ten feet, and he converted just 2 of them. This really shouldn't come as much of a surprise either - through his career, Landry shoots in the mid-to-high 30% range from outside 10 feet. That isn't the worst mark in the league, but it's also key to note that Landry is one of the NBA's best finishers at the rim. Tonight, he got just 3 looks within 4 feet of the rim. A 6:3 ratio of outside to inside shots needs to be something the Hornets try and flip.
- The driving factor behind the we-are-all-drowning-in-a-swamp feel to the Hornets offense? Nobody created for others. The team finished with just 10 assists with players primarily approaching their matchups one-on-one. A lot of it has to be chalked up to the lack of a point guard obviously, but Jarrett Jack isn't the greatest playmaker himself. Gordon "led" the team with 3 assists (Vasquez finished with 2 and had 2 blown by Okafor), and it's something to keep an eye on moving forward.
- Chris Kaman looked quite crisp offensively. His jumper was on point, and his moves in the lane were virtually unguardable. 10 points and 5 rebounds (3 offensive) in 20 minutes from a bench big is fine production. On the flip side, his fellow Clipper transplant, Aminu, wasn't afforded the opportunity to really do anything.
- Phoenix started the game pounding the offensive glass - they picked up 50% of their own misses in the first quarter and over 35% for the first half. But the Hornets really doubled down on the D-glass in the second half with the Suns' offensive rebounding percentage dipping to 25% by the end of the game. If you remember back to last year, defensive rebounding was one of the Hornets' greatest strengths, something I don't really see changing in 2011-2012.
- A note on the point guards: Greivis Vasquez might be the "point guard version" of Quincy Pondexter in terms of overall productivity, but his game and his problems are actually the exact opposite of Quincy's. Where Quincy really struggled to make an impact when he got minutes last year, Vasquez tried to do way too much tonight. He did create a couple nice plays for teammates and for himself (10 points, 2 assists), but he was also wild and out of control quite often and finished with 5 turnovers. It's a double-edged sword that will keep him chained to a bench role for the foreseeable future. Squeaky Johnson only got 2 minutes behind Vasquez, during which he put in a textbook box out on Steve Nash for a rebound but also dribbled into a corner and picked up his dribble. I wanted to see more of him, but Monty Williams' decision to turn Eric Gordon into the fourth quarter playmaker was the correct one.
- Overall, it was a very cohesive defensive effort. Phoenix was the league's 9th most efficient offense last year and while rust has to be mentioned here, the Hornets did an impressive enough job at contesting the Suns' jumpers. Phoenix scored just 84 points on 88 possessions, good for 95.5 offensive efficiency, or 12 whole points below league average. Of course, the Hornets' offense was right around that mark too.
- Because you're all awesome, here's The Commissioner's game winner in HD!
- LOVE General Greivis' reaction to the shot (starting at 1:10 on the above video). I don't blame Gordon for it because it's not in his personality, but we need some excitement! this year, and Vasquez looks to be the man for it.
- One more note on Gordon - his final line (20 points on 18 shots) doesn't look that impressive, but this could very easily have been a 30 point night for him. He missed five open and in-rhythm looks from three (out of the six attempts he took and missed), and as a career 38% three point shooter, those shots will start falling soon enough.
- Just kidding, make that two more notes - anyone catch Gordon's heavy inbound deny of Steve Nash on the Suns' final possession? Baller. Gordon also became the defacto Nash defender on the Suns' previous possession, sticking with him and knocking the ball out of bounds before Nash got by him on the second attempt (but J. Dudley missed the shot).
- Basketball! Hornets! Eric Gordon! Woohoo!