Al-Farouq Aminu, Greivis Vasquez, Anthony Davis Make Big First Impressions in Hornets Opener

Well, the season is officially underway, and the New Orleans Hornets (the second-youngest team in the league, with the youngest starting five) took on the veteran-led San Antonio Spurs. And while the result wasn’t what Hornets fans hoped to see, it was certainly encouraging. A few observations from the Hornets’ 2012-13 debut:

Player of the Game

After being picked 8th overall in 2010, Al-Farouq Aminu had struggled to live up to that billing. But Wednesday night he looked like he could be ready for a third-year breakout. He scored his first ten points (of 17 total) all on dunks, including two alley-oops that he made impressive moves to go up and get. He also was active on the boards and defense, totaling 7 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks (and 3 assists). The Hornets don’t need Aminu to be their main man, but if this is a sign of what he’s going to bring to the table this season (let alone if he continues to improve), that will be an enormous boost for the team. Also worth noting: this is a contract year for Aminu, so motivation will not be a problem.

Honorable mention: Greivis Vasquez, who had a great game from the point guard position with 13 assists (10 by halftime) and only two turnovers to go with 8 points. Turnovers were sometimes an issue for Vasquez last season, but he certainly protected the ball tonight, and played a key role in Aminu’s above-the-rim offense early in the game.

Rookie Grades

All of the Hornets rookies played significant minutes, with various degrees of success. Anthony Davis led the team early with 13 first-half points, and finished with 21 points and 7 rebounds (plus a block and a steal). He was moving all over the floor, and while there is definitely room for improvement, Davis looks like he will indeed be as good as advertised. Grade: B+

Austin Rivers struggled throughout much of the game, unable to find his shooting touch, though a 5-of-6 performance at the free throw line helped him to finish with 7 points. He was clearly trying, but of the three draft picks, Rivers looked the most like a rookie out there, and he’ll have to improve if he wants to keep the starting shooting guard job in Eric Gordon’s absence. Grade: C-

And Darius Miller, despite playing the fewest minutes of the rookies, was all over the court, finishing with 3 points, 2 assists and 2 steals. Miller brought a ton of energy with him when he was in the game, and if he keeps this up, will be looked at as a steal in the second round. Seeing as he was a second round pick as opposed to top-10, this grade will be curved a bit, but Miller joins his former Kentucky teammate Davis in earning a B+ for his performance.

Top Team Stats

21/23 on free throws, 26 assists against 13 turnovers – These are stats that will never hurt you when it comes to winning games. As much fun as the alley-oops and fast breaks are to watch (and there will be plenty of those with this team as well), there’s a reason Tim Duncan and the Spurs have so many championships, and that is solid fundamentals and efficiency.

Final Verdict

This is a young team, and for them to go down in their first game (particularly to such a seasoned veteran team such as San Antonio) may be disappointing, but can’t be shocking. The Spurs made a run at the end to take the game; that’s what veteran teams do. There is still a lot of positive to take from tonight. This a team with great young athletes that will give any team fits, and they’re only going to improve as the season goes on. They held leads at several points, and had opportunities at the end to win it, and that was with Eric Gordon inactive and Austin Rivers struggling to get going through almost the entire game.

Overall, a disappointing finish, but a lot to look forward to. It’s going to be a fun year.

Next up: the Utah Jazz. I still want our nickname back.

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