After a day spent watching the Heat and Celtics face off, I was looking forward to seeing two teams with legitimate young talent to evaluate, and while Eric Gordon didn't suit up for the Hornets, I wasn't disappointed.
I'll start off by saying that all signs indicate Monty Williams is an excellent coach. He has a team which is full of young players all fighting for minutes, but the majority of them play within the system and share the ball, they have a very team-first mentality, and you can't help but wonder how good they can be next season with a top-5 draft pick and a (hopefully) healthy Eric Gordon. But on to the actual game.
The Kings and the Hornets could not have played any differently, for the majority of the game the Kings were getting out in transition, and failing that, going 1v5 in the halfcourt. Cousins really struggled in this one, foul trouble kept him from getting a rhythm and Ty Corbin decided to just ride Chuck Hayes down the stretch rather than putting Cousins back in. I want to point out that a pick and roll player, Cousins is not. He's too slow with his feet at this point to run the p'n'r effectively, and the Kings need to find a PF who can sooner rather than later. When Cousins picked up his third foul early Hassan Whiteside checked in, but almost immediately went down with an ankle injury, let's hope it's not too serious. Evans was feeling his jumper today, and was shooting without hesitation, but he was still fading away on literally every jumper he took and using way too much elbow movement. These form problems are holding him back from developing the consistent J which would make him a star, because he had absolutely no problem getting separation for a jumper whenever he wanted. That said, he attacked the basket well, hitting four of his trademark "back-turned" finishes on the left side with the right hand.
Jimmer is a bust as a 10th overall pick. He's a very limited player, had a number of costly turnovers, can't defend to save his life and doesn't know how to catch and shoot yet. His handle is weak, he doesn't have passing instincts and he is struggling to score, so he isn't even useful as a Jason-Terry type. A comparison was made to Steve Kerr during the game, and I think that's just about on the money, but you wouldn't take Steve Kerr 10th overall unless you had the right team around him, and unfortunately for Sacramento, Jimmer was a huge reach. Isaiah Thomas was unimpressive, he really struggled guarding "Gravy" and while I love him as a player, I wouldn't want him to be my starter for the future because there are a lot of tall PGs around these days and they are going to take advantage of him. Terrence Williams was a positive for the Kings, he was hitting a few jumpers, has great passing instincts and really excels as a point forward off the bench. He's definitely an unorthodox player, but he defends well and has the potential to mesh well with Jimmer in the second unit. Jason Thompson had a good game, he's very long and athletic and managed to get a few baby hooks to drop in the lane, but he still has a long way to go before he's a legitimate post scorer, and with Cousins posting up more often, he needs to work on hitting the mid-range jumper to be more effective for this team.
Now on to the Hornets, who like I said, really impressed me in this win. Some of Blake Griffin's hops must have rubbed off on Jason Smith because he was straight up exploding off the ground for a number of dunks today. More than that he was hitting his mid-range jumper consistently and while he isn't a great defender, he gets boards and hustles every minute he's on the court. The Hornets should look at holding onto him because he's a valuable role-player for any team. Aminu was given the start today and while he's still very raw and unconfident offensively, he is an absolute menace defensively. His freakishly long arms and quick hands allowed him to really bother Tyreke, T-Will and anybody else he was matched up with. I haven't checked the box score for final numbers, but he had a number of key blocks, and played the passing lanes very well, with a number of deflections which won't show up on the stat sheet but were very helpful. Aminu might never be a great scorer, but with Gordon on the team he might not have to be.
One of my favourite young players in Xavier Henry had a great game today, I've been following him since his senior year of high school and it's nice to see him get more minutes. He's a very committed defender, and should stick around in the league for his stopping abilities alone. However, he showed some good signs offensively today, he was being more aggressive driving the lane and was perfect from the field, scoring a number of transition buckets and a brilliant layup in traffic. The best part was that despite his hot hand, he wasn't forcing the issue or taking stupid shots, and seems committed to being a team-first player who doesn't need to score to impact the game and be engaged. He is still learning how to move off the ball properly to get his shots, and looked lost at times, but he never stopped hustling defensively and while the opportunity to start might not be there with New Orleans if they they re-sign Aminu and Gordon, I think there are definitely places where he could thrive in the NBA as a starter.
The Kings are still a selfish team, and I don't think Smart is the coach to get them to buy in, but he's still an upgrade over Westphal. The Hornets have a really bright future with Williams at the helm and are pretty much set at the 2/3 for the time being, but need to find a young stud in the frontcourt and better PG. They really lacked any sort of shot-blocking from their big men, so if I were the Hornets, taking Andre Drummond would be my first priority, they could bring him off the bench behind Kaman and bring him along slowly, but he'd add a different element to their team, and would form a nice partnership with Okafor as a shot-blocking tandem.
This game was surprisingly fun, let's see how the Pistons and Bobcats go tomorrow... God help me.