You've got to hand it to New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams. His unsung young squad returns to NOLA tonight looking for its third straight win, no small accomplishment for a team that has been missing its two marquee players for most of its two victories.
That last win was particularly impressive, as New Orleans defeated the rugged Chicago Bulls on Saturday. The Hornets were hands down the more physical team despite the absences of Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon. We don't know when Gordon will be able to return from his knee injury, but at least he made the trip. He was wandering around the bowels of the United Center on Saturday and spent time with the current players from his alma matter -- the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers turned out en masse to watch the game.
Davis wasn't as fortunate after getting elbowed in the head by teammate Austin Rivers the night before. Davis was diagnosed with a concussion and hasn't played since. Because the league doesn't allow concussed players to travel, Davis had to miss the only trip that New Orleans will make to his hometown this season. (Unless the Hornets meet the Bulls in the Finals, of course.) Davis has been undergoing league-mandated testing, and it's unclear if he'll be able to return for New Orleans' game on Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
I'm still getting used to who he is as a player. He shoots the ball better than I thought. He has really good footwork. He can handle the ball, he can pass. He can make passes out of a situation that most big men can't make a pass out of.
”-- Monty Williams, head coach, New Orleans Hornets
Talk about killing your team's bottom line: Not only has Rivers posted a barely-detectable 2.6 PER in three games and shot just 5-of-25 from the floor, but he knocked out his star teammate.
"I feel bad, because we both closed out at the same time," Rivers said. "I don't know how -- he's 6-foot-9. I don't know how his face hit my elbow, but we both closed out at the same time."
Williams of course was none too pleased with the NBA's anti-concussion policy, saying that the league "treats everybody like they're wearing white gloves and pink drawers" and drawing a $25,000 fine in the process. However, the disappointment didn't carry over to the floor. The Hornets have played exceptional interior defense with and without Davis, and through Tuesday rank seventh in the league in defensive efficiency. They've done so against three high-caliber opponents.
The sample sizes are tiny, but New Orleans' early success opens up a lot of intriguing possibilities for when Davis does return. The 1½ games in which Davis has played have been impressive, to say the least. His outrageous 35.1 PER is the best in the NBA among players who have logged at least 40 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Recently, Henry Abbott floated the idea of playing Davis at 3 in order to enhance his skills development, and Brett Koremenos at HoopSpeak wrote an involved treatment of the subject. The idea has plenty of merit. Abbott mentioned one benefit being that doing so would serve as a form of unintentional tanking for the rebuilding Hornets. However, as well as New Orleans has played so far, it's not clear that a healthy version of its 2012-13 roster is going to lose big, regardless of how Davis is deployed.
Can Davis play the 3? In a word, yes. And he should play it now.