“Professor” Monty Williams has been diligently educating his students, lecturing, encouraging, giving short on-court pop quizzes, even providing hands-on instruction by jumping into the action in practices as he prepares his New Orleans Hornets for the upcoming NBA season.
Williams, the Hornets’ head coach, likes this particular class, which has eight new players, the promise of No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, first-round pick Austin Rivers and top offseason free-agent acquisition Ryan Anderson, who led the league in 3-point shots made last season.
Today in Mexico City, Williams, who led his team through a three-hour practice Thursday and an intense one Friday before they boarded a plane, will see just how far the young Hornets have come.
New Orleans will play the Orlando Magic, another team that has made wholesale offseason changes, in the exhibition opener for both teams. Tipoff is at 1 p.m. CDT.
“I’m a bit surprised at how fast the young guys are picking up our defenses,” he said. “We’ll see more as we start to play games, but the intensity is there, and sometimes that can cover up for mistakes on the floor.
“We’ve been working on just a lot of defensive stuff. Pick and rolls, obviously, is something we need to get better at, but weak-side defense also is a premium. Transition defense, half-court defense. And, we’ve worked on some offensive execution, trying to work in our packages. But we have a game plan going into (tonight’s) game, and we want to execute our game plan.
Although it’s preseason, two players will be going against their former teams. Anderson, a forward, played for Orlando last season, and Magic forward Gustavo Ayon played for the Hornets. Ayon, a native of Mexico who will be having a homecoming off sorts, went to the Magic in a sign-and-trade that brought the Hornets Anderson, who was a restricted free agent.
“Gustavo was a good guy who had a good feel for the game and played hard,” Williams said. “He was really good at passing the ball, and he got better as he spent time with us.”
The Magic said they wanted Ayon because of how active he is rebounding. He got 17 in one game against Cleveland last year. Orlando officials also reportedly opted not to match the Hornets’ four-year, $36 million offer sheet for Anderson because they felt he would not be as effective as a 3-point shooter without center Dwight Howard, who was traded to the Los Angeles Laker this offseason, opening things up.
Anderson took exception to that.
“Dwight did open up shots for me, but I can do a whole lot more than that,” he said. “If you just look at the stats from my career, it’s right there. Most of my career, I played without Dwight. I can do it, if you just watch me play.”
Williams agreed, and said the Hornets have planned a lot for Anderson.
“We feel Ryan has a lot more dimensions in his game than he has shown,” Williams said. “He can shoot, for sure. But he can put it in on the floor for a dribble or two, and we’d like to post him up some. And at the same time, he’s a good hedger (defensively) on pick and rolls. That’s something we didn’t realize.”
The game will be the first of four in six days for the Hornets this week. On Tuesday, the Hornets will play host to the Charlotte Bobcats at New Orleans Arena. On Thursday, they play the Bobcats in Charlotte, then on Friday will play the Houston Rockets at the Arena.
The Hornets then won’t play another game until Oct. 18 against Atlanta at the Arena.
Williams said that will help accelerate the learning process for the young Hornets.
“It’ll be good for us, because we will be able to take a lot of footage from the games, and a lot of good and not-so-good things and show the guys,” Williams said. “I know the guys are anxious to play, so playing a couple of games is good.”
For today’s game, Williams said his plan is to go with newly acquired veteran players and returnees for much of the game, then trying to mix in others who have worked hard in camp.
Guard Eric Gordon, whom played in just nine games last season because of a knee injury and had offseason surgery, will not play. The Hornets matched a four-year, $58 million contract from the Phoenix Suns to retain him.
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