Hornets select Davis, Rivers with lottery picks
NEW ORLEANS — Heading into Thursday, the Hornets’ wish list consisted of a big man, a talented scorer, and the return of free agent guard Eric Gordon.
An hour into the NBA draft, they might have locked up all three.
New Orleans didn’t deviate much from the script, taking Kentucky forward Anthony Davis with the top overall pick, adding Duke guard Austin Rivers at No. 10 and making a qualifying offer to Gordon that increases the chances he stays put.
Later, the team added Kentucky forward Darius Miller with the No. 46 pick, which was gained in the trade that sent Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor to Washington last week.
It may not transform the Hornets into a title contender overnight, but Thursday’s events built a foundation that’s very promising for the franchise’s future.
“I feel really good,” General Manager Dell Demps said. “With Davis, the defensive presence and offensive upside is great. With Austin’s playmaking ability to go along with Eric, I’m hoping we’re going to be really hard to guard and score on.”
A little more than three minutes ticked off the clock before New Orleans finally let The Brow out of the bag, making official what everyone had known since the NBA lottery on May 30 by selecting the draft’s unanimous top talent.
Even though the pick was a foregone conclusion, Davis said he was a bundle of nerves on draft day. He couldn’t eat lunch, and emotions took over when commissioner David Stern put the Hornets on the clock.
“I started shaking,” Davis said. “My arm was shaking and my hands were sweaty. … The reality of it hit.”
Once that wore off, it was all excitement.
“The city of New Orleans was great, and I had a great time when I went to visit,” he added. “I just can’t wait to get down there and start to play.”
Davis will bring a unique skill set, most notably a 7-foot-5 wingspan, freakishly athletic 6-foot-10 frame and top-notch shot-blocking ability.
That’s an area where the Hornets struggled last season, finishing tied for 20th in the league with 4.8 blocks per game. As a freshman at UK, Davis averaged 4.65 and set an NCAA freshman record.
The selection made Davis the second player ever (after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1969) to pull off the trifecta of college national title, college player of the year and No. 1 NBA draft pick.
That adds up to a lot of expectations for a 19-year-old who two years ago was playing at Chicago’s tiny Perspectives Charter High, fresh off a rapid growth spurt that turned him from unheralded guard to prep star.
But Demps and coach Monty Williams have stressed patience as a key tenant of the Hornets’ rebuilding efforts.
“I think around Year 3, you’re going to see Anthony and who he is for the next 10 years,” Williams said Saturday. “Until then, you’re asking for too much. That pressure is on me and the staff to make sure he develops the right way.”
The same goes for Rivers, who’s also 19.
Demps said he’d hoped all along to use the No. 10 pick on Rivers, who piled up points in his one season at Duke, averaging 15.5 and becoming the third freshman in school history to lead the Blue Devils in scoring.
The next question is whether Rivers will transition to point guard, and as the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, he would figure to be pretty coachable.
Williams called Rivers’ ability to get to the basket “second to none” among the draftees, and he said he could transition into a point guard some day, but not yet.
Rivers’ selection came on the 29th anniversary of his dad being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, and Doc Rivers was on hand for the draft in Newark, N.J. He said New Orleans is a good start for his son’s career, and Austin agrees. He cited coach Monty Williams, Davis and Gordon as reasons why.
“I’m just going to try to do everything that I can to be the best teammate I can and go there to help that team out right away,” Rivers said. “I want to make a huge impact right away for the New Orleans Hornets.”
The Hornets finished off the biggest draft in their history by taking Davis’ teammate, Miller. The 2012 Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year, Miller will come in and fill a similar role with the Hornets — a versatile, athletic player who can come off the bench and provide a spark.
“To get Darius Miller, we didn’t expect that,” Demps said. “He’s a really good player.”
In total, New Orleans’ draft was big on potential, with three talented athletes from championship-caliber programs. The Hornets are happy with the outcome, but Williams isn’t pretending the job is done.
“We feel like we drafted the guys we want, and we also realize we have a lot of work ahead to get these guys ready,” he said.