Pardon Hornets lead assistant coach Randy Ayers if he becomes a bit of a fan and allows the clock to turn back at the start of Wednesday night’s NBA season opener against the San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Arena.
Ayers knows he’ll be watching something special when Hornets rookie power forward Anthony Davis, the No. 1 overall draft pick this past summer, goes against Spurs power forward Tim Duncan, one of the most accomplished players in league history and himself a former overall No. 1 pick.
“I think it’s a great matchup, one to watch,” said Ayers, who works with Davis on his development. “I think you’re talking about a future Hall of Fame guy against the future of our league, hopefully, in Anthony.”
Ayers said it reminded him of being on hand when Bill Walton played against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the first time, but that was an exhibition game in Dayton, Ohio. Better yet was one he didn’t attend, when Abdul-Jabbar, then Lew Alcindor, went against Wilt Chamberlain for the time as an NBA player.
“I was 13 then, and I remember all the build up to it,” Ayers said.
Wednesday night’s game features Davis, who was also the College Player of he Year in leading his team, Kentucky, to the NCAA championship, against Duncan, an ex-Player of the year as well as a four-time NBA champion, three-time Finals MVP, twice regular-season MVP and 13-time All-Star, highlights among his many achievements.
What also makes it an alluring matchup is that Davis got the chance to go against Duncan this summer in pickup games between Hornets and Spurs players in San Antonio. Davis said it was a good learning experience, which was to be expected, one that was appreciated.
“It helped me a lot,” Davis said. “He’s a great player, and he does a lot, offensively and defensively.
“I look up to him, and he reached out to help me. That was one of the big reasons I went down there. I wanted to expand my game.
“He showed me some things, but it wasn’t a teaching standpoint. He’d tell me ‘this is what (opponents) will do, and this is what you’ll have open if you do this. But the Spurs do what the Spurs do, and the Hornets do what the Hornets do.”
Unlike in the case of Walton and Alcindor in their first game against a legend, Davis is just 19 years old, having come to the NBA after a dominating freshman season. However, as the preseason wore on, his play became increasingly impressive, particularly offensively.
As a prelude to Wednesday’s season opener, Davis seemed to rise to the occasion in Friday’s preseason finale against the champion Miami Heat, led by LeBron James, of whom Davis was a teammate on the gold medal-winning USA Olympic team this summer. Davis had 24 points, 11 rebounds and three steals in leading the Hornets to an encouraging 96-89 road victory in which the Heat played its starters long into the game and obviously was trying to win.
The game seemed to be a statement about Davis’ competitive nature, going against James, considered the best player in the world, and certainly to Davis’ potential. However, he said he wasn’t trying to do anything more than win, and gave the credit to coach Monty Williams.
“I was just playing hard, like I play,” he said. “Coach gave us a great speech, and it just energized the whole team. Everybody picked it up and played Hornets basketball.”
Ayers said Davis’ work with Duncan and his practices with the Olympic team were invaluable experiences for a player so young who has so much upside. Williams said he is seeing the result of Davis’ hard work with Ayers and in practice overall.
“He is a diligent worker, and he listens, and he’s still got his own game, his own mind,” Williams said. “And he thinks about a lot of stuff (on the court) that a lot of rookies aren’t thinking about. He does have an advanced way of thinking.”
Williams, who played with the Spurs from 1996 to ‘98, said Davis and Duncan are similar in that way. Otherwise, they are totally different, he said.
“Tim was not near the athlete that Anthony is,” Williams said. “And Tim was stronger and played with his back to the basket more. Tim could run back in the day, but Tim couldn’t jump like Anthony can right now. They both have good (ball-handling ability), though, and they both can pass, they both can shoot.
“But Tim’s body was different. Tim was 21- or 22-years old and already was 245 pounds, if not more. Anthony is more like 225 or 230.”
His entire career, Duncan has been known for being extremely fundamentally sound. The word always associated with Davis is “skills” for a big man, such as dribbling, shooting and passing.
In tonight’s first encounter, Davis’ defense, particularly his shot-blocking, may be key. But Ayers says the Hornets certainly are not losing sight of that they are playing against the best team in their division, and one of the best players of all time, in their goal to win the game.
“(The matchup) will be interesting,” he said, “ but we’ve got to help Anthony against Duncan when he’s isolated, try to focus our defense in that direction.
“I think the key for Anthony is just to play hard, the effort, getting up and down the floor, running. And again, he can’t take it as a personal responsibility.”
The Hornets announced they have exercised their fourth-year option on guard Greivis Vasquez. The details of the contract were not released.
During the 2011-12 season, Vasquez tallied 8.9 ppg, 5.4 apg and 2.6 rpg while appearing in all 66 games with the Hornets. Vasquez led the Hornets in assists in seven of the eight games this preseason.
He concluded the 2012 preseason averaging 7.4 assists per game, third best in the NBA behind only Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers and Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics.