The Hornets are 5-14 and can’t stop the ball, and it’s early enough in the season for a comeback. Yes, this still sets up nicely for Anthony Davis.
He is back tonight and so is the race for Rookie of the Year, no matter how much it seems like Portland’s Damian Lillard has started to lap the field. He does have a lead, probably even a commanding lead, none of which is a surprise considering he began the season as the No. 2 contender behind Davis. But that’s different from insurmountable.
Davis, health willing, is that good. He can close ground on Lillard. Not only that, but after missing 11 games because of an ankle problem, he is in perfect position to create the contrast of the New Orleans Hornets with Davis and New Orleans without.
For now, we know the Hornets are 3-10 sans Davis and 2-4 with the top draft pick on patrol. The schedule sets up, too: his fourth game back, Sunday in Portland, is a matchup that will draw a lot of eyes even though the only way the two best rookies will go head-to-head is when Lillard charges toward the rim.
If Davis has no more significant injury setbacks beyond the usual tweaks every player endures, three-fourths of the season is more than enough showcase. Lillard might even want the competition. Win this way and he won’t have to face questions about whether Rookie of the Year ’13 was tainted by Davis trying to keep up with a hobble.
The strange thing is how easy it can be to overlook that Davis is such a talent. His defense got all the attention at Kentucky and he won Player of the Year awards by the dozen and a national championship. But this is a power forward who absolutely knows what to do with the ball, with a shot or pass. He was rarely on the court in the summer, missing summer league in Las Vegas for the experience of being with Team USA in the London Olympics but getting only 7.6 minutes, the fewest on the squad, there. His eyebrows got more of a spotlight in many cases than his game, even while opening with 16 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.20 blocks before the injury.
The ankle problem, a stress reaction that could have led to a fracture and much longer on the sideline if not addressed, was another moment that made it too easy to forget Davis’ potential impact. But no more. Starting tonight against the Wizards at New Orleans Arena, he is back in the Hornets lineup … and in the Rookie of the Year race.