The New Orleans Hornets entered last season with very high
expectations. They were coming from 56 and 49 wins in the last two
regular seasons and with a healthy Tyson Chandler starting the season
and a solid draft yielded productive rookies, the Hornets were a
virtual lock to go through the Playoffs, but they fell short of such
main objective by winning “just” 37 games.
Of course playing without their best player for 37 games helps to
explain such regression, but note that when Chris Paul went down for the
first time in the season, the Hornets were 3-7, so they didn’t play
particular well with or without Chris Paul. Nevertheless they had a
terrific month of January in which they went 12-5 and were at the time
26-21, but Chris Paul got injured once again and the Hornets ran out of
Head coach Byron Scott was fired and replaced on the sidelines by
former general manager Jeff Bower. They developed rookies Darren
Collison and Marcus Thornton into serviceable players, but besides that,
the Hornets didn’t show anything else in a competitive Southwest
2009/10 Advanced stats:
Pace 17th 95.6
Offense 17th 104.5
Defense 23th 107.2
Rebounds 26th -1.88
Projected Depth Chart:
PG: Chris Paul, Jannero Pargo, D.J. Strawberry
SG: Marcus Thornton, Marco Belinelli, Willie Green
SF: Trevor Ariza, Peja Stojakovic, Quincy Pondexter
PF: David West, Darius Songaila, Craig Brackins, Pops Mensah-Bonsu
C: Emeka Okafor, Aaron Gray
Before the actual Carmelo Antony soap erupted in Denver, the Hornets
were involved with a similar situation with Chris Paul. With a new
ownership, new General Manager and new Head Coach, Chris Paul wasn’t
sure about his future in New Orleans.
Eventually the Hornets got on the same page with their franchise player, but there is a sense of urgency to improve this season.
Monty Williams will be the youngest head coach in the NBA and his
experience naturally isn’t much. In 2005, Williams was hired by head
coach Nate McMillan as an assistant coach for the Portland Trail
Blazers and now he has the opportunity to be head coach of the Hornets.
Williams said he plans for the Hornets to be an up-tempo team behind
All-Star point guard Chris Paul, but his emphasis will be toward
becoming a better defensive team.
CP3 is a franchise player as he has the ability to make his
teammates better players like Steve Nash is doing in Phoenix. He is
labeled as being the best Point Guard in the league and actually his
numbers support that claim. Even in an injury riddled season, Paul
averaged 18.7ppg, 10.7apg, 4.2rpg and 2.10 steals per game last season.
He showed some improvement on his outside shot as for the first time in
his career he reached the 40% mark behind the arc. With him running
the show, the Hornets have the potential to compete for any game, but
it’s imperative for the franchise to count with a healthy CP3.
To compete for Paul’s backup job the Hornets signed Willie Green and
Jannero Pargo. Pargo’s acquisition could be more symbolic of Paul’s
comfort level with the direction of the new regime as he and Pargo are
close friends. Remember that Pargo also was Paul’s backup in 2007-08,
the best season in the history of the franchise.
Monty Williams wants his team to run a lot more instead of the
half-court, pick-and-roll offense installed by Byron Scott in the past
and so the Hornets got some players for such propose.
In the offseason the Hornets gave Collison and veteran small forward
James Posey to the Indiana Pacers and the Hornets acquired Trevor
Ariza from the Houston Rockets.
Ariza averaged 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game
last season, but it was far from being successful season. In the Lakers
he had a residual role on the offensive end, but for the Rockets he was
forced to be a primary weapon and that’s when the struggles begun. He
went from attempting 7.3 FG/game within the Lakers to 13.9 for the
Rockets last season, while shooting just 39.4% from the field and 33.4%
behind the arc.
Now in New Orleans, Ariza will benefit immensely for playing
alongside Chris Paul. In an up tempo system his athleticism will help
Chris Paul to got some looks in transition and we can expect him to be
present in some top ten plays of the week with vicious dunks. Let’s also
not forget that he is considered one of the best defensive players at
his position in the NBA and the Hornets are improved at the Small
With a losing season on the horizon the Hornets decided to give to
their rookies some playing time and Marcus Thornton took advantage of it
last season. His definition as a player is simple: a scorer! He
averaged 14.5 points per game, while shooting 45% from the field, but as
a starter he raised the bar to a whopping 19.8 points per game while
playing along with….Darren Collison! Likely he’ll be a starter this
season and the Hornets will have a short in size backcourt duo but with
plenty of speed and scoring ability.
The Hornets also got Marco Belinelli from Toronto and we can expect
him coming off the bench and provide more offensive power to the team.
His career in the NBA has been a bit disappointing, but he needs more
confidence and playing time to able to fulfill his potential, maybe New
Orleans is “that place”.
For Peja Stojakovic this will be the last year of his mammoth
contract. Peja has suffered plenty of injuries in the last years and
probably he won’t play injury free basketball for the rest of his
career. He is known for his incredible shooting range, but his last 2
years stats aren’t pretty to watch: 39.9 and 40.4% from the field! In
an up tempo system Peja will get plenty of open looks, lets see if he
is able to knock them down.
For the future and who knows for the present the Hornets drafted
Quincy Pondexter from Washington. Pondexter is one of the rookies that
due to his experience are ready to contribute right away.
The Hornets didn’t make any substantial move to improve their
frontcourt, so David West would have to carry the load once again this
season. He enjoyed a solid season last year by averaging 19.0 points per
game, while shooting 50.5% from the field however his defense has been
“questionable” at best. For the second consecutive season his rebounds
and blocks numbers have decreased and that’s not a good sign for a
player that will compete against Zack Randolph, Luis Scola, Dirk
Nowitzki and Tim Duncan in the same division! Nevertheless, having Chris
Paul back will help him to reach another All-Star caliber season.
If the Hornets want to be a playoff contender team, then necessarily
Emeka Okafor will have to enjoy a monster season. In his first season
as a Hornet, Okafor didn’t enjoy the confidence of both head coaches, as
he logged only 28.9 minutes per game – career low numbers! Naturally
his numbers decreased across the board: points, rebounds, blocks and
even FG%, which were strange because the Hornets didn’t have others
reliable options down low. With a new head coach and a new system
maybe it’s time for Okafor to have a breakout season, is my opinion
this is X factor for the Hornets this season for being a playoff team
or a mere lottery team because behind Okafor the Hornets have Darius
Songaila, Aaron Gray and Craig Brackins and this isn’t a loaded
frontcourt for them.
The Hornets are one of the dark horses for this season in the
league, as no one exactly knows what they are worth. Having a truly
superstar playing for them is a good start, but it will be all about the
chemistry between the players and their new head coach and system that
will dictate the final outcome.