The New Orleans Hornets made it back to the NBA Playoffs last season for the first time since 2004, when they were still in the Eastern Conference. With a franchise record of 56 wins, the Hornets steamrolled the Dallas Mavericks in 5 games and pushed the defending Champion San Antonio Spurs to the limit. The Hornets have never been more successful and the downtrodden city of New Orleans now has a reason to cheer for the once downtrodden basketball team. One of the team’s top contributors, Jannero Pargo, left the NBA for Europe. Even though the Hornets still have a solid backup in Mike James and brought back Devin Brown, Pargo’s intensity will be missed. Despite the loss of a key bench player, the Hornets were able to upgrade the roster in a significant way. James Posey has played a key role on two of the last three NBA Championship teams, and his addition to the Hornets should prepare the team for a deep run in the postseason. Throw in that guy Chris Paul and the Hornets are a legitimate threat to the NBA Title.
Offense: The Hornets’ offense flows through one guy – Chris Paul. Paul led the league in assists at 11.6 per game. The ball was in the hands of Chris Paul on nearly every play and with an assist to turnover ratio of 4.6, he was always reliable and extremely efficient. Paul now has many weapons around him including power forward David West. West is smooth in the post but can also take his man out to the elbow or farther if necessary and can be counted on to hit the big jumper in the clutch. Another weapon is Tyson Chandler. His role on offense is simple; get high enough in the air for Paul to make the alley-oop pass. He seemed to perfect that play. Other than that, he was counted on to pull down the offensive boards. Considering he led the league in that category, it looks as though he succeeded in his job.
The Hornets have some solid shooters around Chris Paul. The Hornets are lucky enough to have two of the best long-range shooters in the game – Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson. Though Mo Pete had trouble fitting in with the team last year, he was still a threat from beyond the arc. Peja drilled in 231 three-point bombs on .441 percent shooting, so he was valuable from the perimeter. Adding James Posey to the mix will make the Hornets offense even more versatile. Posey is a solid outside shooter and hit his fair share of clutch baskets for the Celtics last season, so having him on the perimeter will take a lot of pressure off the shoulders of Peja, West and Paul. Posey, though, will be just another weapon for CP3 to utilize, and the more weapons Paul has, the more dangerous the Hornets become.
Defense: The Hornets held opponents to just 95.6 points per game, while outscoring them by over 5 points. The defense was both solid and successful for the Hornets, but people still did not consider them to be top-tier defensive squad. With the addition of James Posey, though, the Hornets could be an elite defensive team. Posey is a great perimeter, team, and overall man-to-man defender, so he will provide a lot of support for Peja when he is overmatched by a quicker guard or forward. The post defense of the Hornets is pretty solid. David West can contain his man, and his shot-blocking is a valuable asset. Tyson Chandler can handle the bigger players around the league, and can be an intimidating force in the paint, but he averages just 1.1 blocks per game. Chris Paul stepped up his defense to another level last year and it showed as he led the league in steals per game. His defense, though, is still far from being considered great, but if he can continue in his development, he could be a pesky defender that every team hates to play against. The Hornets are a very good defensive team, and with James Posey they could be great, but they look to be a few steps behind the other elite defensive teams around the league.
Strengths: With Chris Paul, the Hornets have an exceptional offense. Surrounded by three-point shooters and solid post-scorers, Chris Paul is able to find easy baskets for his teammates without breaking too much of a sweat.
Weaknesses: The ball runs through Chris Paul on offense. From the alley-oops to Tyson Chandler or the no-look passes to an open Peja Stojakovic on the perimeter, Chris Paul has a hand in everything when he’s on the floor. If, god forbid, Chris Paul misses a substantial amount of time due to injury, how will the Hornets run the offense? Mike James is a good point guard, but he is certainly no on the level of Chris Paul. With everything going through Chris Paul, how would the team be able to succeed without him? There are many good passers on the Hornets’ roster, but to change the entire philosophy of their game play would be extremely difficult to pull off without ramifications. This is a weakness the Hornets hope they don’t have to deal with.
Five Players to Watch:
Chris Paul - Chris Paul is the heart, soul, blood, and whatever else you can come up with for this team. Paul makes everyone on the team better with his remarkable playmaking abilities, but he can also create for himself. Getting to the basket is no problem for the extremely quick Chris Paul, but when you are just six feet tall in a land full of seven footers, scoring the ball is a problem. Not for this little guy. Whether he’s attacking the big Dwight Howard or spinning around Dirk Nowitzki, his fantastic finishes at the basket are a sight to see. Aside from his ability to score in the post, he is a good mid-range shooter and will make you pay if you eave him open on the perimeter. His playmaking is what makes him so valuable to the Hornets, though, and that is what will make him an MVP candidate in the NBA for years to come.
Tyson Chandler - Aside from his intense alley-oop finishes and great rebounding, he doesn’t do much else offensively. The thing is, he doesn’t have to. Those two traits are enough for him to help the Hornets on the offensive end, and they help immensely, especially when he crashes the glass on every play. His defense is solid. He is fast enough to keep up with the smaller forwards and centers, but he is strong enough to contain the big guys around the league. In 06-07, Chandler averaged 1.8 blocks per game, but last year that number dropped to just 1.1. He is still an intimidating force in the paint, but his relatively low shot-blocking average is pretty shocking. He plays an integral role in the Hornets’ defensive scheme of things, and his shot-blocking isn’t a huge part of his game, but if he did block a few more shots here and there, opposing guards and forwards would do anything to stay away from him in the post.
David West - David West made his first All-Star appearance last season and was one of the most important players for the Hornets on both ends of the floor. West has become a great leader for this team, and will likely lead the team in scoring and his clutch shooting is very welcome from the power forward position. West has all the potential to become a true superstar in the NBA, and with Chris Paul as his teammate, that is a very real possibility.
Peja Stojakovic - The Hornets went 38-12 when Peja Stojakovic attempted 6 or more three-point shots. Whether he was hitting them or not, just the fact that he was taking the three-point shots was spreading the floor for the rest of the team, as the defense was scared to death of leaving him open. When Peja shoots, the Hornets win, so he should play a major role in the success of this team once again.
James Posey - James Posey has been lauded over for his tough defense and clutch shooting. He was a key player in the Boston Celtics’ rotation and his defense and clutch shots were vital in their run to the NBA Title. He will be expected to bring the same type of play to the Hornets this season. His defense will make life easier for Paul and Stojakovic, as he will likely guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player. His outside shooting will give Paul yet another target to pass to. In fact, 67% of Posey’s field-goal attempts last season came from three-point land. His acquisition could push the Hornets into the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history and perhaps take them even farther.
Also, if Julian Wright gets more playing time this year, watch out. He could be a superstar in the very near future.
Title Hopes: If you’re a Hornets’ fan, the talk of this team being title contenders must be very surprising. The Hornets have come from out of nowhere to become an elite team in the NBA. Chris Paul gets most of the credit, but head coach Byron Scott and the rest of the team deserves recognition as well. Though the Hornets look to have improved, the Lakers still look like a better team at this point. It would not be surprising, being a Hornets’ fan or not, to see the team in the NBA Finals in 2009. New Orleans, however, just doesn’t seem ready yet. Assuming no big changes occur within the next year, the Hornets are the odds-on favorites to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2010, but 2009 just seems to soon. This writer, however, will be praying that the Hornets prove him wrong on this one point for the 2008-09 NBA season.
Prediction: 1st Place, Southwest Division