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Know thy enemy: New Orleans Hornets

October 27, 2008 | 10:57 am

Chris_paul_pass If you don't have a man crush on Hornets guard Chris Paul, the problem is you. Perhaps you're too partisan to recognize how good he is, or don't want to because his talent drives New Orleans and therefore threatens the Lakers. Or maybe you're a woman, making it by definition impossible to have a man crush. I can live with that.

The point? Paul is immensely talented, getting better, and is the reason the Hornets are a contender in the Western Conference this season, just as they were last.  The biggest reason for Paul's '07-'08 leap was juiced offensive and shooting numbers that made it even more difficult to defend his passing. Add to that a very solid supporting cast, all well-suited to take advantage of Paul's distribution, and you're left with a dandy formula for success. David West, who made his first All-Star Game last season, averaged 20.6 points a night and is an outstanding midrange shooter. If NASA got together to build a robot specifically designed to throw down endless Paul alley-oops, it would look like Tyson Chandler. Peja Stojakovic, who doesn't exactly need help to knock down threes, gets more free looks than a Peeping Tom because defenses can't help but collapse on Paul.   

Toss in Mo Peterson, a solid secondary scorer and outside shooter, and the addition of James Posey, who gives the Hornets not only another offensive producer but a noted defensive player and heaps of playoff experience, and things look even rosier in the Big Easy.

(Click below for more on NOH, with some insight from Hornets 24/7...)

With Paul running the show, the Hornets are an efficient offensive team that doesn't turn the ball over.  Minimizing mistakes, grabbing everything available off the glass and minimizing opponents free-throw attempts helped make them effective on the defensive side too. The problem with New Orleans is Posey depth. If you can get into their bench, they'll have some issues, particularly in the frontcourt, where Melvin Ely and Hilton Armstrong represent the length behind Tyson Chandler. That's quite a comedown.  Posey, right, is solid, and fellow import Devin Brown is a useful enough player, but it's hard to like the New Orleans bench as a whole. Unless forward Julian Wright, who showed flashes as a rookie last year, develops quickly, injuries and foul trouble could be especially burdensome for the Hornets. 

To get a little more depth on the Hornets, I kicked some Q's over the Ryan at Hornets24/7, a great (and newly redesigned!) Hornets blog, and a top spot for NOH related information. He has some great insight, and we appreciate the response:

CP3 was damn good last year, but I'm of the mind that he still has more upside.  Just how good do you think he can get, and how does each degree of improvement change the complexion of the team?
I think when all things are said and done, that Chris Paul will stand next to Magic Johnson as the two best point guards to play the game.  Last year, I wrote a pre-season bit on Paul where other than shooting, I had a hard time imagining how his game could improve.  I'm inclined to say the same thing -- keep improving that three-point shot -- but there are a couple things he could add to his game to make him even more deadly.

Last year he became much more willing to drive into the lane, and weave his way through the defenders there looking for his shot or a kick-out.  For all the claims that its reminiscent of Steve Nash -- and the ability to get under the hoop is -- it's not yet a complete imitation. Nash will still regularly dribble out from a probe under the basket and reset the offense.  Paul will still sometimes force a layup in traffic, hoping for the call -- if he can be just a touch more patient sometimes, he may find even more open shots.

He also needs to add a shot going left. He always goes right to shoot. He'll dribble either way, but always finishes right. Now, knowing that and stopping it is two different animals, but it would still be dangerous for him to have the option.

The Hornets added Posey and Devin Brown, and lost Pargo and Wells, and don't have much behind Chandler. Depth, especially in the frontcourt, could be a problem here.  How much of a worry is that for you?  What members of the second unit are most likely to step up? 
The Hornet's front office is showing a lot more trust than I have in Hilton Armstrong and Melvin Ely. Both of those guys were downright terrible last year, and they are still our back-up centers. Color me disappointed, I was hoping we'd make a run at Turiaf -- or maybe Collison or Haslem. Posey and Julian Wright can both play power forward and soak up minutes behind David West, but the 13 minutes of center play we need to cover is going to be ugly.  Devin Brown and James Posey are both upgrades over Wells and Pargo, Pargo being overrated due to some rare big scoring games, and Wells because ... wel l... he's Bonzi Wells.

My primary hope for internal improvement by the Hornets is still Julian Wright.  He showed serious potential on the offensive end and savvy defensive play even as a rookie.  It would not surprise me to see him turn into a Gerald Wallace/Kirilenko sort of disruptive force.

How are the Hornets equipped to respond to teams with serious bulk in the middle ... like, say, the Lakers?

It's not as bad as you think. The Hornets play a really disciplined game, and their help defense is typically very fast. They trust each other explicitly -- and West and Chandler give enough resistance down low that the Hornets won't get destroyed. AByron_scott_3lso -- if there is any part of the NBA game that Hilton Armstrong isn't hopeless at, it's defense. He's not the best rebounder, but he's solid at contesting shots and not giving up deep position down low.

Are you worried about any fallback from last season's big showing?  Why or why not?

I think everything will even out at close to the same results as last year. The Hornets did have an unusual run of good health last year, but at the same time, their bench is stronger this year than last. I expect a few more missed games from the starters, but unless Tyson or Paul are out for a significant stretch of time, this team has players that can step in and keep things from crashing.

Final prediction for record, playoff seeding, playoff results.

This is tough, since the Rockets are a crazy wild card with their injury history. Still, here goes: The Hornets win 59 games and take the third seed in the West behind the Rockets and Lakers. The Lakers take out the Jazz in the semis, while the Hornets take out the Rockets. The Hornets and Lakers meet in the conference finals, with the Hornets falling in seven games, preparing themselves for a title year next year.

PROJECTION: Those who follow the blog know I'm a fan of this team, the way they play and the PG who leads them. They have a great core of solid people (people, not simply players) on the floor, and a top shelf coach (Byron Scott) on the bench. The Hornets play an exciting-yet-controlled brand of basketball, with excellent fundamentals and a lot of tenacity. They're the type of team you'd want your proverbial daughter to marry, had you not already pawned her off in an arranged marriage to the Lakers. 

The Hornets are very good, a top three team in the W.C. with the Lakers and a healthy Houston squad. Last season was no fluke. New Orleans be right there at the end, and a team to be reckoned with come playoff time.