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Know Thy Enemy: New Orleans Hornets

October 21, 2009 |  2:11 pm

New Orleans Hornets

Last Season: 49-33 (.598, 4th in the Southwest Division- and when 49 wins is fourth, that's a good division- 7th in the Western Conference

Key Additions: Traded for Emeka Okafor, Darius Songaila, signed Ike Diogu, drafted Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton
Key Losses: Rasual Butler, Tyson Chandler, Antonio Daniels, Ryan Bowen

I have a well known (among the residents of my home, meaning my wife) prejudice against Wood veneer certain types of mainstream designer furniture. Different items from your Crate and Barrels, your Pottery Barns and so on. It's not that the stuff doesn't look nice. It does. Gangbusters, really. My issues instead are with build quality. Too much of the stuff uses veneers. Scratch it, bang it, or otherwise lose the kid gloves, and suddenly all you see is lesser quality wood below. Or (gasp!) some sort of particle board. In that sense, the New Orleans Hornets are very similar. The appointments make for a potentially stylish unit. Chris Paul is flat out sick. (Andy recently joked how at this point my man crush on CP3 may require changing my Facebook status from "married" to "it's complicated.") David West is a very solid player. Okafor represents an upgrade over Chandler. 

After that, though, things get dangerously close to particle board.

To say the rest of the roster doesn't generate a Boubon Street-esque excitement would be an understatement. James Posey wasn't all that good last year, and I've read he didn't exactly show up to camp in tip top shape, perhaps due to offseason hip surgery. Not good for a player adding mileage on the odometer and relied on to be a defensive presence. Peja Stojakovic can still shoot, at least in theory, but must bounce back from a horrible, injury-marred '08-'09 campaign. It's reasonable to wonder how much he has left. (Bad backs are no joke.) Songaila helps, but only because Hilton Armstrong may be the worst backup center in basketball (ironically, though, he has one of the game's most fantastic names). Julian Wright? Who knows. Collison is a rookie, Bobby Brown is a journeyman, Mo Peterson has become very ordinary.

Ike Diogu could be a nice pickup, having always been a productive player in limited minutes over his career, but then again maybe there's a reason four teams have managed not to put him in their rotation. They also seem to have high hopes for Thornton. So there's that.

On paper, Okafor likely boosts the win total, since unlike Chandler his offensive game expands beyond throwing down alley-oops on pick and rolls. West is a perfect compliment to CP3, with a smooth inside-out game. Fortunately for New Orleans, Paul is so freakin' good that he can keep them in 50 win territory. He's the best PG in the NBA, an MVP candidate every season. Unfortunately, it's not a healthy thing for a team to be so totally dependent on one player, and that he scored or assisted on over 50% of team baskets  certainly indicates a lack of balance. On the other hand, it's not like anyone else has stepped up in a playmaking capacity. After Paul's 861 dimes, West was next in line with 173, followed by Peja and Bulter with 75.

(By comparison, the Lakers had six players over 150 and eight over 100.)

The Hornets also play things extremely close to the vest, sporting the third slowest pace factor in the league last year and steadfastly holding onto the ball (at 1,209, only three teams had fewer turnovers). They put the ball in Paul's hands, and let him make good decisions. Different personnel might tempt Byron Scot to crank up the tempo, but with this group it seems unlikely.

All told, the Hornets have a very good frontcourt with Okafor and West, a killer PG, and a bushel of question marks, particularly at the two guard and small forward spots. If the Hornets stay healthy (and a wing- Wright being the most likely candidate- emerges), Paul can lead them to a reasonably high playoff seed and a postseason run isn't out of the question. But something more substantive like a Western Conference championship, won't come unless the Hornets make more moves to add depth... which they won't do because the franchise has no cash. (Explaining why they sold Butler to the Clippers for a future second rounder they may never use.) I swear, George Shinn called me the other day and asked to borrow fifty bucks.

It's a little sad, because I'd love to see Paul play significant games deep in the postseason. Instead, he'll spend the season making flawed material look good, but if scratches and nicks dent the veneer- that Okafor is already struggling with a toe problem is not a good omen- the problems in New Orleans will be more than even Paul can cover.

Prediction: 51 wins, 4th in the Southwest, 6th in the Western Conference.

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