Record: 56-26, 1st Southwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference
3rd in three-point %
5th in opponent scoring (98.5 ppg)
28th in free throw attempts per game
28th in blocks
3rd in turnovers
9th in the league in scoring (100.9 ppg)
6th in ppg differential (+5.3 ppg)
8th in field goal %
16th in opponent field goal %
11th in free throw percentage
13th in assists
8th in steals
12th (tie) in opponent turnovers
Average offensive rebounding team
Very Good defensive rebounding team
Significant Additions: James Posey, Devin Brown
Significant Subtractions: Chris Anderson, Jannero Pargo
Coach: Byron Scott
PG: Chris Paul, Mike James
SG: Morris Peterson, Rasual Butler, Devin Brown
SF: Peja Stojakovic, James Posey
PF: David West, Julian Wright, Ryan Bowen
C: Tyson Chandler, Melvin Ely, Hilton Armstrong
If you read this blog last year you’ll know that I wasn’t a major Hornets booster. I thought they were a good--very good--team, mind you, but so many people rushed to anoint them the Next Big Contenders and possible conference champs. It was too soon. They had a fantastic run through the playoffs but it’s no surprise they succumbed in the end. They needed more experience and something to push them over the top. They may have both this year.
First of all, don’t discount how the trip to the Conference Finals may have whetted their appetites. Great teams often follow the pattern of a meteoric leap, then sticking at the top. (Knock on wood that’s you in a couple years, Blazer fans.)
Second, James Posey may prove the final piece to their puzzle. Scoring under 10 per game he’s not your typical heralded signing, but he defends extremely well, shoots from distance and makes his free throws when he has them, and is a solid rebounder. He’s pretty much everything you want in a veteran utility guy. One of the big questions I had about the Hornets last year was what would happen when Stojakovic and Peterson really needed to defend and how would the team change the pace if they couldn’t. Posey is the answer. His addition alone makes them look much deeper…another key to prospering in a long regular season and playoff run.
That bench plays behind a pretty good starting lineup, of course. Paul needs no explanation. David West has really rounded his game out impressively. Were he a small forward instead of playing the NBA-glutted power forward position his name would be on everybody’s lips. As it is he gets overlooked when really good players are mentioned. Mo Pete and Peja aren’t going to screw you up as long as they can suit up. Tyson Chandler’s anchoring defense anchored last year’s improvement. Only the loss of Paul would be a greater crippling blow to this team, and that gap is closer than it seems.
You can’t really find a weak spot in this team’s play. They’d make life easier for themselves if they’d draw more fouls but that’s not their offensive game. They make up for it by being one of the best distance shooting teams in the league. Normally you’d look at the 28th team in blocked shots and worry about their paint intimidation, but they defend so solidly and rebound so well it doesn’t matter much. You’d trade a wheelbarrow full of blocks for consistently forced misses and possession of the ball thereafter. Their coaching is solid too. There’s not much to dislike here.
There’s no doubt at all that the Hornets are returning to the second round at least, and they’re as strong contenders as the other top teams for the conference crown. In the end it could depend whether Chris Paul can strap the team on his back in the critical possession of the critical game which decides a hard-fought seven-game series. The rest of the team will get him there…can he pull through in the Moment? Should be fun to watch.