|Jameer Nelson||PG||Chris Paul|
|Maurice Evans||SG||Morris Peterson|
|Hedo Turkoglu||SF||P. Stojakovic|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||David West|
|Dwight Howard||C||T. Chandler|
|19 Nov 2007: Magic 95, Hornets 88|
I did a double-take when I looked back in the archives and saw we beat the Hornets in our first meeting. Really? We beat the Hornets? Then I remembered that Chris Paul missed that game, and Tyson Chandler left early with a knee injury. So we eked-out a victory over a team missing the best point guard in the league and its All-Star caliber center. Forgive me if I'm not too enthusiastic about that win, which also happened to be the last time Trevor Ariza played in a Magic uniform; we traded him to the Lakers for Maurice Evans and Brian Cook the next day.
The New Orleans Hornets are really freaking good. 50-22, on top of the best conference in the NBA, and, by extension, on top of the best division in the NBA. But because they play in a small market, haven't gone on a huge win streak, and didn't make a huge trade this season, they're flying under the radar. For more on the Hornets, let's hear from Rohan, who writes for At The Hive.
3QC: Chris Paul is a legitimate MVP candidate having arguably the best "pure" point guard statistical season (21.6 points, 11.3 assists, 2.7 steals, 49% shooting as of this writing) in the history of the league... and he won't turn 23 until May. How high is his ceiling? Can he -- or anyone else, for that matter -- play the position any better than he is right now?
Rohan: This guy is playing scary basketball right now. You put it well- he is indeed having the greatest year statistically in the history of the point guard position. His 28.8 PER eclipses anything Oscar Robertson, or Magic ever did; in fact the top 10 PER years by point guards are all Magic and Oscar, except for CP up at number 1. Right now there's nobody even close to Paul; Nash is posting a 21.1 (his best MVP year was 23.8), and he's the closest guy there is to Paul this year. In fact, Nash, Jose Calderon of Toronto, and Utah's Deron Williams are the only other guys in the 20's, but Paul is getting close to the 30's nonetheless.
Pretty much any Hornet telecast you tune into, you'll hear the announcers comparing Paul to another great, Isiah Thomas. Comparing with the same stage in Isiah's career, Paul shoots about 3 percent better, pulls down half a rebound more per game, shoots 12 percent better from the stripe and 4 percent better from long range, is about even on steals and assists, but impressively averages an entire turnover less. And according to Dean Oliver's DRtg stat, Paul is actually the better defensive point guard overall.
As far as his ceiling goes... let me just say, I'd be happy if he didn't improve from his current level at all. That said, there's two things I can pinpoint as areas of potential improvement. The first is a must- improving defensively against bigger point guards. I'm sure you've heard of his struggles against Deron Williams. The Jazz guard has about 4 inches and almost 40 pounds on him, which is huge. CP is going to have to learn to outsmart Williams on the court, and rely on his quickness to defend him. Utah's the one team I absolutely do not want to see in the playoffs, and the Chris Paul-DWill matchup is a large part of that. The second potential improvement isn't as much of a necessity- I want to see if Chris Paul can continue his fantastic improvement on jump shots. He came into the league at 45 eFG% and is currently at 53%. That's a testament to the work he's put in during the offseasons, and if he can ever come near Steve Nash levels (ie, 60%), playing against him would just be unfair.
3QC: In a Q-and-A session with ClipsNation, I gave Steve an opportunity to talk about how great Al Thornton is. So, in that vein, I'm giving you a few paragraphs to rave about David West, the Hornets' starting power forward and arguably the league's most underappreciated player. Have at it.
Rohan: Haha, I just kind of went off on Chris Paul, so this feels weird. Nevertheless, I'll gladly take the opportunity. West is one my favorites for one big reason: he gets maximum results out of his specific skill set. What I mean by that is West isn't as athletically gifted as the Howards (who is?), Amares, Odoms, or Garnetts of the world. When you watch him play, you won't be awed by an explosive first step or come from behind rejection into the eighth row. Even with Paul continually throwing alley-oop lobs, you'll never see West on the finishing end of one of those dunks. And he understands that. When he first broke into the league, I (and other Hornets' fans) came to know him as a tireless worker on the glass. Gradually, he improved his offensive game, year by year.
West is equal parts power and finesse- one of his go-to moves is powering his upper body into a defender, before taking a soft fall away jumper. Unlike most power forwards, he will give you a decent cross over as part of his drive to the hole. One thing you and your readers might not like though is that he'll be yelling every second of every minute of every game (at the refs). I'm stunned he hasn't gotten more technicals this year, but off the court, he's a really low-key and mild mannered dude.
3QC: Talk a bit about the job Byron Scott has done coaching this team. Certainly having the All-Star talent of Paul and West helps, but he's also turned the likes of Ryan Bowen, Rasual Butler, and Melvin Ely into regular rotation players. Is there a more deserving candidate for Coach of the Year?
Rohan: I say he's COY. First, I don't think he gets enough credit for the offensive system he's implemented in New Orleans. A lot of people will just point at Chris Paul and say it's pretty easy to coach with a point guard like him. However, they miss how well he's taught the other Hornets' players their specific duties on offense; New Orleans implements a highly complex variation of the Princeton offense. This allows the finds CP has to make to be a lot less risky; Peja Stojakovic is having one of the best seasons of his career due to the way Scott has set up the offense for him.
On the defensive end, Scott makes his case even stronger. In the last three years, the Hornets have jumped up in defensive efficiency rankings, starting at 20th, getting to 16th, and culminating at 9th. That's really impressive to me when you have a guy like Peja Stojakovic as a starter. Stojakovic isn't atrocious, but he's certainly a weak link; Scott specifically designs the defensive strategies, game to game, to cover for Peja through various types of help defense. On the player-coach interaction front, Scott has successfully integrated a known head case, Bonzi Wells, and a guy coming off a 2 year NBA ban, Chris Andersen, back into the rotation. That has to count for something.
3QC: Along the same lines, how about the work Jeff Bower has done in assembling this team? It really is hard to imagine better complements to Paul than Peja Stojakovic at the three and Tyson Chandler at the five. Does he deserve Executive of the Year consideration? Or is he just really, really, really good?
Rohan: Yeah, this team has been assembled through some very shrewd moves over the past few years. Number one is obviously the Chris Paul selection (by all accounts, New Orleans had him higher on their board than Deron Williams). The P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith for Tyson Chandler deal is looking brilliant. The decision to slowly elevate David West into the starting PF role (let alone giving him a chance as an undersized PF) instead of pursuing a big name free agent has worked out beautifully. Getting a three point shooter some pegged to be on the downside of his career has paid dividends. Most impressive, to me, was Bower pulling the trigger on acquiring Bonzi Wells, and reacquiring Chris Andersen. You have to understand that this was a playoff team with or without those two guys. Bower could've easily sat back, and have been absolved of any of the potential blame that comes with acquiring a head-case and a former drug user. Instead, he showed real commitment to building a bona fide contender- he put his own neck on the line for the good of the franchise. To me, that's worth just as much, if not more, than signing two big name free agents in one offseason (Boston).
3QC: This question's really just for fun. This year, the Hornets introduced an alternate logo, cleverly titled the "fleur de bee," to be worn on a jersey patch. What's your take on the fleur de bee? I ask only because I think it's the best alternate logo in the league, and because not enough people see it.
Rohan: Hahaha, you're right, it's indeed a clever play on the "fleur de lis" and props are in order to whomever coined that. I think it really showed the Hornets commitment (at the time it was released) to the city of New Orleans, with all the drama floating around about leaving the city. The city and its fans have just rewarded the franchise's commitment by showing up to games en masse these last two months.
Thanks once again to Rohan for his insight. Check out his site, At The Hive, for more on the Hornets. Click here for my answers to his questions about the Magic, including my take on Rashard Lewis' contract. Another great resource for Hornets news and analysis is Hornets 247. There's also this great post about the Hornets at Hardwood Paroxysm.
As Biased Fan reminds us in this comment here at 3QC, a Magic victory over the Hornets tonight goes one step closer to helping the Jazz secure home-court advantage in the West. I think we owe them that much, since their drubbing of the Wizards last night sealed the Southeast Division title for us.
The tip's at 7 on Sun Sports, and there really is no excuse not to watch this game. Clear your schedule. Chris Paul
should will be a joy to watch, even if when he's shredding our perimeter defense.
Get them donuts. Go Magic.