Tag:Aaron Gray
Posted on: October 21, 2010 11:38 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2010 11:48 pm
 

New Orleans Hornets 2010-2011 Season Preview

I called this past offseason for the Hornets one of, if not, the most important offseason in franchise history for the team.  Coming off of a difficult collapse in 2009, injuries to Chris Paul forced the team to fall to 37 wins last season, resulting in the team's first appearance in the lottery in three years, signifying a dramatic fall from grace following the team's 2008 run to the Southwest Division Championship and to a game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals with the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.  Just a few years removed from that, the Hornets are at a crossroads, even after this offseason, that will determine where the team goes from this point forward.  Gone from that 2008 season are former coach of the year Byron Scott, long time General Manager and former Executive of the Year Jeff Bower and soon to be gone is the only owner the Hornets have ever known in George Shinn.  The impending sale of the team to Gary Chouest, which may not be finalized until the end of this season, will finally solidify this past offseason of change for the Hornets front office.  When new head coach Monty Williams was hired, followed by the hiring of new General Manager Dell Demps, everyone of the assistant coaches, medical staff, scouting team, etc. were let go.  Some of them had been with the team since its inception in Charlotte.  But desperate to turn a new leaf, the Hornets made their moves with Williams and Demps, and the two are young, promising guys at their respective spots with the right people vouching for their abilities.  That change was followed on the court, as the Hornets engaged in a number of trades that will result in at least eight new players making the roster for this season.  It's still very much up in the air how all of these moves will translate on the court for the Hornets.  The team has seemingly had one of the thinnest front courts in the league for years now, and that will be the same case this season.  The team's ultimate success still depends almost entirely on Chris Paul, and Paul's' reported frustrations with the team are going to loom over the franchise until he's either traded or signs a new contract.  But that's still two years from now, and the Hornets still moved along as a team dedicated to winning now.  With pending cap relief coming up this offseason, how the team performs at the start of the year will depend largely on whether they're buyers or sellers at the trade deadline and will have a huge effect on how the team opperates from here on out.  If this past offseason was one of the most important for the Hornets, this actual season will be no different.  There are no guarantees it will be the most successful, but a lot is hinging on the performance of this team this season.

For the record, new additions will be italicized and rookies will have their college statistics, which will be denoted by an asterisk.

PG: #3 Chris Paul (45 Games, 18.7 PPG, 10.7 APG, 4.2 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 84.7 FT Pctg., 40.9 3PT FG Pctg., 49.3 FG Pctg.) – Coming off of his best season individually in 2009, the frustration Paul was showing at the beginning of last season was quite evident.  He had gotten into on court altercations with Al Harrington, was frequently showing discomfort on the court and was very vocal in his displeasure with Byron Scott being fired going as far as to say the team should have consulted with him before the move.  Two separate injuries followed, including one the day immediately following Scott’s departure, possibly creating the most frustrating season in Paul’s career.  A sprained ankle and a torn meniscus kept Paul out of 37 games, and the Hornets’ win total dropped as a result. 

A lot will be asked of CP3 again this season as he enters clearly as the number one player on the team.  The fact that the team traded Darren Collison, last year’s first round draft pick and Paul’s primary back up, to make attempts in improving the roster brings further emphasis on the importance of a healthy Chris Paul.  Before his injuries last season, he was displaying an improved three point shot and was correcting all of the holes in his offensive game.  Seeing him play a healthy amount of games this season should help the team’s defense improve as well.  Paul’s on court performance is crucial for the team, but he’s in a position where he shouldn’t be asked to do as much as he was in 2009.  How quickly he gels with the new teammates, how well he’s recovered from the knee injury and how well he handles adversity this season all deserve close attention this season.

#33 Willie Green (73 Games, 8.7 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 RPG, 83.3 FT Pctg., 34.6 3PT FG Pctg., 45.7 FG Pctg.) – Whether Hornets fans like it or not, Green enters this season as the Hornets back-up point guard.  Green, in the final year of his contract, was picked up in a trade with Philadelphia and immediately became the team’s most trustworthy option as a reserve point guard.  Whether or not he’s a true point guard, whether or not he’s efficient enough to run an offense for an extended amount of time and whether or not the team hopes to deploy him in this role all season are questionable.  Even with Green on the roster, the Hornets had Jannero Pargo, Mustafa Shakur, D.J. Strawberry and, eventually, Curtis Jerrells all in training camp to compete for the reserve point guard job.  In my opinion, the team wants one of the young guards to step up and claim the back-up job, but is keeping Green as a safety net.  Green is a capable back-up in this league.  He shoots a decent percentage and he could, at the very least, provide veteran experience as a reserve to start the season.  However, I’d imagine the team truthfully wants Jerrells to claim Green’s spot by December or January.

#0 Curtis Jerrells * (39 Games, 16.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 77.1 FT Pctg., 36.7 3PT FG Pctg., 42.7 FG Pctg.) – Although last year was Jerrell’s first year in the league, he spent the majority of the season in the NBA’s D-League and therefore retains rookie eligibility in this season, his first with the Hornets.  Jerrells went undrafted in 2009 and spent last season for the D-League’s Austin Toros, which happened to be the team that Demps GMed while he was working for the Spurs organization.  About a week ago, the Hornets acquired Jerrells for a second round draft pick from the Spurs and he figures to be in the team’s future plans.  Former coach Greg Popovich has gone on record as saying Jerrells is a “real NBA point guard” and the team is high on him as well.  Whether or not he reciprocates those expectations right away remains to be seen, but there are high hopes for Jerrells in terms of his future as a reserve for the team behind Chris Paul.  His progression is something to keep an eye on. 

SG: #8 Marco Belinelli (66 Games, 7.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 83.5 FT Pctg., 38.0 3PT FG Pctg., 40.6 FG Pctg.) – No member of the Hornets roster is having as productive a preseason campaign as Belinelli.  Acquired from Toronto for the frustrating unproductive Julian Wright, Belinelli has also struggled with expectations throughout his career and really disappointed in Toronto last season.  But the team planned for Thornton to come off of the bench all along, and Belinelli has gone through a lot of the sets with the first team.  He’s shooting the ball really effectively from beyond the arc in the preseason and is showing capabilities as a ball handler that people expected of him when he was a lottery pick in 2007.  He unquestionably now enters the season as the Hornets starting shooting guard and can develop into a real wild card for the team.  If he builds off of his promise early, then the Hornets can have a surprisingly efficient starting five with an explosive Marcus Thornton as a change of pace reserve for the second unit.  At worst, Belinelli figures to be a three point specialist for the team, but all hopes are for Belinelli to remain as the team’s starting shooting guard for the duration of the season. 

#5 Marcus Thornton (73 Games, 14.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 37.4 3PT FG Pctg., 45.1 FG Pctg.) – Contrary to Belinelli, Thornton is having one of the most disappointing preseason campaigns for the Hornets.  Coming off of a surprising rookie season where the Hornets saw him emerge from second round draft pick to solid reserve to key contributor down the stretch, the team hopes to deploy him in a sixth man role similar to that of Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford’s.  All hopes should, and most likely are, for Thornton to finish games for the Hornets but the team wants to use his playmaking and explosiveness to spearhead the second unit.  Thornton has struggled with his shot all preseason, and questions are already rising about the shin injury that forced him to leave the Summer League early.  But still, the team will take its chances with Thornton as the season approaches and his efficient shooting from last season will be expected and should truly benefit the team moving forward.  At only 23, Thornton is still in the team’s future plans.  He’s been vocal about his struggles with the team moving Collison to Indiana in an offseason trade, but I wouldn’t attribute that with his early season struggles.  He seems erratic out there and may be struggling with the added expectations.  I expect him to settle into his new role this season after a few games.

SF: #1 Trevor Ariza (72 Games, 14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 64.9 FT Pctg., 33.4 3PT FG Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) – Coming off of a season where he was a key member of a Lakers starting line-up that won the 2009 NBA Championship, Ariza was handsomely compensated by the Houston Rockets last season and, with the injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, was quickly given the role of the go-to guy on the team.  Ariza struggled in that role, however, as his efficiency and his shooting percentages decreased across the board.  The Hornets still see his potential as a defensive specialist and fast break partner with Paul to trade All-Rookie First Teamer Darren Collison to acquire Ariza.  In doing so, the Hornets assume the remaining four years on Ariza’s contract and are vocal about him being in the team’s future plans.  In New Orleans, Ariza can return to being the third or fourth option on a team, a role he’s probably better suited for, and should be able to prepare for the shots to come to him as opposed to looking for them.  He may never shoot at that consistent three point rate that he did in the 2009 postseason, but he’s still a capable player behind the arc who the team can feel comfortable enough with to help spread out a defense.  Ariza is the big acquisition for the Hornets this past offseason and a lot is expected of him.  He’s shown before that he’s capable of playing off of a great player, and if he does so at a more efficient rate than he did with Houston last year, the Hornets will benefit greatly because of it. 

#16 Peja Stojakovic (62 Games, 12.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 37.5 3PT FG Pctg., 40.4 FG Pctg.) – Signed to a five year, 65 million dollar contract in 2005, Peja has seen his points per game average and a lot of his percentages decline every year of his contract with the team.  The Hornets see his expiring 15 million dollar deal as a huge trading piece should the team find another franchise desperate for cap relief, but also see his importance as a three point specialist with the squad.  Even with his declining numbers, the Hornets are a better team with Peja on the court.  Last year’s 14-23 record without Chris Paul should be viewed with an asterisk.  The team was 9-8 without Paul on the court while Peja was still in the lineup.  When Peja missed the final 20 games of the season, the team went 5-15.  He’s still a very important player for this team.  Peja was tried as a reserve last year when the team unsuccessfully attempted to make Julian Wright the starting small forward.  He was still efficient enough in his reserve role where the team should feel comfortable deploying him in that same spot this season, but his back still brings questions about how well he can come into a game and be effective after extended periods of rest.  Whether or not he’s a key contributor or nothing more than an expiring contract to either be traded or absorbed internally this season depends largely on how well he starts the season.  He’s played a sufficient amount of minutes this preseason and is still showing his range, but nothing is a guarantee in terms of his longevity of health. 

#20 Quincy Pondexter(36 Games, 19.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 82.7 FT Pctg., 35.3 3PT FG Pctg., 52.8 FG Pctg.) – Acquired in a draft night trade along with Craig Brackins for the draft rights to Cole Aldrich, Pondexter was supposed to enter this season with Brackins as two young, capable players in a new Hornets rotation.  Brackins was traded in the Willie Green trade with Philadelphia, and the Hornets soon acquired Trevor Ariza, halting Pondexter’s quick ascension to an everyday status.  Pondexter is still a capable player.  He can run the floor really well, is a good enough playmaker at his position and is a capable jump shooter.  The team also has high hopes in his defensive ability.  He showed a lot of potential in the summer league, especially with his playmaking and defense, and will be brought along slowly for the Hornets.  With Peja most likely gone either before the end of this season or by the end of this season, Pondexter figures into the Hornets future plans.  Monty Williams has had success with SF projects before during his tenure in Portland, and Pondexter will be exactly that for most of this season.

PF: #30 David West (81 Games, 19.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 86.5 FT Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) – The Hornets longest tenured player (he’s the only player on the team that was with the franchise before the temporary two year relocation to Oklahoma City and who was with the Hornets when they still played in the Eastern Conference), West returns this season still as the Hornets second option.  For the past five seasons, Paul and West have been the go-to guys for setting the tone on offense and the same will be expected this season.  Despite a second consecutive season in terms of a decrease in his points per game and rebounds per game averages, West assumed a bigger role in the offensive execution once Paul went down to injury last season.  As a result, West saw a career high in assists.  Whether or not his game is ready for a steep decline is up for debate, and this being basically a contract year for West (he has a 7 million dollar player option for next season), one could assume that West will be at his best for one last pay day for his career.  West is still an efficient option in the offense.  He shot at a 50 percent rate last season and still has plenty of range on his jump shot.  His defense on the ball struggled big time last season and a lot of that probably had to do with Collison and Thornton’s inexperience on defense allowing so many easy drives to the basket last year.  But if West can hold his ground defensively in the paint, it would set the tone for the rest of the team.  A lot will be expected of West, again, this season.  I wouldn’t be so concerned with his missing games this preseason (Monty is said to be caution with minutes to his starters in the preseason) and I wouldn’t say he’s ready for a decline in production just yet. 

#14 Jason Smith (56 Games, 3.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 69.0 FT Pctg., 43.1 FG Pctg.) – Acquired in a trade that sent Craig Brackins and Darius Songaila to Philadelphia, Smith was seen as a disappointing first round project in Philadelphia but has been given new life in New Orleans.  He’s surprised many fans with his strong play in the preseason, showing a very unexpected rebounding rate per minute and still showing a good enough mid range game that the team touted when he was acquired.  Whether or not that carries over into the regular season is huge for the Hornets, as Smith is basically the only option as a reserve power forward.  His position on the team is very creaky for the Hornets, as he’s not done a lot to calm worries about his consistency and reliability in his two years with the league.  But the front office is praising Smith for his work this preseason and he’ll at least be given a clean slate in New Orleans this year.  If he struggles, the team will be left without many options for the front court, and could be forced to move Stojakovic for another option.  Whether or not Smith can prevent the team from having to go to those measures remains to be seen. 

#44 Pops Mensah-Bonsu (20 Games, 1.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 54.2 FT Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) – With the team on a non guaranteed contract, Mensah-Bonsu will probably be retained due to the team’s thin options at the power forward spot.  Another D-League player for the Austin Toros, Pops has played well enough in the preseason to at least get a look in the regular season.  He’s struggled to stick with any of the teams he’s played with for his career but has shown signs of being a viable reserve big man.  Whether or not he can parlay that into a consistent run or even a consistent season with New Orleans is questionable at best and realistically unexpected.  But because Jason Smith is the only other option as a reserve power forward, I’d expect Mensah-Bonsu to make the roster and at least get a chance to establish himself in the team’s rotation.

C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 10.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 56.2 FT Pctg., 53.0 FG Pctg.) – Acquired last offseason from Charlotte, Okafor came into New Orleans with a lot of expectations and didn’t deliver on any of them.  Whether it be because of injuries keeping him from training camp reps with the roster, him missing the entire preseason, him never developing a rapport with Paul, him being in and out of Jeff Bower’s rotations or any combination of those things, Okafor saw a career low 29 minutes per game last year and his production dropped as a result of it.  This offseason, however, Monty has said to be committing to getting Okafor the ball at a more consistent rate.  He’s still not going to blow anyone away as a low post option, but he’s durable and strong enough to where he can hold his own down in the paint and also be a viable defender around the rim.  He’ll never live up to his paycheck, but he is still an efficient enough option at the center position in the league and is arguably a top ten player at his position.  With Williams’ dedication to getting Okafor involved more with the team, we should see a more lively Okafor and, certainly, a more productive Okafor on the court for the Hornets.  A big season from him could make all the difference from this team being a fringe playoff contender to a very good Western Conference squad. 

#34 Aaron Gray (32 Games, 3.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 71.4 FT Pctg., 51.2 FG Pctg.) – Acquired from Chicago during last season for Devin Brown, the White Panther (as he’s affectionately known amongst Hornets fans), became the team’s best option as a reserve center immediately and did a fine enough job in that role to be given a new one year deal to keep the same position this year with the Hornets.  Gray is, at the very least, a big body down in the paint, although his lack of speed still allows elite centers that extra burst to the basket more often than not.  He lost a lot of weight this offseason (rumored around 30 pounds) and is still light on his feet and is good enough at holding his position around the basket, but Monty has been vocal in his desire for Gray to be quicker up and down the court.  Whether or not he can really change something like his speed remains to be seen, but Gray is still a good, if not very good, back-up center for the team.

#28 D.J. Mbenga (49 Games, 2.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 47.4 FT Pctg., 46.6 FG Pctg.) – Recently signed to a one year contract for this season, Congo Cash (the name his former Lakers teammates gave him), steps in as competition for Gray for the reserve center job.  Mbenga has had his cup of tea in the league.  He’s mainly a hustle guy, has never been a consistent player in a rotation, but at least has two championships with the Lakers to show for his stay in the league.  He’s 7 foot and he’s a decent rebounder, but I’m not sure how successful the team will be with Mbenga consistently getting heavy minutes.  At the very least, he’s a body to push Gray and keep him staying in shape and keep him competitive.  He’s another big body on the team, giving them three 7 footers on the bench.  Only problem is, none of the three seven footers are all that incredibly talented.

Head Coach: Monty Williams (First Head Coaching Job) – Monty Williams is the youngest head coach in the league.  While that’s pretty cool in terms of the potential stability he can bring to the team, realistically you have to expect some growing pains from a guy in his first year on the job.  He’s got an impressive pedigree.  After retiring as a player, Greg Popovich himself sought out Monty to be an assistant, and Monty won a ring as a member of the coaching staff for the 2005 Spurs team.  He’s done fantastic in terms of player development and defense for the past couple of years in Portland, and he’s a very young, very hungry, very promising head coach.  All things considered, he seems like a very good guy for the job.  He’ll have to deal with Chris Paul’s ego, he’ll have to deal with a roster that’s fairly young and inexperienced, and he’ll have to do it in his first year.  However, if everybody comes together really early, it’s nothing but a huge sign moving forward for the potential of this team.  I have faith in Monty’s abilities as the head coach.  But, being that it’s his first job, you still don’t really know what to expect.  Here’s to a promising first season.

Overall: The Hornets are bringing in eight new players this season.  Chemistry may be a very tough problem in the early stages of this season, but the team is young and talented enough to get past that.  If they hit a prolonged rough patch, we’ll see if anyone starts pouting, if Williams becomes inconsistent with his rotations, etc.  There are a lot of question marks with this team.  But the potential is there.  The way it’s assembled, this team isn’t a championship squad.  They simply don’t have the length to compete with the best teams in the league.  But they’re athletic enough to hustle on defense, talented enough to get the ball in the basket and, if healthy, they could really surprise teams this year.  People always write the Hornets off as some kind of one year fluke.  It should be noted that the only year the Hornets have not had any major injury problems in the past five years was that 2008 season.  Maybe that does or doesn’t mean that the team competes for the division title again, but there’s no reason that can’t be a realistic goal.  The Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks are obviously sexier choices for the division title, but the Hornets have the bodies to compete with any of them, and they have the best individual player out of any of those teams on their roster.  Paul’s attitude and commitment are huge, as is Monty’s ability to handle all of the new players on the roster.  But if this team gets off to a huge start, they could really do some damage.  Probably no more than a 5 seed or so, but definitely a playoff team none the less.  They’re most likely another year away from being serious threats, but that’s no reason that the team can’t be really good this year.
Posted on: May 18, 2010 1:10 pm
Edited on: May 18, 2010 1:17 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 9

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  The draft lottery is tonight, so with the lukewarm reception I received with yesterday's submission (and yes I am using the term lukewarm very loosely), I wanted to get out # 9 before tonight's game.  Just to let you know, we can all agree that 2000 is the worst draft of the bunch, so everything after this is entirely subjective and, honestly, I can switch from 9 to 5 as often as I want and I won't feel comfortable with my list.  But comment, agree or disagree, whatever.  Here's number 9 on my top ten draft lists: the 2007 NBA Draft which features some good names but, overall, a lot of dissapointing performances from a lot of the top picks.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/21869382?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#9: 2007 NBA Draft

Round One:
1) Portland Trail Blazers - Greg Oden, C, Ohio State
2) Seattle Supersonics - Kevin Durant, SF, Texas
3) Atlanta Hawks - Al Horford, C, Florida
4) Memphis Grizzlies - Mike Conley, Jr., PG, Ohio State
5) Boston Celtics - Jeff Green, PF, Georgetown (traded to the Supersonics)
6) Milwaukee Bucks - Yi Jianlian, PF, China
7) Minnesota Timberwolves - Corey Brewer, SG, Florida
8) Charlotte Bobcats - Brandan Wright, PF, North Carolina (traded to the Warriors)
9) Chicago Bulls - Joakim Noah, C, Florida
10) Sacramento Kings - Spencer Hawes, C, Washington

Not a horrible list of top ten players.  Kevin Durant is a bonafide stud and looks to be the, unquestioned, star of this draft.  As one of the exciting young players in the league, Seattle definitely got right.  Portland, bless their hearts, took a chance on another big man over a solid wing player and look to be experiencing deja vu all over again, what with Greg Oden's injuries to both his right and his left knee, and he's missed 164 out of a possible 246 games.  Horford has become a nice pieces for the Hawks as has his Florida teammate Joakim Noah for the Bulls.  Both are probably playing out of position at center, but the league's small lineups have allowed both to become potential perennial all stars at their positions.  Their other Florida teammate, Corey Brewer, finally showed some life in Minnesota this season after two dull years while players like Conley and Yi Jianlian are still waiting to turn the corner and become good players.  Jianlian, especially, made a big deal about being drafted to Milwaukee and not wanting to play there, although he eventually did before being traded to New Jersey after his rookie season.  Jeff Green is another solid contributing piece to those very promising Oklahoma City teams now while players like Wright and Hawes have battled injuries and inconsistency, and haven't yet shown that they can be counted consistently on by either of their rebuilding squads.

11) Atlanta Hawks - Acie Law, PG, Texas A&M
12) Philadelphia 76ers - Thaddeus Young, SF, Georgia Tech
13) New Orleans Hornets - Julian Wright, SF, Kansas
14) Los Angeles Clippers - Al Thornton, SF, Florida State
15) Detroit Pistons - Rodney Stuckey, PG, Eastern Washington
16) Washington Wizards - Nick Young, SG, USC
17) New Jersey Nets - Sean Williams, C, Boston College
18) Golden State Warriors - Marco Belinelli, SG, Italy
19) Los Angeles Lakers - Javaris Crittenton, PG, Georgia Tech
20) Miami Heat - Jason Smith, PF, Colorado State (traded to the 76ers)

This list of 11 to 20 just reeks of mediocrity.  You can't really say anything horrible about any of the players on this list outside of Law and Williams, but nobody, maybe Young, Thornton or Stuckey, has shown they can be really good players in this league.  Law never got on the court in Atlanta and is now sitting as a back up in Chicago.  Young has shown some promise for Philadelphia, especially last season, but regressed badly this year.  Wright showed some potential his rookie season but has done nothing after that for New Orleans.  Thornton has put up the best numbers of this bunch but did so with no expectations for the Clippers and dissapeared after a midseason traded to Washington this year.  Stuckey has been hyped a lot in Detroit but hasn't lived up to his promise any season.  Players like Nick Young and Belinelli have shown in spots that they can be competent players in this league, but neither cashed in on their increased playing time this season.  Meanwhile Crittenton didn't even last the full year with the Lakers and got involved in the infamous Gilbert Arenas gun incident this season while Smith has been a forgettable player for the Sixers but has still stayed on the team.

21) Philadelphia 76ers - Daequan Cook, SG, Ohio State (traded to the Heat)
22) Charlotte Bobcats - Jared Dudley, SF, Boston College
23) New York Knicks - Wilson Chandler, SF, DePaul
24) Phoenix Suns - Rudy Fernandez, SG, Spain (traded to the Trail Blazers)
25) Utah Jazz - Morris Almond, PG, Rice
26) Houston Rockets - Aaron Brooks, PG, Oregon
27) Detroit Pistons - Arron Afflalo, SG, UCLA
28) San Antonio Spurs - Tiago Splitter, PF, Brazil
29) Phoenix Suns - Alando Tucker, SF, Wisconsin
30) Philadelphia 76ers - Petteri Koponen, PG, Finland (traded to the Trail Blazers)

This isn't a bad 21-30 list either.  Cook, Dudley and Afflalo became really solid contributing pieces for playoff teams this season.  Wilson Chandler and Rudy Fernandez have both shown some promise although neither has shown that they can be great.  Aaron Brooks won the Most Improved Player of the Year award this season and really broke out in last year's postseason after becoming the starting point guard for the Rockets.  Almond and Tucker never did work out in their respective organizations and are now no longer in the league (as far as I know).  Meanwhile, Splitter and Koponen are hyped prospects by both of their respective fanbases but are still playing overseas.  Splitter, especially, is being counted on to be the big man of the future in San Antonio, although all that has yet to be seen.  Rounding out the first one, there's a lot of nice, solid players on this list but Durant looks like the only great player in the first round.

Round Two Notables:
31) Seattle Supersonics - Carl Landry, PF, Purdue (traded to the Rockets)
35) Seattle Supersonics - Glen Davis, PF, LSU (traded to the Celtics)
48) Los Angeles Lakers - Marc Gasol, C, Spain
49) Chicago Bulls - Aaron Gray, C, Pittsburgh
56) Milwaukee Bucks - Ramon Sessions, PG, Nevada

Not a bad list of 2nd round guys.  Actually some really solid names on this list minus Gray, who I only put on here because he's still playing in the league and because he plays for the Hornets.  Landry has become the consumate tough guy, has lost almost all of his teeth playing basketball and become a really good player for the Rockets and then the Kings this season.  Big Baby Davis was part of the deal that sent Jeff Green to Seattle, and after an OK rookie season, really exploded in the playoffs last year and is a solid bench player for some great Boston teams.  Marc Gasol was used later that season in the trade that brought his brother Pau Gasol to the Lakers and Marc is now the starting center for the Memphis Grizzlies.  Meanwhile, Sessions has shown so much promise every single season that he plays, but is still struggling to put it all together consistently. 

2007-2008 NBA Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant
All Stars from the 2007 NBA Draft: Kevin Durant, Al Horford

2007-2008 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Al Horford
Kevin Durant
Luis Scola (who was originally drafted in 2002 by the Spurs before finally being traded to, and then signing with, Houston in 2007)
Al Thornton
Jeff Green

2007-2008 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Jamario Moon (who went undrafted in 2001 before finally signing with the Raptors in 2007)
Juan Carlos Navarro (who was originally drafted in 2002 by the Wizards before being traded to, and the signing with, Memphis in 2007)
Thaddeus Young
Rodney Stuckey
Carl Landry

Posted on: April 15, 2010 4:18 pm
 

New Orleans Hornets 2009-2010 Season In Review

It was a tough year for Hornets fans.  We started the season with the stink of that playoff loss to the Nuggets in 2009 still fresh in our minds.  Or at least I did.  They entered the season without Tyson Chandler at the center position for the first time in three years after he was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats for Emeka Okafor.  They were just two years removed from a division championship and being one game away from the Western Conference Finals and one year removed from being a favorite to win the championship in 2009.  But 2009 was a giant step back, and 2010 proved to be even more of the same.  Just as the story went in 2009, injuries, coaching changes, financial problems and everything else of the sort caused the Hornets problems in 2010.  As a result, the Hornets finished the season 37-45 and will be out of the postseason for the first time since 2007.  But let's look at how the season went.

PG: #3 Chris Paul (45 Games, 18.7 PPG, 10.7 APG, 4.2 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 84.7 FT Pctg., 40.9 3PT FG Pctg., 49.3 FG Pctg.) - The franchise centerpiece underwent a ridiculously tough season, as he battled groin, knee and finger injuries; missing a career high 37 games in the process.  Because of these injuries, the team was rumored to be flirting with the idea of moving him and his contract during the season and those rumors still linger as we approach the offseason.  Paul, however, really played well when he returned from his first injury and looked like the same player who has finished in the top 5 in MVP voting the last two seasons.  But his second injury, trying to catch an errant inbounds pass from David West, really crippled him and he did not look the same when he tried to come back near the end of the season.  Paul's shot really improved this season; especially his three point shot.  The team looks committed to bringing him back and I, 100%, think that it's the right move.  He'll need this offseason to heal after playing so much the last three seasons and, for that, I'm kind of glad the injuries slowed him down.  Grade: A-

#2 Darren Collison (76 Games, 12.4 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 85.1 FT Pctg., 40.0 3PT FG Pctg., 47.7 FG Pctg.) - As the Hornets first draft pick in two years, Collison was expected to fill the team's void at the backup point guard position and with CP3 as the starting point guard, he wasn't expected to play many minutes.  Well, that didn't necessarily go as planned.  But Collison accepted the added responsibilities and really took off in the second half of the season.  In the first eight games without Paul, the team went 4-4 and Collison's steady play was a big part of that.  When Paul went out for the longer stretch after that second injury, Collison really took off and played fantastic basketball for the Hornets.  He, at least, showed that he can be a starting point guard somewhere in this league.  Because of his cheap rookie contract, the Hornets may try and move him while his value is high to improve this offseason.  I'd be really dissapointed to see that happen as I'd like to see he and Paul play together for an entire season.  Collison could be terrific off of the bench and be the true face of the second unit.  But we'll see if he survives the offseason.  Grade: A+

SG: #5 Marcus Thornton (73 Games, 14.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 37.4 3PT FG Pctg., 45.1 FG Pctg.) - Along with Collison, the Hornets other rookie guard, Marcus Thornton, really became the faces of the franchise as the season went on.  Thornton, a second round rookie who the team traded for from the Miami Heat, responded very well when Bower took over as head coach and expanded his minutes.  He showed an efficient three point shot, the ability to take over games with his scoring and an ability to play with either Paul or Collison running the offense.  The team and the fans are both excited to see what happens going forward, as this position has been a revolving door for the Hornets since David Wesley left.  Grade: A+

#24 Morris Peterson (46 Games, 7.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 61.1 FT Pctg., 36.3 3PT FG Pctg., 38.5 FG Pctg.) - Because of the departure of Rasual Butler in the offseason, Peterson looked as if he was going to get a second chance with the Hornets.  He was the team's starting shooting guard when they won the Southwest Division in 2008 but found himself in Byron Scott's doghouse last season.  He was put back into the starting lineup based off of necessity and lasted only five games before Scott benched him again.  For awhile, Peterson wasn't even dressing with the team.  However, when Devin Brown was eventually traded, Peterson was put back into the lineup and responded better when given another chance.  With his contract expiring next offseason, I'd hope that somebody takes up his salary but he's fine as a bench player if the team decides to keep him.  Grade: C-

SF: #16 Peja Stojakovic (62 Games, 12.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 37.5 3PT FG Pctg., 40.4 FG Pctg.) - Peja continues his slow, agonizing, painful decline right before my very eyes as the Hornets answer at small forward.  His ridiculous contract and declining play have really crippled the Hornets the last two seasons.  But the bottom line is, when he plays the team is noticeably better.  The team was fine without Paul, but as soon as Peja started to struggle with his abdominal injury, they completely tanked and never did recover.  Stojakovic's shooting was so vital to the Hornets success the past two seasons that it hurts me as a fan to see him age and struggle as often as he has these past two seasons (especially this season).  I am and always will be a huge Peja fan, but the team will be better without him on the roster going into next season.  I'd imagine the team will do everything in its power to move his expiring 15 million dollars this offseason.  Grade: C

#41 James Posey (77 Games, 5.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 82.5 FT Pctg., 33.5 3PT FG Pctg., 36.5 FG Pctg.) - When the Hornets won the division in 2008, the next step to winning a championship looked as if it was taken when the team nabbed a clutch, defensive player in Posey who had won two NBA championships with the Heat and the Celtics.  The Hornets paid to get Posey, but it looked worth it initially.  However, the deal has not worked out at all for the Hornets.  Things took a turn for the worse this season as Posey looked really old, really fast and struggled with his shot all season long.  Although he struggled, he still finished a lot of games for the Hornets and helped them with some stability off the bench with all the injuries this season.  Being forced to play out of position a lot this season probably didn't help matters either.  But no matter the excuses, Posey was really bad at times this season and was merely good when he did play well.  Grade: D

#32 Julian Wright (68 Games, 3.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 61.0 FT Pctg., 50.0 FG Pctg.) - Coming into the season, the Hornets committed to Wright and gave him the starting small forward position.  After a promising 2008 rookie campaign with the Hornets, he found himself lost in translation last year after the team brought in James Posey and after falling into Byron Scott's doghouse and losing his jumpshot.  But the Hornets made the commitment to Wright this offseason and I was really excited at the prospects of Wright in the lineup and Peja off the bench.  It didn't work at all.  Wright still struggled as the starting small forward and eventually found his way deep on the bench.  He even had an embarassing situation this season when he requested a trade from the team via twitter.  I'm Wright's biggest fan but he simply didn't respond when given the opportunities.  It's unknown whether the team will pick up the option on his contract but I expect them to do so and give him one more chance next offseason.  But he let me and the team down this season.  Grade: F

PF: #30 David West (81 Games, 19.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 86.5 FT Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) - Because of the injuries to Paul this season, West became the team's motor, heart and go to guy this season.  Continuing his strong play, West put up another solid season (even if his numbers are down from where they were the last two seasons).  West has been as dependable and reliable a player as the Hornets have had on the roster and is the longest tentured Hornet, the only player remaining from the team's last year in the Eastern Conference.  Given all the pressure put on him having to deal with thin rosters, 9 man rotations, playing with rookies and unproven players and still showing up to work, putting up great numbers and never openly complaining, West deserves a medal.  He was terrific this season for the Hornets.  Grade: A

#9 Darius Songaila (75 Games, 7.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 81.1 FT Pctg., 49.4 FG Pctg.) - Songaila was the most stable and consistent player off the Hornets bench the entire season.  Take that as you want as the team's bench largely underproduced, but the fact of the matter remains that Songaila, before his injury in March, was the one staple the team looked to off the bench and that's good, because he's all they had off the bench in the frontcourt.  Given that Songaila was really asked to do more than I think he's capable of, I was impressed with his production and ability to play solid minutes night in and night out.  He's never going to wow you or blow you away, but he's been steady and without him the Hornets would have been even worse this season.  Grade: B-

#1 Ike Diogu (Did Not Play -Injured-) - Coming off of a fantastic last couple games at the end of last season with Sacramento, Diogu's pick up at the end of the offseason was looked at very optimistically by Hornets fans.  Given the team's thin frontcourt and struggle to produce any offense off of the bench in that area, he was to be expected to assume some of that role.  Instead, Diogu never played in the preseason or the regular season due to a knee injury, and back in December decided to undergo microfracture knee surgery to fix the problem.  The front office and the team as a whole seems to really like him but, when and if he heals from the knee injury, I'm indifferent to his future with the team.  Grade: Incomplete

C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 10.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 56.2 FT Pctg., 53.0 FG Pctg.) - Replacing the ultra popular Tyson Chandler, Hornets fans expected a lot out of Emeka Okafor this season.  After watching Chandler struggle to stay on the court (again) in Charlotte, the team undoubtedly made the right move.  Okafor was the only Hornet to play all 82 games and stability and solid production out of the center position is hard to come by in this league.  All that said, more was expected out of Okafor and his numbers were career lows across the board.  The team gave up on trying to finish games with him on the court as the season went on and his minutes and production dipped as the months passed.  Okafor will probably be back next season unless the team gets an attractive offer (and given Okafor's size and position, they may) but he needs to improve a lot to get  back into my good graces.  Grade: C

#34 Aaron Gray (24 Games, 3.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 85.7 FT Pctg., 55.7 FG Pctg.) - This big, goofy white boy wasn't expected to much for the Hornets when the team traded Devin Brown for him in February.  After being acclimated to the team and the system, though, Gray played really well.  His best moment came when the team upset the Orlando Magic in March off of a season high in minutes and points for Gray as he went toe to toe with MVP candidate Dwight Howard.  Now, he's not capable of that everynight but he can still play some solid ball as a backup center.  His numbers aren't pretty, his game isn't pretty, but I wouldn't mind the team resigning him and keeping him on the bench (so long as he isn't the best big man off of the bench next season).  Here's to you, Gray!  Grade: B

#4 Sean Marks (14 Games, 0.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 40.0 FT Pctg., 50.0 FG Pctg.) - Sean Marks has a soft spot in my heart.  I like him, sure, but didn't like it when I had to watch him play 60 games last season and get heavy minutes.  He's gotten spot duty this year while battling an ankle injury and this is about the role I've always wanted to see him play on the team.  He plays hard when he gets in the game and always brings a lot of energy to the court.  He's just not talented enough to be a regular in a rotation for a successful team.  But he always brings it in practice and plays hard when given the minutes, so since he didn't match last season's 60 game total and career high in minutes per game, I'm going to give Marks a great grade so long as he doesn't crack the rotation regularly again.  Also, Marks actually stopped and talked to me during the team's game here in San Antonio back in March, so my fandom for Marks continues.  He won't be back next season, in fact his career may be over, but Marks played in the league a long time and won a championship in San Antonio.  Here's to you, Marks!  Grade: A

We Didn't Forget About All You Who Put On Hornets Jerseys This Season:

PG #6 Bobby Brown (22 Games, 6.6 PPG, 2.1 APG, 100 FT Pctg., 25.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.5 FG Pctg.) - Bobby came over in the Darius Songaila trade in the offseason and I really didn't think he'd make the roster.  Because of Byron Scott's stubborness with rookies, Brown got a lot of minutes at the start of the season over Darren Collison.  He didn't play bad and, in fact, helped win them a couple games at the start of the season off the bench.  But he only served as a stopgap until it was time to put Collison into the fray.  He was invaluable as a backup whenever Paul went down due to the first injury, but when Paul came back he was immediately expendable he really had no place on the team.  He went to the Clippers and saw basically the amount of time he would have seen as a Hornet for the rest of the season.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: C

C #12 Hilton Armstrong (18 Games, 2.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 46.4 FT Pctg., 38.0 FG Pctg.) - Much like Julian Wright, I look at Hilton Armstrong and shake my head.  He has the physical tools, he's shown glimpses of putting it together, and was given chances to succeed.  I'm dissapointed that he never did.  Armstrong played soft out on the court and really just never worked out in New Orleans.  He went to Sacramento where I thought he'd get a lot of minutes, but he was quickly shipped to Houston where he barely played for the Rockets before being released last week.  It's going to be a tough road back for Hilton.  However, he has no one to blame but himself for never working out here with the team.  At the time he left, I would have rather him on the roster than either Marks or Gray.  But I understand that Armstrong's rookie contract as a first round lottery draft pick is more than either of there's.  So I understand why this move had to be made.  Wish you could have worked out, Hilton!  Grade for his time with the Hornets: D

SG #23 Devin Brown (39 Games, 9.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 80.2 FT Pctg., 36.7 3PT FG Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) - Being a San Antonio resident and a UTSA student, I've always had a soft spot for the UTSA alumn Devin Brown.  When the Hornets brought him back last season, I had huge hopes for him off the bench because of what he did for the Hornets when the team was depleted due to injuries in their last season in Oklahoma City.  After a forgettable year in Cleveland, Brown came back to the Hornets and really helped off the bench at the point guard and shooting guard for the Hornets and eventually took Morris Peterson's starting job this season.  He had some huge games, including a career high 30 points in a game at Utah, helping the Hornets win there for the first time in 4 years.  Brown is an infinitely better player than Gray so the trade was tough to accept, but the 100 thousand dollar difference in contracts is just enough to get the Hornets under the luxury tax and Gray played a huge position of need.  So it had to be made.  He barely got off the bench in Chicago but at least he made the postseason.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: B

PG #11 Jason Hart (4 Games, 0.5 PPG, 1.3 APG, 0.0 FT Pctg., 100 FG Pctg.) - When Paul went down to his second injury and the Hornets had already traded Bobby and Devin Brown, the team signed Hart to a ten day contract to be the team's backup point guard.  He was, more or less, just there but he wasn't bad.  I expected them to, at least, give him a second ten day contract but since he wasn't in the team's future plans, they did the right thing by not giving him a second one.  Once his ten day contract was up, he was gone.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: C

Coaches:
Byron Scott (3-6) - I loved Byron Scott as the head coach in New Orleans.  He put in place a system and used that as stability for the Hornets franchise when they went into rebuilding in 2004.  He was a proven coach in the league, had won two Eastern Conference Championships with the New Jersey Nets and won the 2008 Coach of the Year here in New Orleans leading the team to the Southwest Division Title.  However, over time last season and definitely coming into the season, he lost this roster.  When they lost, they would lose big.  We're talking huge lapses of time where the team would struggle and just get destroyed in games.  It was evident in last season's postseason, which was highlighted by a 58 point loss at home in a crucial game 4 to the Nuggets, and in so many games this year at San Antonio, at home against Toronto, at the Lakers, at Phoenix, etc.  They weren't even exhibiting an ounce of effort.  So when he was fired it was met with a lot of backlash, but it was something the team needed to do.  Would I have prefered a better coach to take the reigns?  Most definitely.  But the team, although very slowly, responded well to Bower and arplayed competitive basketball as a result.  They didn't win every game, but they gave themselves chances to win and that's all you can ask of your coach is for them to put you in position to win basketball games.  Scott wasn't doing it.  Therefore, his Grade for his time with the Hornets: D

Jeff Bower (34-39) - Bower, somehow, did great as the team's interim head coach once Scott was fired.  His very first game as interim coach, Chris Paul went down to injury and it was immediately time to press the panic button.  But Bower gave minutes to the rookies, took chances and righted the ship in New Orleans.  Because of him, there's hope for a future in place.  When the injuries mounted and eventually took their toll, the Hornets struggled down the stretch but it was no fault to Bower.  He did fantastic given the circumstances and considering that he had only one year as an assistant coach on his resume.  He won't be back as coach next season but I want the team to retain him as General Manager.  His future's up in the air, though, and I'll be interested to see what they do with him.  Grade: B

Future For The Team:
I've said it before, with the team probably being sold to a Louisana business man this offseason, the importance of this offseason is vital.  They have a lot of decisions to make.  There's going to be a new owner and a new head coach.  Will the owner and coach choose their own general manager or will Bower be retained?  Is either Paul or Collison traded?  Do any of the expiring deals get moved?  The Hornets are faced with some really tough tasks this offseason but I have a ton of faith in the team to hire the right people (Avery Johnson is the big rumor at head coach), to keep Jeff Bower for some continuity in the organization and to make the right moves for the team's betterment.  There's so much to do, though, that I can't say for sure whether or not they'll do it.  But I have faith!

Overall Grade:
All things considered, the Hornets played well this season.  With all of the injuries to Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic, with the dissapointing performances of Emeka Okafor, James Posey and Julian Wright and with the team changing head coaches during the season and even having to get rid of solid rotation players just to get under the luxury tax, the team still won 37 games.  There could have been a lot of panic this season and the team could have folded at any point.  There are some embarassing losses (losing twice to the Knicks, losing to the Wizards at home, losing by 30 to the Nets) that really make things seem sour, but they beat 13 out of the 16 teams that are in the playoffs this season (getting swept by Cleveland, Chicago and San Antonio) and have a lot of hope with the two young rookies on the team.  When you sit back and evalute the circumstances, it wasn't a totally lost season for the Hornets.  But they only had one stretch this year whey looked legit dangerous and Paul's injury derailed all of that.  So the Grade for the season: C+

Posted on: February 1, 2010 12:21 am
 

Solid Moves By Jeff Bower

With Tuesday's trade of Bobby Brown, the Hornets have now officially limited their payroll to $69.9 million.  What this means is all of the cost cutting moves the Hornets were rumored to have to make (possibly trading Chris Paul, David West, Emeka Okafor) will now no longer have to happen by the February trade deadline.  And with the way the team has played in 2010, they can still continue their push towards the postseason with all of its core players.  Let's look at the moves that were made:

The Hornets saved 8 million dollars by trading Rasual Butler to the Clippers for a 2016 2nd Round Draft pick in the offseason, received cash considerations and a conditional 2016 2nd Round Draft Pick from the Kings for Hilton Armstrong, traded Devin Brown to the Bulls for Aaron Gray and then, today, traded Bobby Brown to the Clippers for a conditional 2014 2nd Round Draft Pick.

The Hornets now have the flexibility to choose what they want to do this trade deadline instead of being forced to be sellers in this market.  Emeka Okafor could still be moved; he still could not.  David West could still be moved; he still could not.  But by pulling off these minor deals, the Hornets avoid the luxury tax and are able to operate freely this season.  Furthermore, all NBA teams under the luxury tax by the offseason are able to receive a $5 million rebate from the league for being so in the offseason.  Also, I know Bulls fans don't like him, but I'd rather have Gray coming off of the bench instead of Sean Marks.  He doesn't do much, but just bringing a huge body off the bench would be a nice, welcomed addition for Hornets fans. 

Their bench is now really thin but the players that were moved, with the exception of Devin Brown obviously, weren't contributing at all recently for the Hornets.  This means an increase in minutes for a fantastic 2nd round find in Marcus Thornton and increased minutes for 1st round draft pick Darren Collison as well. 

I don't think anybody's going to mistake New Orleans for a championship contender, but the playoffs should still be expected and with this team now being under the luxury tax, they can survive until this offseason when, all of a sudden, Peja Stojakovic, Darius Songaila and Morris Peterson's ridiculous salaries becomes an invaluable expiring contracts.  Solid moves by Jeff Bower.
Posted on: January 28, 2010 5:13 pm
 

2009-2010 New Orleans Hornets Midseason Report

Not a whole lot was expected from the Hornets at the beginning of the season.  Fans, onlookers and critics alike took a glance at the roster and saw a good, not great, team that should make the postseason but probably won't do much damage when they get there.  So think of my panic when the team started off getting blown out in almost every game at the beginning of the season.  They had no bench play.  Julian Wright was a flop as a starter.  Tyson Chandler's presence looked missed more and more as each day went on.  The Hornets, only nine games into the season, went into full panic mode and everything seemed lost.  At 3-6, and following a blowout loss on national television to the Phoenix Suns, the Hornets fired Byron Scott and inexplicably hired back Tim Floyd, this time as an assistant coach, and promoted Jeff Bower to the head coaching position.  The Hornets financial problems were well documented in the offseason and even moreso after that firing, so rumors of Chris Paul heading everywhere from Houston to San Antonio came out and the team looked doom for the next few years at least.  But then, the Hornets started winning.  Never blowing anybody out, the Hornets would run off stretches of successive victories by small margins, always finding ways to win basketball games but never really showing any sort of dominance in victory.  However, very slowly, the Hornets have worked their way back into the eighth seed in the playoffs and are ready to make a second half push.  Furthermore, coach and general manager Jeff Bower has improved the team by giving lots of minutes to the bench and has also done wonders in the front office, finding a way to put the Hornets under the luxury tax and allow them to coast into the offseason where they can finally move Peja Stojakovic's and Morris Petereson's then expiring contracts. 

Right now, Hornets fans have to be pleased with how the team is playing but they dug themselves quite a hole at the beginning of the year.  So it's hard to evaluate the season, so far, as a whole.  I want to give the first half of the first half an F and the second half of hte first half somewhere around a high B.  So we'll now evaluate player by player the New Orleans Hornets team as a whole.

PG: # 3 Chris Paul (37 Games, 20.5 PPG, 11.1 APG, 4.6 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 86.0 FT Pctg., 41.1 3PT FG Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) - Still holding down the spot as best point guard in the entire league, Chris Paul shook off some early ankle injuries to really play some great ball since his return from injury.  He's developed his jump shot to the point where it's almost automatic if left uncontested, and his fadeaway has become almost unguardable.  Add to the fact that he's shooting a terrific percentage from three point range and Paul's offensive aresenal has greatly improved.  Now more than in recent years, Paul is being looked to to take big shots down the stretch.  When the game's in a tight spot, Paul not only has the ball in his hands to create, Bower's given him the green light to take the shot.  He's really overcome a slow start to pick up his game and, if not for some injuries, a better team record and some early season frustrations, Paul would probably be at an A plus right now.  But instead, we'll leave it where it should be.  Grade: A

# 2 Darren Collison (39 Games, 6.7 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.8 RPG, 87.3 FT Pctg., 29.4 3PT FG Pctg., 41.9 FG Pctg.) - When Collison was taken in the first round, a lot of fans criticized the move as it wasn't (obviously with Paul on the team) a glaring need for the roster.  I, for one, really wanted the Hornets to nab DeJuan Blair but liked the Collison move and have been thoroughly impressed with Collison's play so far this season.  When Chris Paul went down to injury and things looked bleak in New Orleans, the rookie Collison calmly stepped in and led the Hornets to a 4-4 record without Paul and the team was able to stay above water.  Even though Byron Scott was reluctant to play either Collison or Thornton (or any rookie for that matter), after Bower took over Collison's minutes went up significantly.  Now with the trade that sent Devin Brown to the Bulls, Collison will probably be asked to do even more in the second half of the season.  But so far, he's done well in his role as the team's backup point guard.  Grade: B

SG:
# 5 Marcus Thornton (39 Games, 9.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 75.8 FT Pctg., 36.2 3PT FG Pctg., 43.5 FG Pctg.) - Similar to Collison, Thornton didn't see many minutes at the beginning of the season with Scott running the show.  Even though he impressed in the summer league and preseason, the LSU product was a 2nd round rookie and was not expected to do very much.  Instead, Thornton has played so well off the bench that he's started the last two games (and scored 19 and 18 points respectively) after the Hornets traded Devin Brown, and looks like he'll maintain that position for the rest of the season.  Showing off a better three point shot than originally believed, Thornton has stepped into the Hornets lineup and contributed immediately; a fresh face in the same familiar core that's been in New Orleans the past three or four seasons.  I'd like to see his all around game improve as time goes on but he's still a rookie and, as a 2nd Rounder, has exceeded all expectations already.  Grade: A

# 24 Morris Peterson (10 Games, 4.2 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 100 FT Pctg., 23.5 3PT FG Pctg., 29.6 FG Pctg.) - My how far Peterson has fallen.  Two years ago, he started 76 games for the Hornets as they set a franchise record for wins in a season, won the first division championship in franchise history and went to the conference semifinals.  Now, even after last season's debacle, Peterson was given the starting shooting guard position with this season's team and was given a fresh start.  Instead, Peterson was yanked by the sixth game of the season and wasn't even dressing for the Hornets as the team went with Devin Brown at the starting shooting guard position.  Peterson, to his credit, hasn't sulked or complained about the lack of playing time, but he really can't because when he's been in there he's been awful.  It's a shame to see how quickly he's fallen, especially because when the team brought him I thought he'd really flourish with the Hornets.  Instead, he's largely dissapointed.  But now with Brown off of the roster, Peterson will start to get playing time again and hopefully he does something with it, or else the Hornets thin back court will come back to hurt them.  Grade: F

SF:
# 16 Peja Stojakovic (43 Games, 11.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 89.1 FT Pctg., 37.2 3PT FG Pctg., 40.0 FG Pctg.) - Even moreso than last season, Stojakovic's game has really declined.  The Hornets tried to use him as instant offense off the bench at the start of the season but that experiment didn't work.  Even though he's played well this season, he's even worse than he was last year (a year in which his game sharply declined) and he's getting older, it seems, every game I watch him.  To his credit, he's got bad knees and a bad back and for a 6'10" swingman those are kryptonite.  He's shooting around the percentage he was shooting last season and he's still good for a couple three point makes a game.  However, he doesn't explode at all like he used to.  He used to be good for at least 10-15 great games a year; he really, aside from a game at Boston, hasn't gone off at all this year.  But he's been steady and I like him so I'll round his grade up a letter.  Grade: C

# 41 James Posey (45 Games, 5.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 85.7 FT Pctg., 34.0 3PT FG Pctg., 37.7 FG Pctg.) - Even though his numbers and shooting percentage are down across the board, Posey has been important for the Hornets this season.  He's hit a couple game winners this season, is usually in the game during crunch time and still brings those intangibles and toughness that help the Hornets win so many close basketball games.  His presence is necessary to this team and I think that's why you don't hear him and his bad contract so often in trade rumors.  He hasn't missed a game this year (although he hurt himself in last night's game at Golden State) and has hit some clutch shots, so even though his numbers are down I'm going to be generous with his grade.  Grade: C

# 32 Julian Wright (34 Games, 3.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 73.3 FT Pctg., 47.1 FG Pctg.) - Oh what was supposed to be.  After showing some flashes as a rookie during that great 2008 year for the Hornets, a lot was expected of Julian Wright moving forward as a franchise.  He's largely dissapointed.  After falling off big time last season, the Hornets were going to force the issue and start the season with Julian Wright getting the starting minutes at the small forward position.  He flopped in that role and by game 7 the team had inserted Peja back into the starting lineup.  After that, Wright didn't even get into the game in most cases and looked to sulk on the bench.  Lord knows what's been done to his confidence level, and unfortunately he may suffer the same fate as Hilton Armstrong did (just a lot of talent that, for whatever reason, never materialized) and may never reach his full potential.  Bower's given him minutes as of late and I really like him so I want to see him crack the rotation again.  But he didn't impress at all when he was given his chances and has to work hard to prove to Bower he deserves more minutes.  Grade: D-

PF:
# 30 David West (44 Games, 17.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 86.4 FT Pctg., 48.8 FG Pctg.) - West's numbers are down across the board at the moment but he's really come on as of late for the Hornets.  A lot is always asked of he and Paul on this team and for the last two years he really delived.  But this season, West's slow start really was replicated in the team's slow start.  He's so crucial in taking pressure off of Paul and creating some offense inside that if he's not doing anything the team will really struggle to opperate as a whole.  He's been solid lately, though, and the team has begun winning as a reuslt.  Hopefully he can keep it up and return to the form that made him a two time NBA All Star.  Grade: C+

# 9 Darius Songaila (45 Games, 7.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 52.2 FG Pctg.) - Songaila has been the most stable and consistent player off the Hornets bench the entire season.  Take that as you want as the team's bench has largely underproduced, but the fact of the matter remains that Songaila has been the one staple the team has looked to off the bench and that's good, because he's all they have off the bench in the frontcourt.  Given that Songaila is really being asked to do more than I think he's capable of, I've been impressed with his production and ability to play solid minutes night in and night out.  He's never going to wow you or blow you away, but he's been steady and without him the Hornets wouldn't be in the mix for the postseason as they are right now.  Grade: B

# 1 Ike Diogu (Has Not Played Due To Injury) - Coming off of a fantastic last couple games at the end of last season with Sacramento, Diogu's pick up at the end of the offseason was looked at very optimistically by Hornets fans.  Given the team's thin frontcourt and struggle to produce any offense off of the bench in that area, he was to be expected to assume some of that role.  Instead, Diogu never played in the preseason or the regular season due to a knee injury, and back in December decided to undergo microfracture knee surgery to fix the problem.  The front office and the team as a whole seems to really like him but, when and if he heals from the knee injury, I couldn't care one way or the other if he returns or not next season.  Grade: Incomplete

C:
# 50 Emeka Okafor (45 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 60.0 FT Pctg., 52.9 FG Pctg.) - After the Hornets traded the ultra popular (among teammates and fans) Tyson Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats for Okafor, the move was met with optimism again by Hornets fans.  Okafor was looked at as a better all around player with a shorter contract (for this season, the season the Hornets were going to struggle financiallly) and it looked like a win/win.  While Okafor has put up solid numbers and has produced this season for the Hornets, he hasn't really blown anybody away on either side of the court.  He puts up a lot of quiet numbers and sort of dissapears down the stretch.  However, he's been important to the Hornets, playing in every game and bringing a stability to the center position that a lot of teams across the league would love to have.  He could still be moved before the trade deadline, and I don't think Hornets fans would feel strongly one way or the other about seeing him go.  Grade: B-

# 4 Sean Marks (9 Games, .7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 50.0 FT Pctg., 40.0 FG Pctg.) - Sean Marks has a soft spot among Hornets fans.  We like him, sure, but didn't like it when we had to watch him play 60 games last season and get heavy minutes.  He's gotten spot duty this year while battling an ankle injury and this is about the role I've always wanted to see him play on the team.  He plays hard when he gets in the game and always brings a lot of energy to the court.  He's just not talented enough to be a regular in a rotation for a successful team.  But he always brings it in practice and plays hard when given the minutes, so since he won't match last season's 60 game total and career high in minutes per game, I'm going to give Marks a great grade so long as he doesn't crack the rotation regularly again.  Grade: A

# 34 Aaron Gray (Has Not Played Yet With the Hornets) - Gray was brought in from Chicago in the Devin Brown trade and may or may not be asked to do a lot in New Orleans.  Because of the short term memories of all fans, we all remember Marks when he got into the game and therefore anyone will suffice at the moment.  Gray's a big, untalented body who won't be asked to do much but could maybe give Okafor rest for 5-10 minutes a game.  However, if he starts making me wish that Marks was on the floor instead, I'll ask for his head on a stick.  Grade: Incomplete

And I haven't forgotten about all of the other players who put on that very illustrious and exclusive Hornets jersey this season.

G # 23 Devin Brown (39 Games, 9.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 80.2 FT Pctg., 36.7 3PT FG Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) - Being a San Antonio resident and a UTSA student, I've always had a soft spot for the UTSA alumn Devin Brown.  When the Hornets brought him back last season, I had huge hopes for him off the bench because of what he did for the Hornets when the team was depleted due to injuries in their last season in Oklahoma City.  After a forgettable year in Cleveland, Brown came back to the Hornets and really helped off the bench at the point guard and shooting guard for the Hornets and eventually took Morris Peterson's starting job this season.  He had some huge games, including a career high 30 points in a game at Utah, helping the Hornets win there for the first time in 4 years.  Brown is an infinitely better player than Gray so the trade is kind of tough to swallow, but the 100 thousand dollar difference in contracts is just enough to get the Hornets under the luxury tax.  So it had to be made.  I'll miss his stability on the team and wish him well in Chicago.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: B

G # 6 Bobby Brown (22 Games, 6.6 PPG, 2.1 APG, 100 FT Pctg., 25.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.5 FG Pctg.) - Bobby came over in the Darius Songaila trade in the offseason and I really didn't think he'd make the roster.  Because of Byron Scott's stubborness with rookies, Brown got a lot of minutes at the start of the season over Darren Collison.  He didn't play bad and, in fact, helped win them a couple games at the start of the season off the bench.  But he only served as a stopgap until it was time to put Collison into the fray.  He was invaluable as a backup whenever Paul went down due to injury, but now that Paul is back and getting a lot of minutes, he really had no place on the team.  After being traded to the Clippers, he's now their back up point guard and I, again, wish him the best of luck.  Grade for his time with the Hornets: C

F/C # 12 Hilton Armstrong (18 Games, 2.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 46.4 FT Pctg., 38.0 FG Pctg.) - Much like Julian Wright, I look at Hilton Armstrong and shake my head.  He has the physical tools, he's shown glimpses of putting it together, and was given chances to succeed.  I'm dissapointed that he never did.  Armstrong played soft out on the court and really just never worked out in New Orleans.  He'll be given minutes in Sacramento and I hope to see him succeed, as he said his confidence was just shot here with the Hornets.  However, he has no one to blame but himself for never working out here with the team.  Even with all that said, I'd rather have him on the roster than either Marks or Gray.  But I understand that Armstrong's rookie contract as a first round lottery draft pick is more than either of there's.  So I understand, again, why this move had to be made.  Wish you could have worked out, Hilton!  Grade for his time with the Hornets: D

Coaches:
Byron Scott (3-6) - I loved Byron Scott as the head coach in New Orleans.  He put in place a system and used that as stability for the Hornets franchise when they went into rebuilding in 2004.  He was a proven player in the league, had won two Eastern Conference Championships with the New Jersey Nets and won the 2008 Coach of the Year here in New Orleans leading the team to the Southwest Division Title.  However, over time last season and definitely coming into the season, he lost this roster.  When they won, they would win close but when they lost, they would lose big.  We're talking huge lapses of time where the team would struggle and just get destroyed in games.  It was evident in last season's postseason, which was highlighted by a 58 point loss at home in a crucial game 4 to the Nuggets, and in so many games this year at San Antonio, at home against Toronto, at the Lakers, at Phoenix, etc.  They weren't even exhibiting an ounce of effort.  So when he was fired it was met with a lot of backlash, but it was something the team needed to do.  Would I have prefered a better coach to take the reigns?  Most definitely.  But the team, although very slowly, has responded well to Bower and are playing competitive basketball as a result.  They're not winning every game, but they're giving themselves chances to win and that's all you can ask of your coach is for them to put you in position to win basketball games.  Scott wasn't doing it.  Therefore, his Grade for his time with the Hornets: D

Jeff Bower (22-14) - Who would have thought that the pudgy general manager who was criticized and blamed for Scott's firing would be the one who got this team back on track?  His very first game as interim coach, Chris Paul went down to injury and it was immediately time to press the panic button.  However, Bower put a rookie who was ten games into his professional career at the point guard position and the team went .500 until Paul came back.  Even when the team started to play better, I never got excited about them like I have the past couple of weeks, really feeling like this team can win basketball games and make a run in the postseason.  I still would like to see a different coach be brought in but I'd love to see Bower be retained as general manager and I wouldn't even mind Tim Floyd remaining as an assistant.  I just don't want him to be the head coach.  But Bower's done a great job at the helm since he was given that spot, and so his Grade for time as the Hornets coach: A

Overall:
The team has really played to their level this season.  When they started slow, a lot of people criticized that they were underachieving and were huge dissapointments, but those same people picked them to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff seedings and I told everyone to be patient, that's probably where they would end up.  It looks more and more like they'll finish in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoffs if they continue to play as they have, but in the wild Western Conference a bad stretch of games is liable to knock the Hornets back out and have them struggling to get back in.  But I'd rather have them control their own destiny.  With the injuries, individual underachievement and with the team's financial problems and changing a head coach during the season, you'd probably expect them to be a lot worse than 25-20.  Instead, there they are above .500 and in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference.  This still isn't a great year by any means, but this team has responded well to all adversity that's come their way and they've shown a great deal of resilience and heart to win as many close games as they have.  They're still not where they can be and there's always room for improvement, but I couldn't expect much more than what I've gotten from them this year.  Grade: B
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com