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Tag:Antonio Daniels
Posted on: September 24, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: September 24, 2009 2:20 pm
 

Outlook For The 2009-2010 New Orleans Hornets

When I did this preview last season, I mentioned that the Hornets entered the season with serious championship aspirations.  Never before had I been so excited for a season to come as I was for last year's Hornets squad.  In the first game of the season, Peja Stojakovic injured his back and a trend was started.  Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, David West, Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic missed a combined 22 games when the Hornets shocked the league by winning the Southwest Division and making it to the Conference Semifinals.  Last year, those five starters missed a combined 107 games.  The Hornets lost Jannero Pargo from that 2008 season but added James Posey.  The loss of Pargo proved to be substantial as the Hornets simply had no backcourt depth at all.  Posey also struggled with injuries last season and suffered an unfortunate elbow injury late in the season.  Quite frankly, injuries ruined any chances the Hornets had of improving on 2008's success.  The Hornets also lost a ton of money last season and their financial woes became a story in the league.  Reports about the Hornets being too expensive for the city of New Orleans were released.  At the deadline, the Hornets traded Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder for perennial bench players Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.  The trade was rescinded due to Chandler's toe injury, and the Hornets responded with a nice stretch of success when Chandler was moved back to the team.  But Chandler's injuries resurfaced and the rescinded trade only brought to light how bad the Hornets were in terms of financial standing. 

In 2008, George Shinn invested a lot into that squad.  He got an emberassing return as the Hornets were humiliated in the first round by the Denver Nuggets and entered an offseason of uncertainty.  But then one of the most unheralded general managers in the game, Jeff Bower, put the wheels into motion and eventually turned out a solid offseason.  Gone from last season are key contributors Tyson Chandler, Rasual Butler and Antonio Daniels.  Arriving are Emeka Okafor, Darius Songaila, Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton.  Given his strict limitations, Bower made talent upgrades and cost effective decisions at the same time and was able to field a competitive team for this season without killing Shinn's checkbook.  He and Byron Scott still don't have the most talented team in the league, but they're solid at every position and have a nice mix of young, core players and contributing veterans on the squad.

 PG: #3 Chris Paul (78 Games, 22.8 PPG, 11.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.8 SPG, 86.8 FT Pctg., 36.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.3 FG Pctg.) - Returning this season, hopefully fully healthy, is the unquestioned leader of this squad in point guard Chris Paul.  Paul's 2009 season was quietly one of the best in the league.  He again led the league in assists and also led the league in steals and triple doubles.  Paul, however, simply became a victim of having to do everything for this squad all of last season.  By the end of the season, he was ailed by knee and groin injuries and his performance in the postseason against Chauncey Billups really had him looking inferior.  But Paul is still the best point guard in this league and is still the guy who the Hornets have attached the hitch to.  He enters this season with a rapidly improving jump shot and three point shot and is almost unguardable when on his game.  Paul still may become a victim of having to do too much this season as well, but he shouldn't be called on to do everything for the squad. 

#2 Darren Collison (35 Games, 14.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 39.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.9 FG Pctg.)* - Collison enters this season as the Hornets first draft pick in two years.  Collison manned down the point guard position for the UCLA Bruins for four seasons and went to three Final Fours with the Bruins.  Collison is an ideal fit to backup Chris Paul and may become the Jannero Pargo hybrid guard that was missed last season.  Collison is tenacious on defense, can hit the three point shot and is incredibly fast.  His lack of size may have been a factor in why he dropped as late as he did in the draft, but Collison was a great find for the Hornets at 21.  At the time, the pick was criticized because of the team's lack of frontcourt depth.  But it has since grown on Hornets fans and Collison is a big reason for optimism around the fanbase and organization.  He may be bullied a bit because of his size and also will have the mandatory rookie learning curve, but he's learning from one of the best in the league and should fit in nicely backing up CP3.

 SG: #9 Morris Peterson (43 Games, 4.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 63.2 FT Pctg., 38.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.9 FG Pctg.) - With the departure of Rasual Butler, it looks as if Byron Scott will have no other option than to turn to Peterson to start once again this season.  That's not really a bad thing; Peterson did start on the Southwest Division Champion team in 2008.  But Peterson, even that season, hasn't truly delivered on that four year contract that the Hornets gave him to come and start at the shooting guard position.  Injuries and inconsistency forced Scott to push Peterson down to the end of the bench and he hardly played any factor in the stretch run for New Orleans.  Given his contract and his previous production as a starter, it looks as if Peterson will regain the job he lost last year.  But with rookie Marcus Thornton breathing down his neck, there won't be that much room for error for Peterson. 

#23 Devin Brown (63 Games, 5.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 78.0 FT Pctg., 28.9 3PT FG Pctg., 35.5 FG Pctg.) - Brown exercised his player option and is now set to return for  his third year in the last four with the Hornets.  Brown never really got into a rhythym last year and Byron Scott never seemed to trust him as he did during the Hornets last season in Oklahoma City.  Brown is versatile and can really play either the 1, 2 or 3 spot on the floor for the Hornets.  He improved his three point shot last season but seemed to shoot it too much.  But with the thin frontcourt depth for the Hornets, Brown will really be looked upon to contribute at both the point guard and shooting guard positions.  Given that it's a contract year as well, Brown will really have to impress to guarantee a job for the following season.

#5 Marcus Thornton (35 Games, 21.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 74.5 FT Pctg., 38.8 3PT FG Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.) - Thornton is the Hornets second round draft pick and is a local product coming out of LSU.  The Hornets spent a 2nd round pick on another LSU product a few years back, Brandon Bass, and simply let him go to become a more productive player for a rival squad.  The Hornets seem to really love Thornton's ability and he's an extremely talented player.  He can score from all areas of the floor and is adept at attacking the basket.  However, there's not much to his game that separates him from your typical shooting guard and that's why he fell as late as he did in the draft.  With the short depth at the shooting guard position, Thornton will see minutes that Byron Scott normally wouldn't give to such a raw rookie.  That can either make or break him and it's crucial that he stay dedicated to his trade.  Thornton can be a really good player for the Hornets or just another forgotten player in a couple of seasons.

# Bobby Brown (68 Games, 5.3 PPG, 79.1 FT Pctg., 34.6 3PT FG Pctg., 39.2 FG Pctg.) - Brown was acquired in the Darius Songaila trade and also spent some time with the Hornets summer camp team back in 2008.  Brown had an OK season last year splitting time with Sacramento and Memphis.  He can score the basketball but may not be able to do much else for the Hornets.  Even though frontcourt depth is thin, it doesn't make much sense to carry four shooting guards and therefore I'm uncertain whether or not Brown will make the final squad.

 SF: #16 Peja Stojakovic (61 Games, 13.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 89.4 FT Pctg., 37.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.9 FG Pctg.) - Coming off an impressive 2008 season, Stojakovic came into the season last year with more than a few expectations.  He bombed miserably last year with injuries and an inconsistent shot really hurting the team.  Also, given the fact that Scott is insistent on man to man defense, Stojakovic routinely got pushed around by the bigger, better wing men of the league.  As a result, a lot of people jumped to bash the same guy they cheered for a year earlier, but that's sports for you.  Stojakovic had an offseason to rest following his back injury last season, but this is a repeated problem for Stojakovic.  You start to wonder at his age and height, whether or not a back injury will ever fully heal.  He'll be the starter by default again, but I'm not certain he can regain his 2008 form and whether or not he can stay healthy again this season.

#41 James Posey (75 Games, 8.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 82.2 FT Pctg., 36.9 3PT FG Pctg., 41.2 FG Pctg.) - Posey's acquisition last season was met with much fanfare.  Given that he was a player with championship pedigree, a tough, clutch and gritty player of his caliber was supposed to help turn the inexperienced Hornets into a team with a swagger.  That never did happen last season and it really wasn't because of any kind of complacency from Posey.  He really tried last year but I think too much was expected from a player of his caliber because of the 24 million dollar pricetag that he came in with.  Posey will again be the primary backup this season off of the bench for the Hornets and should come in motivated to silence critics of his performance last season.

#32 Julian Wright (54 Games, 4.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 56.7 FT Pctg., 46.6 FG Pctg.) - Julian Wright had an extremely promising 2008 season and a lot was expected of last season.  But with the acquisition of Posey, Wright seemed to be the odd man out at the small forward position and, as a result, really dissapointed last season (which seems to be a recurring theme for the team and its players).  Wright showed some promise late in the season when Stojakovic got hurt and he started at the small forward position.  But his jump shot faltered last season and he found himself in and out of the rotation.  Unless Stojakovic gets hurt, Wright may have trouble cracking the lineup again but he has to show more when given game time anyways.  If his jumpshot improves enough, there's a possibility he could play at shooting guard given the lack of depth.  But Wright's increased minutes will have to come with dedication and improvement.  No matter what Hornets fans say, Byron Scott should not give this guy anything.  Wright should earn all of his time.

 PF: #30 David West (76 Games, 21.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 88.4 FT Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.) - David West showed that his 2008 season was not a fluke last year, as he and Chris Paul really made the Hornets a two man squad late last season.  He again wore down at the end of the year and really dissapointed against Kenyon Martin in the postseason.  But West is still the second option here in New Orleans and is a welcome face for fans.  In the offseason, some people felt that the only way the Hornets could get rid of either Peja or Tyson Chandler's contract would be if they packaged the relatively cheap West with them.  But Bower found a way to move Chandler without moving West and West remains the power forward for the Hornets.  West's jump shot went from being an asset to a crutch last season and his FG Pctg. suffered as a result.  However, it was revealed that West never fully recovered from the back injury that hindered him in 2008.  So that will obviously deter you from mixing it up down in the paint.  With the acquisition of Okafor, West may be not be asked to go down to the paint so much, but his game could become too soft if he does nothing but shoot jumpers.  So the Hornets need more muscle and grit from West this year.

# Darius Songaila (77 Games, 7.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 88.9 FT Pctg., 53.2 FG Pctg.) - Picked up in a trade with the Timberwolves for Antonio Daniels, Songaila is kind of expensive for a player of his talents but is still a solid bench player for the Hornets.  His size, grit, and effort has made him a fan favorite everywhere he's been and I expect much of the same here in New Orleans.  He immediately becomes the team's primary backup in the frontcourt and can really help speed the game up when he's on the floor.  Songaila isn't going to blow you away much on a game to game basis, but he rarely dissapoints either.  You know what you're going to get from him, and consistency is something that would be valued coming off the bench in New Orleans.

#1 Ike Diogu (29 Games, 4.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 80.4 FT Pctg., 50.1 FG Pctg.) - Coming on the heels of the Okafor trade, Diogu was quietly signed to shore up the frontcourt by New Orleans.  Diogu has always been an interesting prospect.  He can really score the basketball and showed that in college.  As a lottery pick by the Warriors, Diogu was considered a good acquisition by the Pacers but dissapointed in Indiana.  He sat on the bench last year for the Trail Blazers and Kings last year, but right at the end of the year finished with back to back games scoring 32 and 28 points respectively.  The Hornets picked him up and this is another chance to prove himself for Diogu.  If he can score, he'll see a huge increase in minutes because nobody on the Hornets bench can really light up the scoreboard.  So if Diogu shows that kind of capability, we'll see what happens.  If not, we'll hardly see him at all.

 C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 13.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59.3 FT Pctg., 56.1 FG Pctg.) - Here is the Hornets biggest acquisition this offseason.  Okafor steps in immediately and starts for the departed Tyson Chandler.  Given that he started in all 82 games last season and is every bit of, if not better, the defender that Tyson Chandler is, this is a great move for the Hornets.  A healthy player at the center position will be a welcome change of pace for New Orleans.  Okafor is a good athlete for his position but his love for the game was questioned in Charlotte.  Player with Chris Paul should help all of that for Okafor and should also do wonders for his points production.  The defense, blocked shots and rebounding will be welcomed in New Orleans.  He still may be undersized at the center position, but he's penciled in there for New Orleans for this year most definitely.

# 12 Hilton Armstrong (70 Games, 4.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 63.3 FT Pctg., 56.1 FG Pctg.) - Armstrong, a former lottery pick for the Hornets, has largely dissapointed in his three seasons with the organization.  But now is the time for Armstrong to step up and prove that he's a capable center for the Hornets.  He's shown flashes of brilliance and flashes of stupidity and last season was the biggest mixed bag of all.  As a result of his mediocritiy, Armstrong routinely lost minutes and his spot in the rotation.  But he's the more talented of the two backups at center and will be given another chance to prove his worth.  Armstrong can be one of the best backup big men in this league if he showed any kind of effort or dedication but too often dissapears on the court.  An aggressive side and dedication can be taught, but there's no guarantee it will stick with Armstrong.

#4 Sean Marks (60 Games, 3.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 68.2 FT Pctg., 48.5 FG Pctg.) - The polar opposite of Armstrong, Marks was brought onto the squad last season as a good locker room guy to shore up the roster and show off his championship ring.  But with injuries and Scott's reluctance to play Arstrong and Melvin Ely, Marks found himself as a regular in Scott's rotation.  His hustle, effort and hard nosed play were welcome on the court but Marks simply isn't talented enough to be taken seriously as a backup big man in this league.  But, because of his cheap price tag and because of the good impression he made with the team last year, he finds himself back in the locker room this season.  Hopefully, we don't see too much of Marks, because that will mean that Armstrong has finally lived up to his potential. 

Coach: Byron Scott - Scott's job came into question last year after the 58 point home loss in game four of the first round against the Nuggets.  But Scott, the 2008 NBA Coach of the Year, returns to New Orleans and I'm happy about that.  He's been to two NBA Finals and lead a really impressive turnaround in New Orleans in his first four seasons, but really made questionable moves last year.  Hornets fans were impatient with his reluctance to give minutes to Julian Wright and his insistence of putting Sean Marks on the floor for substantial minutes.  But people need to understand that Scott played with the hand he was dealt last year.  If you look at last year's squad, production, and the amount of injuries that the Hornets suffered, a 47 win season and a postseason apperance were not dissapointments in New Orleans.  A lot was expected, but you can hardly blame Scott for last season's dissapointment.  But he's on shaky ground now so if the Hornets struggle again, critics may start chirping again.  Scott's confidence can come across as being stubborn and arrogant, but he's a proven player and coach and shouldn't be blamed for last season's dissapointment.  But we all know this is a business and that coaches get fired all the time.  I just hope it doesn't happen here in New Orleans.

All things considered, the Hornets have a solid bunch heading into this season.  With one of the best players in the league in Chris Paul leading the way, the Hornets are almost guaranteed to make the postseason.  A southwest division championship wouldn't be farfetched, but the Larry O'Brien Trophy may be.  The Hornets have a talented squad but really don't have the depth to make a true run at a title.  Too many people will be looked at to "step it up" and not enough will be asked to "keep it up".  There's a lot of unproven talent on the bench and the Hornets need to find a way to make those guys into stars if they want to win a championship.  But this team will not fall victim to the mediocre and complacent ways of last season.  This is a bunch designed to play hard and dedicate themselves to victory every game.  That's a great attitude to have going forward, but they still need more talent.

Prediction: 49-33

* Denotes college statistics
Posted on: April 8, 2009 3:16 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: New Orleans Hornets

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team, after some heroics last night, clinched a playoff spot for the second consecutive season: the New Orleans Hornets.

Strengths
When you speak of the Hornets, the first thing that comes to mind (and rightfully so) is starting point guard Chris Paul.  Paul has been the motor for the Hornets the past two seasons, and as a result of his performance they're in the playoffs for the second straight season.  Paul has always been the quintessential point guard, making the right play for a teammate in the right position and ensuring involvement from all in the offense.  Coach Byron Scott, a coach who has been to the NBA finals before, knows to let Paul control the offense, and Paul does so very effeciently.  This year, Paul has improved on both his jump shot and also on the defensive end of the court.  Along with Paul's emergence as a defender, and also the acquisition of good team defenders with championship experience in James Posey, Antonio Daniels and Devin Brown has been the Hornets emergence as a defensive force in the NBA.

This year, the Hornets have elevated their status as a defensive team, and are in the top five in the league in terms of points allowed.  Byron Scott knows what it takes to win a championship, having won three as a player with the Lakers.  The Hornets have been criticized for slowing the game down a lot this year, and some say playing away from their strengths, but when games slow down in the playoffs this year the Hornets will be adept at playing that style and won't look as desperate as they did last year when the games slowed down and got more physical.  One thing that's most important to the half court offense is effecient jump shooters and the Hornets have plenty of those in fellow All Star David West and capable three point shooters in Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, and Paul.  Also, because of their style of play, the Hornets have shown that they can win anywhere in the NBA, boasting a 21-17 road record.

Weaknesses
Because the Hornets go as Paul goes, it's no secret that the Hornets have an uncanny overreliance on Chris Paul when they're on the floor.  In moments where Paul goes to the bench, the offense looks stagnant, predictable and boring and it shows in the Hornets 2nd quarter point totals.  David West is capable of masking Paul's absence on the court, but his back injury has limited his effectiveness in the paint this year and he seems to have fallen in love with the jump shot that was merely a weapon last year.  West's infatuation with the 20 foot jump shot is the prime example of a Hornets squad that simply cannot score in the paint.  They have players that can finish around the basket, but aside from West and the rarely used Melvin Ely, Sean Marks, Hilton Armstrong, and Ryan Bowen aren't going to become focuses of the defense with their back to the basket game.

One of the biggest reasons why the Hornets struggle so much in the paint is because of the absence of Tyson Chandler for the majority of this season.  The Hornets record when Chandler plays is strikingly better than that with him out of the lineup, but unfortunately his injury looks like it will prevent him from playing in the postseason, or playing effectively in the playoffs, this season.  A big reason for the Hornets surge last year was health, and this year has been the complete opposite.  Paul's nursing an injured groin, West is nursing an injured back, Chandler an ankle, Stojakovic a back, and Peterson has barely played this year with a bad leg.  Last season's starters have missed a total of 101 games this season, as opposed to 22 being missed between the five last season.  Posey's recent elbow troubles have also highlighted a huge problem for the Hornets, a serious lack of depth.  None of the second unit players are very reliable scoring the basketball aside from Posey, and he's not necessarily in the game to score.  They have great defensive depth, but they don't have anyone who can score off of the bench.

Why They Will Win It
The Hornets go as far as Chris Paul brings them, and he's one of the most consistent and effecient players in the game.  He and David West have been incredibly reliable this year and really have carried this squad to where it is.  The ressurection of Rasual Butler this year gives the Hornets a shooting guard that can play huge minutes and who is a more reliable option offensive and defensively than Morris Peterson was last season.  Also, this is a team that has experience from last season's squad, and also the addition of players like Posey, Daniels, Brown, Marks and Ely who have all previously won championships as well.  In addition to having a coach who has succeeded as both a player and at his current position, the Hornets are a disciplined, dedicated squad and they give themselves a chance to win every game. 

Why They Won't Win It
As reliable as Paul and West are, there isn't a third player on this team that is reliable at all.  To win a championship, you need at least a handful of players that are playing great basketball in order to carry you through four rounds of the postseason.  Injuries may have prevented the Hornets from developing any kind of groove and probably is the biggest reason why the squad has no consistent third option, seeing as how Peja was that player last year.  A lack of depth and a lack of frontcourt players can't be masked in the postseason and the Hornets have to work extra hard to make up for that. 

Conclusion
The Hornets are a team that's built for the postseason.  If Chandler does come back, they have a squad that plays great defense, is effecient shooting the basketball and has one of the best players in the game in Chris Paul and a player who never shies away from the big shots in David West.  However, a lack of depth and consistency has plagued the Hornets all season long, and there's not enough time to get everyone back and develop any kind of chemistry this season.  Injuries really hurt this team, and it's arguable that Scott and Paul have done a better job this year than they did last season.  However, it isn't conceivable that the Hornets can win a championship this year at less than full strength.  They're a team that can win a few playoff series, but just like last year, they're going to wear down and a lack of options is going to do this team in.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

Posted on: January 5, 2009 12:59 am
 

New Orleans Hornets Week 10 Review

"We get to the point where we're not playing real well, things aren't going our way and we just buckle down." Byron Scott always seems to know what I'm thinking when I watch the Hornets. It was a very successful, yet pretty quiet week this week in Hornets land. Save for a Tyson Chandler forearm to the face of Joel Przybilla, the week lacked a little but of punch. It was successful, though. The Hornets won two of the three games this week (and in the process had a four game winning streak snapped at Denver on Saturday night) and Chris Paul turned in, probably, his best week of basketball this season. That's saying something.

Even in the ridiculously awful two and a half quarter performance against the Nuggets, Hilton Armstrong looked fantastic and Peja Stojakovic, for the first time since his return from injury, seemed like the player he was last season. But going down 26 points in the 3rd quarter to a good team is unacceptable. They have to have better showings than those against great teams if you want to be taken with a bit of legitimacy. Even while the team came back to take the lead in that game with just over 2 minutes remaining, they exerted so much to gain that first lead that they had nothing to offer once it was obtained. All in all though, you can't be dissapointed.

The team toyed around too much with the Wizards but were able to eventually take advantage of a team that they robbed Antonio Daniels from. Seeing Mike James return was nice, especially when he received that technical for not being able to stay in front of Chris Paul. Losing Bobby Jackson for him wasn't all that bad, he did give us a viable backup point guard. Then, seeing the team recover and perform the way that they did once Tyson Chandler got ejected from the Portland game was awesome. With or without Brandon Roy, they played at Portland against a Trail Blazers team that had just upended the Celtics earlier in the week. It was no easy task. The defense as a collective unit has been tremendous this year and that, along with having Chris Paul and a steady David West as options in the clutch, will give the Hornets many opportunities in critical games.

Upcoming for the Hornets this week is another critical test against the Lakers (maybe they can try not to lose by double digits) and a visit to the hated Jazz in Salt Lake City. They finish up the week with a home game against the Clippers. All in all, this week is important for the Hornets. They've looked good against good teams and bad against good teams. It's important they build a sense of confidence before the postseason so that they can remain a legitimate threat for all teams. At the moment, you're going to get good wins and bad losses with this squad. They need confidence, they need an identity and they need legitimacy. This week is huge in building both. Until next week.

Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:45 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through December 28, 2008

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) - The Cavaliers rallied for an impressive win against Miami today and remain the only team this season to be undefeated at home.  They hold home court admirably and they also are getting fantastic play out of Mo Williams lately.  This team is playing a consistent brand of basketball, and although the assortment of players and the list of victories doesn't blow you away, they are the hottest team so far this season and they play fantastic defense and win basketball games at home.  Those are three qualities of great teams.

2. Boston Celtics (1) - I know with two losses this week you could make arguments about them falling behind either Orlando or the Lakers, but they still have the best record in the league and last week people were questioning when exactly this team was going to lose.  They had a tough western swing but the Celtics are still the best team in the league.  I think it would be entirely irrational to drop them too far down the list.

3. Orlando Magic (3) - The Magic are the second hottest team in the league right now and are frequently blowing teams out of the arena.  That performance against New Orleans on Christmas day was impressive.  Getting Mickael Pietrus back from injury is going to help this team immensely in the near future.  They continue to perform at a high level regardless of doubts concerning their ability to consistently perform at this level.  Currently, they're at this level so I can't drop them.

4. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - The Lakers gained an emotional and emphatic triumph over Boston on Christmas day in one of the most anticipated regular season games in recent memory.  Kobe Bryant, as of late, has been playing near his MVP level from last season and the Lakers have to love what they're getting out of players like Sasha Vujacic as of late.  They've seemed to turn the corner on the difficult stretch that they seemingly were having and inner turmoil over their defense had to be addressed with that performance against Boston.  They clearly are the best current team in the Western Confrence.

5. Atlanta Hawks (6) - Joe Johnson is playing at an amazing level currently and this Hawks team is clicking on both sides of the basketball.  Their quick start has proved to not be a fluke as they continue to play great basketball even going into January.  The team may lack true depth at the point guard position, but Johnson runs the offense so much that it masks that problem.  Overall, Mike Woodson has this team playing at an unbelievable level.

6. San Antonio Spurs (10) - Tony Parker has elevated his game to an unbelievable level this season.  His offensive game is as polished as any point guards in the league.  That shot from Roger Mason was huge on Christmas day and Tim Duncan is quietly having an unbelievable season.  Matt Bonner has really slowed as of late, and as a result I look for the Spurs to look for some inside scoring around the trade deadline.  Knowing them, they'll find a team to give them an outcast and I look at Eddy Curry (don't laugh) as being someone who could fit in good with the Spurs.  But they need another force in the paint to take some pressure off of Tim Duncan.

7. Denver Nuggets (9) - The team played great basketball without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup and then carried it over with a big win at Madison Square Garden today when Carmelo returned.  This team continues to stay around the top and are getting fantastic production out of J.R. Smith as of late.  Kenyon Martin has shown flashes of the player we all loved in New Jersey as of late but it's a shame that a lot of his explosiveness has limited him.  He had the potential to be a really, really good player in his career.

8. Portland Trail Blazers (7) - They're getting production out of Brandon Roy, but they have to love the contributions they're getting night in and night out from players like Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla as those types of role players are what help a team become a consistent threat night in and night out. 

9. New Orleans Hornets (5) - Their performances against Los Angeles and Orlando revealed they still have not yet turned that corner and become a really good team.  They're still playing maddingly inconsistent basketball but Peja Stojakovic and Antonio Daniels returned this week and that is reason enough for optimism in New Orleans.

10. Houston Rockets (8) - Ron Artest has been great off of the bench since his return from injury and I look for the Rockets to continue to play him at that spot.  Tracy McGrady has been really inconsistent this season and continues to be in and out of lineups with nagging injuries.  It's a shame he could indirectly ruin the best chance the Rockets have had at a championship since Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen were wearing Rockets uniforms. 

11. Dallas Mavericks (12) - The Mavericks are playing tremendous basketball as of late and have gotten past that slow start to develop into a fun, cohesive unit.  That suspension for Dirk Nowitzki is laughable but it didn't stop them from being the lowly Clippers.  I know Jason Kidd's numbers are down, and he's not the player he once was, but I feel as if he's delivering so far this season for Dallas.  No he's not the player that Devin Harris is but he's done a fine job keeping this team together this season and they're slowly getting healthy as well.  The Mavericks have played above expectations so far this season and it'll be intersting to see them continue to try and do so. 

12. Utah Jazz (11) - Injuries to Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap have held this team back and they've still yet to field a consistent and healthy squad for an extended period of time so that we can fairly evaluate the legitimacy of this Utah squad this season.  Overall, I believe Jerry Sloan has done a fantastic job keeping this unit at where they're at even though they can't get continuity in the lineup.

13. Phoenix Suns (13) - The Suns had one game this week and lost it but they played strongly against the Spurs on Christmas day.  They're winning games and at this rate will put up a soild record for the season but they don't seem to have any sort of spark to them this season that makes them feel like a legitimate threat to a team in a seven game series.  Amare Stoudemire, for all the talent that he posseses, is becoming a quiet 20 point 8 rebound guy and you never want to fall into that category.

14. Miami Heat (14) - A tough loss at Cleveland is the only problem the Heat have experienced the past couple of weeks.  Their defense keeps them in every single game and they find ways to hang around and win ball games.  Jamaal Magloire would be a nice boost to this team if he could ever get consistently healthy but I don't know if that's in his capabilities any longer.

15. Detroit Pistons (15) - The Pistons found ways to beat bad teams this week and it's still a step in the right drection.  They've been around .500 since acquiring Allen Iverson but they've still got time to right the ship and become a threat come the postseason.  But looking at the energy of this squad, you have to wonder if they will. 

16. New Jersey Nets (18) - The Nets still refuse to go away.  Devin Harris and Vince Carter, night in and night out, carry this squad and keep them playing at a competitive level.  Brook Lopez has done a fine job and has settled in nicely at the starting center position but I think this team still lacks the overall talent to stay in the playoff race all season long.  But they've exceeded expecations so far this season so it's not outside of the realm of possibility for this team to stay at this level.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks continue to stick around regardless of a lack of fanfare or consistency.  Michael Redd has struggled a tad this season and Richard Jefferson's game has dropped a bit as of late but Andrew Bogut has done a great job keeping this team afloat.  I'd also like to give some kudos to Charlie Villanueva for being voted the world's sexiest bald man, giving the Bucks their first player to win an award in the past couple of decades.  Congratulations!

18. Chicago Bulls (16) - This squad, much like the team in Utah, continues to deal with inconvenient injuries and have not yet fielded a consistently healthy squad.  Everyone can't seem to get cohesive on this team because of the injury problems.  Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon have done a great job of keeping this team together but overall they are a perimeter based squad and unfortunately, when shots don't fall they have no shot of victory and that won't hold up all season long.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - I've been wanting to say it the past few weeks so I will give credit this week, Marreese Speights has done a great job this season, especially in the recent absence of Elton BrandAndre Iguodala has shown flashes of the player that he was last season but overall he and this squad have vastly underacheived this season. 

20. Memphis Grizzlies (23) - I wonder what happened to Marc Gasol to see his minutes being reduced as the season has progressed.  Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo are nightly constants for this young squad and they finally have a sense of direction in Memphis for the first time since the first season they made the playoffs in 2003-2004. 

21. Golden State Warriors (24) - The Warriors had a very impressive victory over Boston this week that was quickly forgotten after their performance against the Lakers tonight.  Stephen Jackson has been playing better as of late but this team still misses Monta EllisCorey Maggette was a questionable addition when he signed with Golden State and word is the Warriors are listening to offers for the swingman.  His contract may make it hard for him to be moved, but I don't believe it's going to work for him in Golden State.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (25) - Emeka Okafor has played great as of late, giving the Bobcats a consistent threat at the center position that they've lacked majorly this season.  Boris Diaw gives him a body to work with down in the paint and Raja Bell has finally picked up his play after being traded from Phoenix.  They're playing good, hard basketball at the moment and still have time to salvage the season by making a late season push for the playoffs.

23. Toronto Raptors (26) - The Raptors, mainly spearheaded by Jermaine O'Neal, responded in a big way this week after that dreadful previous couple of weeks that they played.  This team still is a question mark as to whether or not they're going to right things this year but there's no denying how tough it's been to get a grip on this team.

24. New York Knicks (20) - The Knicks were never known for their defense even before the arrival of Mike D'Antoni, but the laziness on the defensive side of the ball has quickly spread in that locker room and has since grown to become a laughable ailment for this team.  The team doesn't even try to guard you, which is what keeps them from pulling potential upsets over better squads.

25. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers have yet to really get it together this season and after spending all season waiting for them to do so, I've finally come to the conclusion that it just may not happen.  Mike Dunleavy has started to become more active after missing all season due to injury but I believe it's outside of his capabilities to turn this season around in Indiana.  I said Brandon Rush would be a rookie to look out for this season and in turn he's played very underwhelming basketball this season. 

26. Los Angeles Clippers (21) - The Clippers are such a Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hide squad.  You have no idea if they're going to be competitive or susceptible to being blown out.  They've recently given minutes to raw project DeAndre Jordan as of late and you have to wonder what that spells for oft injured but extremely talented center Chris Kaman with the now recently crammed frontcourt in Clipper land.

27. Sacramento Kings (27) - Their offense is so anemic without Kevin Martin in the lineup and I'm tired of waiting for him to come back and make this team competitive again.  It has to be dissapointing that after such a strong season last year this team has played at the level it has this season, but injuries and inconsistency within the organization can derail a team on the rise and that's exactly what's happened to this identity-less team.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves finally got a victory for coach Kevin McHale this week but still lack any true power on their squad.  Rashad McCants and Ryan Gomes are two pieces of this team that would truly flourish on better squads but they basically serve no purpose for this horrible team.  If you look at the current roster, you can't even say that they're rebuilding.  They don't have any young projects in place aside from Al Jefferson.  They're just an assortment of bad players.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - Now that Caron Butler is injured (and we all saw that coming), Antawn Jamison is all alone now as far as options for the Wizards.  He was good enough for a victory over Oklahoma City but there's not much more he can do for this squad.  He's played unbelievable basketball but it will and should go largely unnoticed around the league because this franchise is so poorly operated.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - I looked at the Thunder playing Joe Smith at the center position with concern but after looking at the level of center play around the league, I guess it's a gamble for the worst roster in the league.  Nick Collison's injury obviously doesn't help matters but for the most part it really doesn't matter.  I don't see Joe Smith (who would be a nice fit in San Antonio) or Desmond Mason finishing February in Oklahoma City jerseys.

Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:40 am
 

New Orleans Hornets Week 9 Review

In a word: dissapointing. That's about all you can say concerning this week for the Hornets. An extremely strong effort against the Rockets on Friday night couldn't help mask the fact that the team underperformed in the other three games of the week. I don't even know where to start in regards to the Christmas day game at Orlando. In the Hornets case, it's a nationally televised game against a very good Magic team and you proceed to get destroyed in an absolutely embarassing game. The fact that they got ran on by the Lakers isn't worse than the fact that they got destroyed by the Magic on Christmas day.

Injuries are really biting this team but injuries are affecting everyone and the Hornets can't fall back on that as an excuse. The team's two best players, Chris Paul and David West, have not missed a game this season and it's crucial that this team not become complacent relying on them. Other players need to learn to stand up and I believe in due time it will happen, but they have to make more of an effort for it to happen.

Tyson Chandler looked fantastic on Yao Ming in the Houston game and, honestly, aside from the foul trouble in that Orlando game, he's played very well as of late. It's great to see him returning to more of his natural self (even if he's still struggling to do it on a consistent basis). Antonio Daniels, Hilton Armstrong, and Peja Stojakovic all missed games this week for the Hornets and all were sorely missed. With Daniels out, Chris Paul played huge minutes against the Lakers and was almost a non factor at Orlando on Christmas day. Obviously, Peja's absence has been detrimental to this team although he did return in time to play in today's victory at Indiana.

Overall, not much can be said about this week other than the first two games of this week, supposed tests for the Hornets, are completely forgettable performances and an impressive victory over the Rockets didn't carry over for a game in which the Hornets had to rally to overcome the Pacers. They're not playing bad basketball, but as Byron Scott said, they're nowhere near an elite team yet. That was the goal from the start of this season, and unless they start playing with more consistency and effort they're going to be stuck in this motion basically all season.

A home game against the Wizards, a team that beat the Hornets twice last season (both games without Gilbert Arenas or Caron Butler) is a nice game to start the week before the team starts a Western road trip at Portland and Denver. A tough road trip looms and it's important for the Hornets to start showing some teeth against these better teams. Until next week.

Posted on: December 15, 2008 1:43 am
 

New Orleans Hornets Week 7 Review

Alright, alright, alright people here it comes: I was wrong. But I was right in my wrongness. Before the season started I stated that Mike James would have to be a productive player and have to be the backup shooting guard for the Hornets as a result of his contract and the team's lack of depth behind Chris Paul at the position. I stated that the loss of Jannero Pargo was going to cripple the Hornets coming into the season (and said it before everyone else has now noticed it) but stated that James could put up Pargo numbers with Pargo's minutes. That's probably true for James over in Washington but he's not going to put those numbers up in New Orleans. Wednesday's trade for Antonio Daniels and a conditional 2nd round draft pick left Mike James in Washington and give the Hornets the backup point guard they need to be taken with a bit of legitimacy. Devin Brown has been servicable at the backup point guard position but it's clear he's playing out of position at that spot. Now that he's going to move back to his more natural 2 position, it looks as if he's played his way into the rotation: sending Morris Peterson and Julian Wright further down the bench.

Rasual Butler, an afterthought entering the season for most Hornets fans, has taken the starting job through Peterson's injury and has done the most with it this season, playing his way out of Byron Scott's doghouse and giving the Hornets an additional three point threat in the starting lineup. Wednesday's game against the Bobcats was a breeze for the Hornets. The only criticism that should be given to the team for that game would be on those awful New Orleans Buccaneers throwback jerseys. Please no more of those. But seeing as how the Hornets have lost to the Bobcats this season, it was nice to see them stare the opposition in the eye, know they were better than them and soundly show that they were better.

Friday night's game at Boston was encouraging despite the 94-82 loss. Moral losses aren't much for a team hoping to win a championship this season, but playing that way without Tyson Chandler proved that the team has a lot of heart and a lot of grit. But when you play a team as sound defensively as the Celtics are and you watch players consistently kill you on the offensive boards, you know that Chandler is missed. But let's be honest: Chandler's been missed all season. This new injury (a stiff neck) can join his ankle injury and back stiffness this season and continues to trouble the Hornets starting center. Something has not seemed right and you can only hope it's not serious and that he can still come back and be the player he was last season for the Hornets. Hilton Armstrong has stepped in strongly in his absence but his knack for picking up fouls has left Sean Marks playing double digit minutes the past few games. Nothing against Marks, I'd just rather him be a guy like Ryan Bowen, who comes in in garbage time and is a fun locker room presence. I don't like him taking Melvin Ely's minutes because Ely is more of an inside scorer, which is what you'd idealy want on the Hornets since players like David West tend to stay around the perimeter too much. But Ely has to earn his minutes and apparently Marks has earned them.

Speaking of David West, he saved himself from a lashing from yours truly with a strong performance today at Toronto. His shooting percentage this year is solid right around 50 percent but what was a great tool for him last season has turned into something he depends on this year. He's a great mid range jump shooter but you'd like to see him take it down to the low block a little bit more and use his agility and size to his advantage. The way he played against Chris Bosh today was very admirable and furthers the notion that the Hornets can win with him as the number two scorer.

James Posey has been great this week as well and especially today at Toronto, knocking down six three pointers in the win over the Raptors. He still has yet to get into a groove (in my eyes) but I think with time he'll be able to easily gain confidence in the rotation and be able to effortlessly contribute on a nightly, routine basis.

The Hornets continue their little road swing at Memphis on Tuesday before coming home to face the red hot Spurs on national television Wednesday night before hoping to exact revenge on the Kings Saturday night in New Orleans. Wednesday night's game will be huge for the Hornets as they don't want to develop habits of coming up short against the better teams (such as Friday's game at Boston). But they can't overlook a solid and streaking Grizzlies team on Tuesday. But the way they've been playing lately, Byron Scott seems to have this team's attention. And as we've seen in a league where five coaches have been fired already this season, having the attention of your team is a fantastic thing. Until next week.

Posted on: December 10, 2008 2:42 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2008 4:10 pm
 

New Orleans Hornets Land Antonio Daniels In Trade

It's a dream scenario here in Hornets land as they basically give up Mike James for Antonio Daniels in a three way deal.  Also involved in the deal are Javaris Crittenton joining Mike James in Washington with the Wizards, and the Grizzlies are receiving a first round draft pick that they originally gave to the Wizards in the Juan Carlos Navarro deal back in 2007.  The Hornets also land a conditional 2nd round draft pick from the Grizzlies. 

This is a fantastic move for the Hornets.  Antonio Daniels will be a solid backup to Chris Paul and while he's never been potent on offense, his defense and championship experience off of the bench will be a perfect balance for the offensive prowress that Chris Paul provides.  Along with James Posey, Devin Brown, Melvin Ely and Sean Marks he joins a bench that now boasts four players with championship rings (although Daniels and Posey are the only ones to play prominent roles in those championship runs while Brown was a nice contributor to the Spurs' 2005 run).  Antonio Daniels is going to be a great addition and unloading Mike James also does wonders for the team's salary cap: Daniels' contract should go up in the next year or two.

All in all, an under the radar tinker with the roster but altogether a great addition by the Hornets.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com