Tag:Marco Belinelli
Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:44 pm
 

The 2012 Hornets and How to Win Long Term

The 2008 New Orleans Hornets won 56 games, boasted one of the strongest young cores in the NBA, and came within a game of the Western Conference Finals.  They won often, fortified the presence of professional basketball in New Orleans, and, given the right moves, were on the verge of vaulting into a multi-year championship window.

Two years on, not a single member of that team is still a Hornet.  In fact, only one member of the 2010 side (Emeka Okafor) is still on the team in December 2011.  Rebuilding efforts are obviously common around the league, but 100% turnover in a two season span?  93% turnover over a one year stretch?  Not so much.  The Hornets tossed away their future core (Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton) in an effort to keep their then current core (Chris Paul, David West), a move, which despite its ultimate failure due to a number of reasons, is still vaguely defensible.  In between, the team also happened to pick up a new "owner", a new coach, and a new GM (and arguably two new GMs).

And now, on the start of this, the 24th season in the history of the franchise, we're face to face with a roster about as unfamiliar as the one that represented Charlotte on November 4th, 1988.  What does it all mean?  What will this team look like this year?  In 3 years?  In 5 years?

The Goal

The goal is to win an NBA championship.

Its obviousness might make it a rather inane point.  But the circus that was New Orleans' offseason, the uncertainty that surrounds the purchase 10,000 fans made in the last five months, and the prospect of the first superstar-less season for the Hornets in seven years, makes it easy, and even justifiable, to forget this.  Do they desperately need team ownership resolved?  Absolutely.  They need a real owner, they need a new lease on the New Orleans Arena, and they need the NBA-generated fan and corporate momentum to endure.  On the court though, the goal, as ridiculous or as remote as it may now look, remains the same - the eventual goal is to win an NBA championship.

Let's go a step further and quantify that - how close did the Hornets actually get with Chris Paul, and how far does the team now have to go without him?

NBA Finalists from 2002-2011 (Efficiency Differential)

2011 Dallas Mavericks (+4.7)
2011 Miami Heat (+8.2)
2010 Los Angeles Lakers (+5.1)
2010 Boston Celtics (+3.9)
2009 Los Angeles Lakers (+8.1)
2009 Orlando Magic (+7.3)
2008 Boston Celtics (+11.3)
2008 Los Angeles Lakers (+7.5)
2007 San Antonio Spurs (+9.3)
2007 Cleveland Cavaliers (+4.2)
2006 Miami Heat (+4.2)
2006 Dallas Mavericks (+6.8)
2005 San Antonio Spurs (+8.7)
2005 Detroit Pistons (+4.4)
2004 Detroit Pistons (+6.6)
2004 Los Angeles Lakers (+4.2)
2003 San Antonio Spurs (+5.9)
2003 New Jersey Nets (+5.7)
2002 Los Angeles Lakers (+7.7)
2002 New Jersey Nets (+4.5)

Here, "efficiency differential" refers to the difference between a team's offensive points/100 possessions and defensive points/100 possessions.  It's semantics, but this is also the same thing as the sum of how far from league average a team's offense is and how far from league average the same team's defense is.

Over the last decade, the above list shakes out to an average around +6 offensive points per 100 possessions minus defensive points per 100 possessions.  Efficiency differential varies from point differential by removing team pace from the equation.  Between two teams with identical efficiency differentials, the team with the faster pace will artificially have the higher point differential.

There's yearly variation based on conference strength, "weaker" teams breaking through, etc.  But ultimately, if you get to the +6 differential plateau, you're championship material.  You obviously don't have to get there; things like tons of prior playoff experience (2011 Dallas, 2010 Boston) play a role.  How you get there doesn't really matter either - you can play exceptional defense and mediocre offense (2004 Detroit), exceptional offense and bad defense (2001 Los Angeles), or mix and match between the two (2006 Miami).  But ultimately, +6 is a sign of a contending team.  It doesn't guarantee a title or even a Finals appearance.  But it guarantees a team that has a damn good chance.

+6 is the goal we now build towards. For the next few years, +6 needs to become the mantra.

How Close Were the Hornets with Chris Paul?

In hindsight, the Chris Paul years were amazing; as Hornets fans we were phenomenally lucky to have him, and he'll forever be a part of our history.  Due to injuries, poor roster construction, bad luck, and poor foresight, the Chris Paul years are now over.  But, based on the +6 paradigm, how close did the team actually get?

Chris Paul Era, Sorted by Efficiency Differential

2007-2008 (+5.8)
2008-2009 (+1.7)
2010-2011 (+1.0)
2006-2007 (-1.7)
2009-2010 (-2.7)
2005-2006 (-3.1)

The efficiency differential of 2007-2008 gives credence to the idea that that particular team was a piece or two away from greatness (<insert James Posey joke>).  It's also very clear from the rest of those numbers that in Chris Paul's six year stay, the Hornets had just one team that even remotely looked like it could do much.  For all of Paul's greatness, his supporting casts were just never that good.

By definition, league average efficiency differential is 0.  With Chris Paul, the Hornets finished below league average three times, and above it three times; yes, +6 was nearly achieved once, and yes, with a new owner and new management, the future perhaps looked like brightening.  But looking at it from Chris Paul's perspective, I think it's completely reasonable he decided he wanted out and, specifically, wanted out to a championship contender.  Are the Clippers that?  It remains to be seen, but their current setup would certainly appear to be better than the Hornets' 2005-2011.

We can break down Chris Paul's own individual numbers here too (and this will provide a good reference point for the Eric Gordon discussion, next).

During the 2007-2008 regular season, Paul used approximately 1450 offensive possessions, producing 1.25 points per possession (derived from his offensive efficiency (ORtg) of 125, including points and created shots for teammates).  The average points per possession value in the NBA was 1.075 that year and generally hovers around that mark.  So Paul produced, offensively, 0.175 more points per possession than the average NBA player.

Let's transfer that over to the original scale we were discussing - the one in which the concept of "+6" exists.  Over 100 possessions, that's a +17.5 differential above league average.  To make another very obvious statement - Chris Paul was amazingly, amazingly good at basketball in 2007-2008.

Some more simple math at this juncture:

The Hornets had about 7372 offensive possessions in 2007-2008.  20% of those ended with a Chris Paul shot, free throw, turnover, or assist, and of those 20%, the Hornets had the aforementioned +17.5 differential.  Keep in mind that we're talking only offense here.  +6 can be achieved through any combination of offense and defense; it could be +3 offense above the league average offense and +3 defense above the league average defense, +7 offense and -1 defense, or +0 offense and +6 defense, and so forth.

By using 20% of possessions at a +17.5 clip, Paul contributed a net +3.5 differential to the team; in other words, Paul's offense alone in 2007-2008 took the team more than halfway to championship contention status.

Now let's say we know we have a +3 defense (or +3 above the league average defense), and we needed the team to be +3 on offense (or +3 above the league average offense) to reach +6.  We know Paul used 20% of possessions at +17.5; we can then find out what the remaining 80% of possessions need to be, efficiency wise, to reach the mark.  In this case, with 20% of possessions at +17.5, the remaining 80% would need to be converted at a -0.625 differential (or close to league average of 0) in order to have a highly functional +3 offense.

In reality, the 2007-2008 Hornets actually finished at a +4 on offense, buoyed by strong contributions from David West and Tyson Chandler.  The Byron Scott-led defense finished at a +1.8 differential, the 7th best mark in the league.

Chris Paul's offensive involvement declined tremendously in 2010-2011, post-surgery.  However, the main drop-off in his offense came not in his points/possession (which dropped from 1.25 in 2008 to 1.22), but rather, the total number of possessions used.  He used approximately 1450 in 2008, 1500 in 2009, but only about 1100 last year.

1100 possession was only 15% of the team's total, as opposed to the 20% figure of 2007-2008.  As a result, the burden of achieving a higher positive offensive differential shifted to other players on the roster.  By eschewing the ball as much as he did, Paul forced unfathomably worse offensive players (Willie Green and Trevor Ariza come to mind) into using more possessions at terrible differentials.  The passive Chris Paul disappeared in the playoffs of course, replaced by the amazing Chris Paul of old.  But his possession drop-off in 2011 is still worth remembering nonetheless.

In 2007-2008, the rest of the roster required just that -0.625 offensive differential amongst themselves to get halfway to the +6 mark.  In 2010-2011, that number jumped all the way to 1.6 due to Paul's passivity.

Where are the Hornets now?

Most statistical projections will have the Hornets floundering around the bottom of the Conference this year, in line to pick up an excellent lottery choice in the 2012 draft. To the "eye test," that may or may not be a reasonable assessment; because nobody's seen this team really play together, the "eye test" is a tough one to refute, whatever its conclusions.  So let's dig a little deeper than that. 

The Eric Gordon Effect

Of the current roster, Eric Gordon is far and away the most likely player to still be present on the next contender that New Orleans puts together.  Rosters don't remain static, especially when they're headed by a GM as active as Dell Demps; Gordon, barring complications with his rookie contract extension, is far too talented to be moved before the team has a chance to build around him.

Gordon has a chance to develop into a superstar player, though for now, his impact is obviously significantly less than that of Paul's.

Last year, Gordon produced 1.12 points per possession, using 1082 possessions.  That's an offensive differential of 4.7 above league average, obviously a far, far cry from Chris Paul's 17.5 of 2007-2008.  That's the difference between a sure-fire Hall of Famer and a player gunning for a future All-Star berth.

Gordon only played 56 games last year, so if we propagate Gordon's usage through a full year (an exercise which obviously raises questions of its own, namely can Gordon be this good over an entire season?), Gordon would have used about 20% of the Clippers' total possessions last year.  Bringing back the +3 offensive differential above average goal once more, that would require the rest of his teammates to be +2.6 above average on offense through the rest of their possessions - obviously a huge ask.  Where Paul's 2007-2008 season saw him add +3.5 to the +6 goal by himself offensively, Gordon's 2010-2011, if we projected it out to 82 games, would add about +1.0.

The fact is, the next iteration of the Hornets will need to be a far more balanced offensive side than the teams we saw during the Chris Paul era in order to have success.

The Monty Williams Effect

You'll notice that to this point, any discussion of defense has been completely excluded.  Paul was a great defender; so is Eric Gordon.  There's probably an interesting debate to be had about the relative merits of each as a team's primary perimeter defender.  But the more instructive discussion here is probably a more overarching one - a look at how the Hornets played defense as a team in 2010-2011 and what that means going forward.

In Year 1, Monty Williams had his team playing top-5 level defense for large stretches of the season.  Various injuries to Paul, Emeka Okafor, and others eventually pushed the Hornets down to the 10th best defensive team in the league.  But Williams clearly has an exceptional understanding of how to funnel playmakers towards defensive help; that, perhaps more than anything, was his biggest strength as a coach in 2011.  We saw Emeka Okafor become a strong defensive anchor in the paint as Ariza and Paul systematically fed him offensive players on their own terms, and Williams' frequent use of zone defense was another component of this defensive style.

The Hornets finished last year with a +2.1 defensive differential above league average (using "positive" as a plus here, and "negative" as a bad sign, though that's obviously flipped in terms of the scoreboard) despite a tremendous amount of roster shuffling, a season ending injury to a critical big, and the presence of a very poor defender (Marco Belinelli) in the starting five.

The big questions for the Hornets defensively in 2011-2012 will come at point guard (Jarrett Jack) and power forward (Carl Landry).  However, the team makes a huge defensive upgrade at the 2-guard.  The Chris Paul-Jarrett Jack combination was the Hornets' most successful backcourt last year (by point differential) in part due to Belinelli's shortcomings at the position.  Obviously, Ariza and Okafor return to the roster.  It's not inconceivable at all for the Hornets to finish in the top 15 of defensive efficiency this season.  Even if the offensive talent isn't there, Monty Williams will have his players defending on every possession.

A defensive differential ranging between 0 and +1 to +1.5 isn't at all unreasonable to expect this year.

More importantly, Monty Williams' defensive abilities are very important going forward, especially in light of the +6 goal.  The 2012 draft is absolutely loaded with defensive talent.  Our plus defense will ostensibly allow us to inch further up the positive point differential without requiring as much offensive talent.  So in that sense, even the most die-hard "tank" advocate should be rooting as hard as possible for the Hornets' defense this season.  Sure, we may be getting new players in the near future, but the value of the fundamental defensive base everything is built around will become more clear over the next 66 games regardless.

The team

I won't go too heavily into analyzing each individual player - just my quick notes on them and my projection, based on past value and current role.

Additionally, this is an offensive look at the roster; as noted above, I expect the defensive side of the ball to shake out somewhere between a +1 and 0 differential.

Jarrett Jack

Jack struggled tremendously in his first month as a Hornets, but eventually began to rebound.  It's key to note that Jack has been an NBA starter in the past, notably starting 43 and 53 games for Toronto and Indiana in 2010 and 2009.  In those seasons, Jack posted offensive efficiencies (points per 100 possessions) of 116 and 107.  With the Hornets, that figure fell to 104 in a backup role.

This year, I see him rebounding at least to league average (~107.5) again.

Projected Possessions Used: 12% (of team)
Projected Differential: 0

Eric Gordon

Gordon's health will be tracked closely; over the last three seasons, Gordon has actually played fewer games than Chris Paul.  The main difference we'll see from 2010 Gordon and 2011 Gordon figures to be overall usage.  Gordon's defense is excellent, and Monty Williams won't have the "Marcus Thornton" problem with him; on the other side of the ball, Monty will have very few creative options - Carl Landry (and Jarrett Jack on a good day) figure to be chief among those.

I conservatively don't see Gordon's overall offensive efficiency increasing too much - he'll be taking on a much bigger possession load, and defensively, opponents can focus in on him every single night without too many repercussions.  Gordon's ORtg was 112 a year ago (a differential of +4.7).  If he'd stayed healthy, he was on pace to use 20% of the Clippers' total offensive possessions.

Projected Possessions Used: 23%
Projected Differential: +5

Trevor Ariza

Oh, Trevor Ariza.  Long one of the league's most underrated players, then perhaps its most overrated, and now, just a depressing one, at least offensively.

Last year, Ariza produced a hilarious -10.3 differential (yes, that is NEGATIVE 10.3).  I don't see it being quite that bad this year, simply because his 2010-2011 was one of the worst offensive showings in the history of the NBA and, happily, doesn't seem that repeatable.  He used just 12% of Hornets' possessions though, a figure which looks to increase without Chris Paul.

Projected Possessions Used: 15%
Projected Differential: -8

Carl Landry

Tooth returns this year, for another year of great PaintShops and, hopefully, a year of shot attempts a bit closer to the hoop.  Landry is easily one of the NBA's best finishers with his array of hesitations and shot fakes so hopefully he'll eschew the midrange game for a more drive-heavy one this year.

In the last three years, his ORtgs have been 110, 117, and 123, with an obvious decline; I think he should be right in the 110 range (+2.5 differential) once more.

Projected Possessions Used: 17%
Projected Differential:+2.5

Emeka Okafor

There's been some discussion about who the starter will be at the 5; I think Okafor will almost definitely take it due to his defensive impact.  Despite the presence of two elite defenders last year in Paul and Ariza, Okafor was still the centerpiece of Monty's D.  Now that he's been stripped of his superstar (and, depending on who you believe, a much better offensive complement of players in Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Lamar Odom), Monty will almost assuredly hang on to the one thing he still has - his defense.  And that still starts and ends with Okafor, no matter his offensive shortcomings.

From a casual observer's perspective, Okafor really did seem to gel with Chris Paul last year on the offensive end; in actuality, his offensive efficiency stayed about the same.  Over the past three years, his ORtgs have gone 112, 110, and 111.  I do see it dropping a bit this year without a real creator at the point guard (Jack will be calling his own number quite frequently one would assume).  Even in 2010, Okafor had Darren Collison setting up shots for him; this year, he won't even have that.  So I'd estimate his ORtg dropping more in line with his career ORtg (107).  Let's call it 108 (+0.5).

Okafor also used 9% of possessions last year, a figure that may slightly drop without Paul and with the addition of Kaman; however, it's already a low total and can't drop much further.

Projected Possessions Used: 8%
Projected Differential: +0.5

The Bench

Between the starters, 75% of the team's offensive possessions figure to be used. This assumes relatively robust use of the starting five, perhaps a safe bet given the composition of the team's second and third units.

Chris Kaman

Kaman's an interesting player in that his offensive game looks relatively polished in a stylistic sense (his jumper and post jukes are all clean).  But he's never been an efficient offensive player in his career.  His career ORtg is a woeful 98, and he hasn't crossed the 100 threshold since 2008.  I simply don't see that changing in New Orleans; he'll be in that 99-100 range again, in addition to some very solid defensive rebounding.

Alongside Aminu and Belinelli, Kaman also figures to be one of the biggest offensive options for the bench.  His possession percentage assumes that he uses more than a quarter of the bench's possessions offensively.

Projected Possessions Used: 6.5%
Projected Differential: -7.5

Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu's far and away the most difficult player on the team to project.  Everyone else has either been in the league a while or has given us a reasonable expectation level for their future (ie, Pondexter).  Aminu, on the other hand, is still very young (21) and has components to his game that could improve significantly through coaching.

I'll actually go ahead and project Aminu optimistically; he had an awful 94 ORtg last year, but it's quite possible he creeps into the high 90's range, so around a -9 or 10 differential).

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -9.5

Marco Belinelli

As I've noted multiple times, I'm really quite glad the Hornets brought back Belinelli; however, his role is definitely a bench one.  Hopefully we'll get much more flag waving this season regardless.

His ORtg the past three years has been 104, 106, and 107.  Less Chris Paul and less even Jarrett Jack as a "creator" from the bench, a mild decline seems reasonable.

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -2.5

Jason Smith

I observed many times through Wednesday's game that Jason Smith looks like a much improved player and athlete.  Without Paul running the pick and pop with him, Smith's offensive opportunities may be a bit limited, but his value as both a defender and a rebounder looks to be in line to increase.

Smith's career ORtgs have been 101, 101, and 100 (-7.5) and that's not likely to change.  I also don't see him using more than 15% of bench offensive possessions, or about 4% of the team total.

Projected Possessions Used: 4%
Projected Differential:-7.5

The Rest

All in all, that accounts for about 95% of team possessions so far.  The rest will be taken by guys like new signing Gustavo Ayon, Greivis Vasquez (who I haven't really gotten a chance to look at yet becuase he was traded for Quincy Pondexter yesterday), as well as the DLeague guys, like Squeaky Johnson, who may make the final roster.  Let's go ahead and toss that percentage in as well:

Projected Possessions Used: 6%
Projected Differential: -10

It's obviously tough to get a great estimate of their offensive differential; -10 may indeed be a little bit harsh, but it's a small percentage of the overall impact.

Overall

And that now leaves us at 100% of offensive possessions accounted for.

Multiplying and adding it altogether give us a grand total of -1.52 points/100 possessions below league average on offense.  Gordon, Landry, and Okafor play their roles in buoying the figure a little bit, but ultimately, there's one too many minus offensive player on this current roster.

For some perspective, a -1.5 offensive team last year would have been the Toronto Raptors, or Eric Gordon's former team, the Clippers.  Interestingly, last year's Chris Paul led New Orleans Hornets finished about -1 below league average.

That last one is actually pleasantly surprising to me.  Based on my initial eye test of the new roster, one of my first claims here was that the dropoff from Paul to Jack wouldn't be that much different than the upgrade from Belinelli to Gordon, offensively.  And that's borne out by the numbers.

Next, we can take those offensive and defensive projections and take a stab at a record.  Let's go with a defensive differential of +0.5 (again, positive being a good thing).

If the Hornets play at a typical Monty Williams pace (89 possessions/game), they should score 89/100 x (107.5 - 1.52) points per game, or 94.3 and they should allow 89/100 x (107.5 - 0.5) point per game or 95.2.  Using a Pythagorean wins formula (see Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver), over a 66 game schedule, this should come out to 30.8 wins, which we can round up to 31 wins for a projection - so a record of 31-35.

The Western Conference's 8th place team posted a 56% winning percentage last year, which would be equivalent to a 37-29 record this season.  Overall, the Hornets may well be bit better than many project (John Hollinger has us last in the conference) but will likely fall short of a playoff spot by some distance.

The Future

As it stands now, this is a -1 to -2 efficiency differential team.  The goal is +6, and we've got quite a gap to make up over the next two to four years.  In the interim, we'll have multiple (lottery) draft picks, the development of Eric Gordon into a possible All-Star, and the evolution of Monty Williams' defensive scheme.

Will it be enough?  We shall see.  But we know quantitatively what our eventual goal is, and we know, quantitatively, some of the steps on the way to getting there.  Can Gordon, currently a +1 kind of player, grow into a +2?  Can Monty Williams' defense sustain a +1 efficiency despite the loss of so many components?  If both those things come to fruition, an elite 2012 draft could be what puts the team over the top.

As a fan, it's your right to root for a season of tanking (abject failure is, idiotically, what leads to small market success in the NBA) but there's a lot to look forward to from the 2011-2012 New Orleans Hornets from a basketball perspective as well.

+6, y'all. +6.


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: October 13, 2010 3:07 pm
 

2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

As the phrase has long been applied to life is recited: for every action there is a reaction. Three teams in this division were greatly affected by free agency this summer, even though they all ended up empty handed when it came to their pursuit of any of the prized free agents this July. Two of the teams, though, plotted for two years with hopes of landing LeBron James, only to be spurned as he left for the Miami Heat. Another one of the teams had one of the prized free agents, and his leaving for the Miami Heat left them in freelance as well. Meanwhile, the three-time defending Atlantic Champions lost in the NBA Finals and had to react promptly. The loss of Kendrick Perkins did not help either in the NBA Finals or at the start of this season, and the Celtics looked to add to their list of established veterans for what feels like one last run at a championship. And then there’s the Philadelphia 76ers. After years of being an afterthought in the league, one of the league’s most prominent cities is taking huge steps towards relevance again. They reached back and hired Doug Collins to return to Philadelphia to help advance this process and it will be interesting to see how those new players mesh.

All in all, the Atlantic Division had a lot of turnover on most of the rosters and could see significantly new change among the production of three of the worst teams from last season in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. With all three of those teams now positioning themselves for victory and with Boston continuing to add players primed for one last run, the change could be even more evident in the coming seasons. But even though there’s a reaction for every action, the Celtics reacted accordingly to last year’s NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, and are still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.

1) Boston Celtics
Incoming Players:
Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody, Semih Urden, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, Delonte West
Outgoing Players: Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Michael Finley, Shelden Williams
Team Report: The Celtics walk into this season as the clear favorites in the division and are among the favorites for an NBA Championship this season as well. The Celtics were up by 13 points in the 3rd quarter of last season’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals before conceding to the Lakers in a heartbreaking defeat. A lot has been made of their age in recent years, but they showed last postseason that they’re one of the few teams capable of flipping a switch on and off. Whether they would want to walk that tightrope again this season remains to be seen, but the players on the team don’t necessarily give any encouragement of a change of the times coming in Beantown.

Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal are the most high profile additions to the team. The two big men fit right into what the Celtics are looking for: smart, seasoned veterans willing to use what’s left of their ability to contribute to the ultimate goal of the team. Both come at an opportune time as well with the injury to Kendrick Perkins. Perkins injured his knee in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals and should be out until January. His loss will be greatly felt across the board in Boston, but the Celtics will hope it’s offset by the continued improvement from point guard Rajon Rondo. While it’s hard to argue that at least Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren’t more important to a championship for the Celtics, it’s also hard to argue that Rondo isn’t currently the team’s most talented player. Overall, the Celtics still enter this season with a chip on their shoulder and with a lot to prove. They also are the most stable of the rest of the teams in the division, and that’s why they’ll be winning the division title come next April.

2) New York Knicks
Incoming Players:
Larry Fields, Andy Rautins, Jerome Jordan, Timofey Mozgov, Kelenna Azubuike, Patrick Ewing, Jr., Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Jr., Anthony Randolph, Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf, Shawne Williams
Outgoing Players: Earl Barron, David Lee, Chris Duhon, Sergio Rodriguez, J.R. Giddens, Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Tracy McGrady, Eddie House
Team Analysis: The Knicks have been bad for years now, it seems. Since 2004, the Knicks have regularly been among the worst teams in the league. A fantastic city and fan base has really been negated by the lack of overall production on the court and the turmoil that occurred off of it. However, after Isaiah Thomas left New York, Donnie Walsh was hired to clean the mess. He hired Mike D’Antoni, rid himself of some of the ridiculous contracts on the team, and built towards the famed 2010 NBA Free Agent class. The Knicks have been telling their fans to accept defeat the last two seasons, a hard sell to New Yorkers, because a great star was on the horizon. After whiffing on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the team signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a big max contract this offseason instead. It still may be a hard sell to New Yorkers that he was worthy of being the light at the end of the tunnel.

But the Knicks made other moves this offseason to reshape the roster. They brought in the extremely promising Anthony Randolph over in a trade with Golden State and hope that he can partner up with Stoudemire to create the ideal frontcourt for head coach Mike D’Antoni. But, for the first time since D’Antoni was hired in 2008, the pressure is now on for him to win in New York. After being patient with a struggling team the last two seasons, the Knicks were told they would be much better in 2010. It’s fair to say they will be much better, but it’s debatable if they’re a lock to make the postseason. D’Antoni has h is work cut out for him, as do the rest of the Knicks franchise.

3) Philadelphia 76ers
Incoming Players:
Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Darius Songaila
Outgoing Players: Samuel Dalembert, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, Jason Smith, Francisco Elson, Allen Iverson
Team Analysis: The Philadelphia 76ers traded Allen Iverson in 2006 and have been largely irrelevant since. Sure they’ve made the playoffs a couple times since that trade, but they’ve been no real threats among the NBA’s elite and the team really wasn’t in Iverson’s last years with the team either. So it seems a tad ironic now that the 76ers are building towards and selling hope; again at a time when Iverson is leaving. The 76ers brought Iverson back last season in an attempt to sell tickets and regain relevance, but it went for nothing as Iverson couldn’t stay on the court due to injuries and other factors and was a large non factor in the team’s horrendous 27-55 season. After only one season, Eddie Jordan was fired and the 76ers again went back to the drawing board.

The Sixers interviewed a lot of candidates and wound up with Doug Collins as the team’s new head coach coming into this season. Collins isn’t “new” by any means. He’s been a coach for three different franchises before and had mild success with all of them. His name is largely important because of his broadcasting gig with TNT moreso than what anyone remembers him doing as a coach. But Collins is a 76er at heart. He was drafted by Philadelphia and made an NBA Finals with the team in 1977. He wants, just as much as the rest of the city, for the 76ers to be relevant. How quickly that happens will largely land on the shoulders of second overall pick Evan Turner. Turner is a “do-it-all” type talent who led the Big 10 in scoring and rebounding last season. The Sixers will look to him to possibly spearhead a new era in Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala remains the man in Philadelphia, but for how long is anyone’s guess. How he and Turner mesh this season will go a long way towards determining how quickly Philadelphia can turn around in a shallow Eastern Conference. The 76ers are still a team with a lot of uncertainty, but they’ll take that as long as it can generate a lot of excitement.

4) New Jersey Nets
Incoming Players: Derrick Favors, Damion James, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Joe Smith
Outgoing Players: Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chris Quinn, Josh Boone, Trenton Hassell, Bobby Simmons, Keyon Dooling, Tony Battie, Jarvis Hayes
Team Analysis: The Nets were close to becoming, historically, the worst team in NBA history last season. A late season “surge” by the Nets helped them avoid the NBA’s futility mark and allowed the team to finish 12-70 last season. There wasn’t a lot to be happy about in Jersey last season, but at least there’s hope on the horizon for this upcoming season. The Nets have a new owner now in the hugely interesting and insanely rich Mikhail Prokhorov as their brand new owner, the impending move to Brooklyn (which seems like it’s been in the works forever) is finally going to happen by 2012, and they’ve introduced a new coach to the team in Avery Johnson. Johnson, who won an NBA Championship as a player with the Spurs and went to the NBA Finals as a coach for Dallas, will at least command the attention and respect of the young talent in New Jersey.

Speaking of that new talent, nobody is more promising on the team than the third overall pick in the draft: Georgia Tech PF Derrick Favors. Favors has drawn early comparisons to Dwight Howard in terms of body structure and athletic ability, but is still very raw and will be brought along slowly by the Nets. The team lacked a lot of fortitude last season, and it’s no guarantee that they’ll develop that toughness just from the presence of their new coach. But they will be better. Troy Murphy, Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow all make great additions to the team. Will it be enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But after last season’s 12 win season, everything is looking up for New Jersey.

5) Toronto Raptors
Incoming Players:
Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi, Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Julian Wright
Outgoing Players: Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu, Marco Belinelli, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O’Bryant, Antoine Wright
Play Analysis: Although the Knicks and Nets cut salary and lost games on purpose to be players this offseason, the Raptors signed and traded for talent to please one player who was going to be on the market: Chris Bosh. Bosh, however, never was going to stay in Toronto and he now resides in South Beach. The Raptors didn’t respond as harshly as Cleveland did with LeBron, but they’re going to move along with life after Bosh anyways. The talent that the team acquired last season did not gel at all, and with more turnover this season as well, chemistry will still be a huge problem with this Toronto team.

With the selection of Ed Davis in the first round, the Raptors hope to have found Bosh’s replacement immediately. Davis is a North Carolina product who is a very solid offensive talent. However, they can’t expect him to replace Bosh’s production right away. Andrea Bargnani should be primed for a huge break out year for Toronto, but I feel like that’s been said for about three straight seasons. But the talent gap between him and the next best player on the team is huge. The Raptors deserve credit for not going into complete firesale mode without Bosh and trying to still compete even though they lost their best player. But the moves they made this offseason won’t do much to help the team make the postseason. Coaching, chemistry and defense were the biggest problems last year; they’re still problems this season.
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: December 22, 2008 1:06 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through December 21st, 2008

1. Boston Celtics (1) - There's no better team in the league than Boston and they're head and shoulders above the rest of the league.  They're going to approach the NBA's record 72 wins in a season though I can't see them overtaking that record.  It's not outside of the realm of possibility, though and they're the class of the league. 

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - Delonte West has settled in extremely well at the shooting guard position for the Cavaliers.  They're an unorthodox bunch, what with a 6'9" point guard, two big men (one who rebounds, one who scores) and two shooting guards but they find different ways to win.  Mike Brown's insistence on defense has really done wonders for this team and everyone, including some Cavaliers players, are finally starting to see why this mentality is so critical to success.  Just look at Boston.  An aggressive, smart defense will always keep you in ball games.  LeBron James will find ways to win many close ball games.

3. Orlando Magic (4) - They've really legitamized their placement atop the league this week with big victories over both San Antonio and the Lake show.  This group is dangerous when everyone's connecting.  They got Dwight Howard back from injury and had a tremendous week from Jameer Nelson and he was huge in both of the victories.  They're a group of misfits but they find a way to work and they play hard.  Stan Van Gundy has done a tremendous job with this organization.

4. Los Angeles Lakers (2) - Kobe Bryant has tried to do it all this week and for the first time all season, the Lakers look vulnerable.  We know these tough patches come every year so I don't believe it's anything worth throwing up the white flag, but there is trouble with this team.  Andrew Bynum isn't having the season he was supposed to have this year but they're getting really good production out of Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar off the bench.  Lamar Odom doesn't seem as comfortable off of the bench as he did in the starting lineup.  When he started against New York this week, he looked a lot like the player who was a huge contribution to last year's squad.  I think Lakers fans really undervalued his importance but I doubt he'll start next season as a Laker.

5. New Orleans Hornets (8) - The Hornets are on a roll right now and are doing a tremendous job on the defensive side of the ball.  Tyson Chandler has looked energized this week and James Posey continues to be a tremendous force off of the bench.  Peja Stojakovic's injury is cause for concern and this week will be the true test as to if the Hornets run is legitimate, and they need a healthy Peja to really have a fair shake.

6. Atlanta Hawks (7) - Even though they loss to Boston this week (who hasn't) how strange was it to have people circling a game at Atlanta?   This squad has the attention of the best team in the league and has had them on the verge of defeat two times this season.  They ended the week with a strong defensive performance against Detroit and this team continues to overacheive.  Al Horford has proved last season was no fluke.

7. Portland Trail Blazers (11) - I can't seem to get a firm enough understanding of this squad and I move them up between the top half of the league every week.  Brandon Roy is right behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade this season as far as MVP candidates are concerned and his 52 point performance against Phoenix Thursday night was amazing.  The players play well as a team and they all know who the go to guy is.  Minnesota fans have to look at Randy Foye and shake their head.

8. Houston Rockets (9) - Ron Artest seems pretty comfortable off of the bench and, honestly, Shane Battier's game may be better suited starting off for the Rockets.  Rafer Alston's injury doesn't help matters but Aaron Brooks has done a fine job in the starting role.  The team finds ways to win basketball games and Yao Ming deserves acclaim for his job so far this season as the anchor for this team.

9. Denver Nuggets (5) - This is the lowest the Nuggets have been since Chauncey Billups' arrival but they've hit a wall this week.  After Carmelo Anthony's tremendous week last week, he shot horrible from the field this week.  Their lack of explosiveness in the front court is crippling and they still seem to lack something to be taken serious as a Western confrence contender.

10. San Antonio Spurs (6) - I may have gotten too crazy with their run last week but the Spurs had two tough losses to New Orleans and Orlando this week.  I'm shocked at the lack of minutes being distributed to Ime Udoka and Bruce Bowen but Popovich knows best about this squad.  Kurt Thomas has seen a huge increase in minutes lately and I'm wondering if the Ian Mahinmi experiement is ever going to come to fruition.

11. Utah Jazz (10) - The Jazz organization is so caught up in the Carlos Boozer situation (his injury, whether or not he'll return next season) that they're letting it overshadow a very dissapointing start to this season for Utah.  They've been very inconsistent this year and they still struggle on the road (unless they're playing Detroit).  Deron Williams has yet to regain that level of play he's displayed the last two seasons but I see it only as a matter of time before he gets his feet back.  When he does this team will take off, but it needs to happen soon. 

12. Dallas Mavericks (12) - Dallas has had a quiet season but with the return of Josh Howard I think this team is ready to start taking strides.  Jason Kidd can't do much at this stage in his career, but he can run an offense and Dirk Nowitzki's production with Kidd on the court is a testament to that.  They take advantage of lesser competition and that's a huge upgrade from the beginning of the season.  They just need to find ways to beat the better teams.

13. Phoenix Suns (14) - The Phoenix Suns have quietly had a huge week and a monster performance from Brandon Roy is all that kept it from perfect.  I know Shaquille O'Neal is a punchline on these forums but his play this year has been solid for this team.  I don't believe all that much has been lost from last season, but this talented bunch isn't having fun and I guess that means you complain regardless of record.  I'm getting tired of the whining in Phoenix but that's a tradition Mike D'Antoni instilled that can never be replaced amongst that bunch.

14. Miami Heat (15) - Dwyane Wade had a tremendous week and this team as a whole had a tremendous week.  A big Friday night victory against the Lakers was followed with a solid performance against New Jersey and this team seems to have finally developed some kind of a groove.  Shawn Marion may not be playing up to his potential and Michael Beasley may be a huge dissapointment (statistically speaking) in the rookie class, but they have to love what they found in Mario Chalmers and I think Daequan Cook is doing a tremendous job in his important role off of the bench.  They got a solid little team if they can get physical inside. 

15. Detroit Pistons (13) - Rodney Stuckey has performed very well since his insertion into the starting lineup.  They have, legitimately, no front court, though, and that bench that was so widely praised at the beginning of the season looks incredibly weak without Stuckey on it.  Players like Aaron Afflalo, Walter Herrmann and Amir Johnson have dissapeared and have not lived up to preseason expectations.  Jason Maxiell plays like a guy who received a huge contract instead of the guy who for the past couple of seasons looked like he was playing for his career.  It's amazing to see how lackadaisical this team is.  I don't think Flip Saunders was the problem.

16. Chicago Bulls (17) - Drew Gooden's injury is an inconvenience but the Bulls continue to play solid basketball.  They may lack consistency but they're a legitimate playoff threat with Derrick Rose surprisingly playing at the current level of play he's displayed.  They'll be around all season. 

17. Milwaukee Bucks (20) - The Bucks have had a really solid week and have played well since Michael Redd's return from injury.  They've been under the radar all season long but have to be pleased with the production that Scott Skiles has gotten out of this bunch.  They're weirdly assembled but they play hard every night and that's reason enough to believe in them.  Scott Skilles proves once again that he's a tremendous coach.

18. New Jersey Nets (16) - Devin Harris' performance against the Mavericks was unbelievable and New Jersey has to feel it made out like bandits with that trade.  Eduardo Najera also played in that game against the Mavericks but quickly collected another DNP.  They've gotten good minutes out of Ryan Anderson lately and Rod Thorn's done a good job building this team from the ground up.  I can't see Vince Carter staying past the deadline if the Nets have an opportunity to trade him, and he's played well enough this season to where I can see some team taking a chance on him.  They need to continue and complete the rebuilding cycle.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (21) - Well the destruction I wished on that franchise didn't happen and they've played well under new coach Tony DiLeo.  Elton Brand's injury will show if this team is really better suited to run a spread out, fast court game.  I think that fits the styles of their players better and I think they'll play well without Brand for a month. 

20. New York Knicks (19) - Seven man rotations and no defense, D'Antoni ball is in full effect over in New York.  All cheap shots aside, he's done a good job with that bunch and even though Al Harrington has cooled down considerably, Nate Robinson has picked it up with a very good week for the Knicks.  They probably won't make the playoffs but the fact that people are believing they have a shot speaks for the job D'Antoni has done with this overacheiving bunch.

21. Los Angeles Clippers (23) - Marcus Camby has awoken this week and played at level that he displayed while with Denver.  The Zach Randolph trade has worked out well for the Clippers but Baron Davis' play is holding this team back.  You have to wonder if his priorities are in order, but I guess if you willingly sign for big money to play for the Clippers your priorities are already put into question.  They can't move him, he has to work out there, but he can't continue to shoot this team out of ball games.

22. Indiana Pacers (24) - The unfortunate flu epidemic nailed the Pacers locker room and they played inspiring ball near the end of the week even though they were without three of their top four scorers in Marquis Daniels, Danny Granger and Troy MurphyJarrett Jack gave them a tremendous week as did T.J. Ford and overall, I'd say both Ford and Rasho Nesterovic have been nice additions to the Pacers team.  They lack any kind of consistency but have talent over in Indiana.  I just don't know if it will ever be fully tapped.

23. Memphis Grizzlies (22) - The Grizzlies lost both of their games in a quiet week and O.J. Mayo finally scored in single digits in a game.  Yes, I know it was a quiet week in Memphis.  I'd like to see Hakim Warrick start to get more minutes over in Memphis, though.  He does well given the lack of opportunities he truly has.

24. Golden State Warriors (25) - Jamal Crawford single handedly got the Warriors a victory, and they're getting good production out of Marco BelinelliMonta Ellis is gearing up to return sometimes in the next month but this team still lacks a true point guard.  Hopefully, though, Ellis can return to form and give this Warriors fan base reason for excitement this season.

25. Charlotte Bobcats (27) - Boris Diaw looks rejuvenated in Larry Brown's offense and has done a fantastic job in his new starting role.  Raja Bell looks unhappy in Charlotte and who can honestly blame him?  Aside from that, though, the Bobcats look to be open to the thought of trading Raymond Felton.  To me, it's amazing that he hasn't succeeded there but D.J. Augustin's performance is quietly pushing him out of favor with the organization.

26. Toronto Raptors (18) - The drop may be a tad drastic but this team is in awful shape.  Chris Bosh is getting booed, they're losing to Oklahoma City and they don't play as a team anymore.  Bryan Colangelo has truly done a bad job with this bunch but they're just not that talented to begin with.  Jermaine O'Neal has done fine this season but it was fair to see all season that he just couldn't be that inside guy that Toronto truly needed.  This team needs to do a lot of restructuring within the organization.

27. Sacramento Kings (26) - Reggie Theus' firing infuriated me but I'm not surprised.  A team full of outcats from other organizations probably should be in playoff contention.  When Brad Miller is your most consistent start you're not going to be in great shape and new coach Natt's 1-3 record since taking over isn't surprising.  Theus deserved better for what he did last season and I don't think stressing that this team play hard and try to win should be overlooked simply for playing younger players and accepting poor performances.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves are reeling big time and Kevin McHale is winless as Minnesota's coach.  Al Jefferson is a fine player but he can't do it all by himself.  This shouldn't come as a surprise as, even in his last seasons, Kevin Garnett couldn't do it by himself in Minnesota.  This is a poorly run organization and the team is horribly assembled.  They may never get better with McHale at the helm. 

29. Washington Wizards (29) - Mike James has played well since arriving in Washington but it's made no change to their record.  Who can be surprised?  Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are playing really hard and it's difficult to watch those two players fail but the organization as a whole just has no real direction.  They're in a hole, too, with the contract that was given to Gilbert Arenas

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - They finally got a win this week!  They're playing hard every night now, which is an upgrade, they just don't have the talent on the team to win.  Kevin Durant has played fine ball since Brooks was introduced as interim coach but after him, nobody is consistent enough to really give this team a chance to win on a nightly basis.  They're still a few years away.

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