Tag:Trevor Ariza
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: December 25, 2011 2:40 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 2:41 pm
 

Hornets Sign Gustavo Ayon and What It Means

Opinion on Dell Demps as Hornets' GM, almost out of necessity, has no middle ground.

On the one hand, it's easy to point in hindsight to a number of his moves with a disapproving shake of the head.  The Thornton trade.  The Collison deal.  Even the move for Jarrett Jack.  The failed Lakers deal.  Each compromised the future of the franchise to varying degrees, and each transaction has been attacked many times in both national and local media.  Demps' detractors?  They all have a point.  In an alternative timeline, the Hornets have quite a few more intriguing pieces right now for their current rebuilding project.

On the other hand, the logic behind each move was definitely apparent when the deals went through.  This isn't Otis Smith trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis territory in the slightest.  Monty Williams should take on a lot of the blame for the Marcus Thornton Affair, and Carl Landry was always going to help the 2011 Hornets more than Marcus Thornton.  Similarly, the old Trevor Ariza was always going to be more impactful on a Chris Paul-led Hornets side than Darren Collison coming off the bench.  Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Lamar Odom would have made for a competitive, exciting team in the short term, something that had to have been on Demps' mind given the state of basketball in New Orleans.  Dell Demps supporters?  They all have a point too - the specter of Chris Paul's departure loomed menacingly over Demps, impacting each of his decisions, and Demps made logical, informed, and highly defensible moves in spite of it.

My aim isn't to settle this debate here, nor do I think there's a meaningful resolution to this at all.  Instead, I call attention to the dichotomy of opinion on Demps to point out one thing we should all agree on - Dell Demps' most promising trait is his relentless, unceasing activity in the front office.  He's on top of every unheralded unsigned player, he's exploring trade possibilities with every member of his roster, and he isn't afraid in the slightest to move immediately when he thinks he has a move.  For a front office that has routinely been lampooned by A. Wojnarowski and Co. for its lack of employees, cubicles, staplers, or whatever else "normal" front offices are equipped with, it comes as a welcome step forward.

The signing of Gustavo Ayon is the latest example of this.

Ayon's a 26 year old power forward/center, hailing from Tepic, Mexico.  He signed on with Division 1 San Jose State in 2006, but instead opted to play professionally in his native Mexico.  After developing as a player and winning multiple league titles from 2006-2009, Ayon opted to head to Europe the next year, joining Spanish side Baloncesto Fuenlabrada.  The Spanish ACB is the best professional league in Europe; edging out Italy and Greece for top honors.

Ayon played a full season of Spanish basketball in 2010-2011, and had played 10 games in the 2011-2012 season before signing with New Orleans. Obviously, I haven't seen him play, but his line this year was about 16 points and 8 rebounds (over 3 offensive) on 66% from the floor and over 80% from the foul line.  Those numbers came in under 29 minutes a game.  It's clear, just from a statistical perspective, that this is a player that can play basketball.  And those that have followed his game extensively?  They're even more effusive in their praise.

Here are some tweets from Draft Express - perhaps the most respected international scouting service in professional basketball right now - last week:

@DraftExpress: In Spain. Arguably most productive player in league. RT @BKoremenos: Where did Gustavo Ayon play before NO nabbed him?
@DraftExpress: 6-10. Plays his ass off. Smart. Rebounds. Tough. Finds ways to score. Teammate. Perfect rotation big.
@DraftExpress: Most of the NBA was quietly tracking Gustavo Ayon. Everyone wanted to keep him a secret, hence the lack of hype/buzz. Clearly a NBA player.
@DraftExpress: Now its official I can finally say: Gustavo Ayon is a STEAL. Smart, tough, active, athletic 4/5. A young Jeff Foster. Well done New Orleans.

That's... a lot of praise.  From the description, is there any question at all that this is the quintessential Monty Williams player?

Dig around a bit more, and you'll find that the Spurs, Lakers, Nuggets, Suns and Pacers all made overtures for his services.  This, according to many analysts, is a guy that could help a good team immediately.  That a projected lottery team was able to pull this deal off?  That tells me a lot.

Whether Ayon will transition smoothly to the NBA remains to be seen, but the fact remains that this is a smart, cheap, resourceful signing regardless of how it all turns out.  You play the odds when you construct a team, and acquiring Ayon is a solid move regardless of the outcome.  The Hornets have reportedly been all over him throughout the lockout and will pay his Spanish side $0.75M to extract him from his contract there.

The Chris Paul section of Demps' tenure finishes to mixed reviews.  There was obviously an argument for going all out and trying to keep Chris Paul in New Orleans long term.  It didn't happen, and because of it, the alternative - keeping some pieces for the future on the roster - looks attractive in hindsight.  Whichever side of the Demps coin you fall on (I've supported every move he's made thus far, aside from Thornton), it's all in the past now.

The future began last week, and Dell Demps is, swift as ever, off to the races.


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 21, 2010 11:38 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2010 11:48 pm
 

New Orleans Hornets 2010-2011 Season Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall: The Hornets are bringing in eight new players this season.  Chemistry may be a very tough problem in the early stages of this season, but the team is young and talented enough to get past that.  If they hit a prolonged rough patch, we’ll see if anyone starts pouting, if Williams becomes inconsistent with his rotations, etc.  There are a lot of question marks with this team.  But the potential is there.  The way it’s assembled, this team isn’t a championship squad.  They simply don’t have the length to compete with the best teams in the league.  But they’re athletic enough to hustle on defense, talented enough to get the ball in the basket and, if healthy, they could really surprise teams this year.  People always write the Hornets off as some kind of one year fluke.  It should be noted that the only year the Hornets have not had any major injury problems in the past five years was that 2008 season.  Maybe that does or doesn’t mean that the team competes for the division title again, but there’s no reason that can’t be a realistic goal.  The Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks are obviously sexier choices for the division title, but the Hornets have the bodies to compete with any of them, and they have the best individual player out of any of those teams on their roster.  Paul’s attitude and commitment are huge, as is Monty’s ability to handle all of the new players on the roster.  But if this team gets off to a huge start, they could really do some damage.  Probably no more than a 5 seed or so, but definitely a playoff team none the less.  They’re most likely another year away from being serious threats, but that’s no reason that the team can’t be really good this year.
Posted on: May 28, 2010 12:13 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 1

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.  Mercifully, for some of you, this countdown is almost over.  It's been a blast typing them up and it was fun looking at some of the way teams have fared in the draft and how well some players have panned out, regardless of where they were selected.  We've covered a lot of ground the last decade.  From the high schoolers taken abound in 2001 and 2004, to the new one and done rule in 2006, to the amount of foreign players taken in 2002, to the University of North Carolina setting a record with 4 players taken in the lottery in 2005, to now.  Overall, this draft class has drawn comparisons to legendary classes of 1984 and 1996.  It's changed the courses of franchises, may have put handcuffs on another's chance at a dynasty, and features players who will be at the top of the list when it comes to free agency this summer (since that's what everyone wants to talk about).  But here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the number one draft on our countdown of the top ten drafts the last years.  Coming in at number one is none other than the 2003 NBA Draft.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21869382

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21979856

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22042511

#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22065028

#3: 2004 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22091609

#2: 2005 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22122758

#1: 2003 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James, SF, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School
2) Detroit Pistons - Darko Milicic, C, Serbia and Montenegro
3) Denver Nuggets - Carmelo Anthony, SF, Syracuse
4) Toronto Raptors - Chris Bosh, PF, Georgia Tech
5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade, SG, Marquette
6) Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Kaman, C, Central Michigan
7) Chicago Bulls - Kirk Hinrich, PG, Kansas
8) Milwaukee Bucks - T.J. Ford, PG, Texas
9) New York Knicks - Michael Sweetney, PF, Georgetown
10) Washington Wizards - Jarvis Hayes, SF, Georgia

Obviously, this top ten features a couple of franchise players, four olympic gold medalists, two NBA MVPs, one NBA Championship, one NBA Finals MVP, a ton of all star appearances; so on and so forth.  Cleveland's relevance in the NBA was changed forever when they got the number one pick and took it on heavily heralded star LeBron James.  Going to school at nearby St. Vincent-St. Mary, LeBron entered the league with a plethora of expectations and it was unknown how we would handle the fame and responsibilities, given that he was fresh out of high school.  But LeBron immediately took the league by storm.  He's won two NBA MVPs and led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in only his fourth year in the league.  He's not been able to return the team to the finals since then and has drawn criticism for that, but there's no denying that LeBron is already the best player in the game, and that Cleveland one hundred percent made the right decision.  And then Darko; Darko Milicic.  Just his name along makes blood ooze out of the ears of the citizens of the state of Michigan.  Darko was just as highly heralded a prospect as LeBron, seen as a big, talented player that was only 18, but could already run the floor, block shots, score from inside and outside and could play solid defense.  However, Darko never got on the court in Detroit and their passing on the next three players on this list probably halted what, at the time, was two straight NBA Finals appearances and one NBA Championship.  Denver was equally irrelevant at the time of the 2003 draft, and when they took Carmelo Anthony, the reigning NCAA Tournament MVP, they made the playoffs for the first time in ten years.  Denver is now a regular in the playoffs, having made it all seven of Carmelo's seasons in the league, and even made the Conference Finals in 2009.  Carmelo is still progressing as a player, and is already one of the best offensive talents the league has.  Toronto seemed to have reached for Bosh, who was considered a raw prospect out of Georgia Tech.  However, he showed flashes his rookie season and by the time Vince Carter was traded by Toronto during that rookie season, Bosh became the face of the franchise in Toronto.  He's emerged into a 20 point, 10 rebound threat every night and was a member of the 2008 USA Olympic Team that won the Gold Medal.  Another plalyer on that team, jonining LeBron, Bosh and 'Melo, was Dwyane Wade.  An NCAA Tournament darling, who led Marquette to the Final Four, Dwyane Wade was seen as a hybrid without a true position in the league and who may struggle with his jump shot in the pros.  But Wade entered the league and led the Heat to the playoffs his rookie season, and then led them to the Conference Semifinals.  After acquiring Shaquille O'Neal following his rookie season, Dwyane Wade would eventually lead the Heat to the 2006 NBA Championship and be named the 2006 Finals MVP.  Kaman was another who made a name for himself during the tournament, but has made the most out of his time in the league.  One of those rare "long term Clippers" players, Kaman's been with the franchise for his entire career.  He manned down the center position for the team's 2006 Conference Semifinals run and has been named an NBA All Star over his career.  Kirk Hinrich was drafted just one year removed from the Chicago Bulls drafting point guard Jay Williams.  After Williams motorcycle crash, it was entirely evident that he would not be playing, at least for the near future, and Hinrich was Chicago's pick.  Hinrich showed a defensive toughness and an outside stroke that endeared himself to the Chicago fans, and he showed a tendency to step up his game in the postseason.  He's regressed offensively the last three seasons, inexplicably, but is still a favorite among some Chicago circles and is still a starter on the Bulls team.  T.J. Ford was the reigning Naismith Player of the Year when Milwaukee traded up to get him to play point guard.  It took him awhile to adapt to the NBA game, and some freakish neck injuries halted that progress, but Ford eventually became a starter on some playoff teams in Milwaukee and Toronto.  He's regressed some due to injuries the past few seasons, so it's unsure how effective his career will be going forward.  Michael Sweetney was immediately just a bad pick.  He struggled with his weight right away and consistently came into camp in bad shape.  He played two years in New York and two years in Chicago before being out of the league by 2007.  Hayes, meanwhile, has managed to become a solid, steady rotation player for the duration of his career and, while not overly productive, he has been productive for the duration of his seven years in the league. 

11) Golden State Warriors - Mickael Pietrus, SF, France
12) Seattle Supersonics - Nick Collison, PF, Kansas
13) Memphis Grizzlies - Marcus Banks, PG, UNLV (traded to the Celtics)
14) Seattle Supersonics - Luke Ridnour, PG, Oregon
15) Orlando Magic - Reece Gaines, SG, Louisville
16) Boston Celtics - Troy Bell, PG, Boston College (traded to the Grizzlies)
17) Phoenix Suns - Zarko Cabarkapa, PF, Serbia and Montenegro
18) New Orleans Hornets - David West, PF, Xavier
19) Utah Jazz - Sasha Pavlovic, SG, Serbia and Montenegro
20) Boston Celtics - Dahntay Jones, SG, Duke (traded to the Grizzlies)

At this point, the draft takes a pretty big step backwards, although that had to be expected with the sheer awesomeness and insanity of the top five.  Pietrus has actually become a very good player in the league, starring on some Golden State and Orlando teams that made nice postseason runs.  He's managed to become a defensive and three point specialist in the NBA, carving out a nice career for himself.  Collison has created a nice career of his own for the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder.  He missed his entire rookie season due to injury, but was part of an exciting 2005 postseason run for Seattle.  He's managed to stay in the rotation for his entire career.  The best player out of the Grizzlies and Celtics draft night trade out of the top 20 happened to be Dahntay Jones.  Marcus Banks was seen as a potentially explosive scorer out of college, but he's struggled to get off the bench in the league.  He's still a member of Toronto's roster, but has played in only 345 games in seven seasons.  Troy Bell equally struggled in the league, not having a true, defined position and he was out of the league by 2007.  He was fantastic at Boston College, though.  Meanwhile, Jones equally struggled for a few seasons but made a name for himself during the 2009 Conference Finals run by the Denver Nuggets as a defensive specialist and was given a long term contract by Indiana this past offseason.  Contrary to Banks and Bell, Ridnour was a classical point guard in ever sense of the word.  He, too, was part of that exciting 2005 Conference Semifinals Seattle Supersonics team.  Ridnour has managed to either start or be the first guard off the bench for his entire career and is still producing, now in Milwaukee.  Reece Gaines struggled right away in Orlando and couldn't get on the court in Houston or Milwaukee either, and was out of the league by 2006.  Cabarkapa suffered a back injury his rookie season.  For that reason, coupled with ineffectiveness when on the court, he only made it one season with Phoenix before being traded to Golden State.  He didn't last there, either, and was out of the league by 2006.  David West was a true diamond in the rough, a four year colleigate senior who had a very nice career at Xavier but fell due to questions about his ability to be tough enough to play the power forward position.  West has turned in an all star career for New Orleans and has managed to stay with the team for his entire career thus far.  In the process, since I always rib other fan bases for their love for certain players, he's managed to become the object of my CBSSportsline man crush affection.  Pavlovic had a nice stay in Cleveland after being traded there from Utah.  He started on the team that went to the 2007 NBA Finals and was a nice outside shooter that could help spread the floor.  He's tailed off since then, but is still on Minnesota's roster as of right now. 

21) Atlanta Hawks - Boris Diaw, PF, France
22) New Jersey Nets - Zoran Planinic, SG, Croatia
23) Portland Trail Blazers - Travis Outlaw, SF, Starkville High School
24) Los Angeles Lakers - Brian Cook, PF, Illinois
25) Detroit Pistons - Carlos Delfino, SG, Argentina
26) Minnesota Timberwolves - Ndudi Ebi, SF, Westbury Christian High School
27) Memphis Grizzlies - Kendrick Perkins, C, Ozen High School (traded to the Celtics)
28) San Antonio Spurs - Leandro Barbosa, SG, Brazil (traded to the Suns)
29) Dallas Mavericks - Josh Howard, SF, Wake Forest

The bottom half of the draft actually produced quite a few signifcant role players in the NBA today.  Diaw, depending on who you talk to, can either be one of the most versatile and talented forwards in the game, or can be a passive bum who shoots too many jump shots.  But his ability to play multiple positions on offense and his skill set make him one of the most versatile players in the league.  Planinic never did adapt to the NBA game.  He struggled mightily on the court, except for a 77 foot buzzer beater during a 2006 game against the Utah Jazz in 2006 (youtube it).  However, he was out of the league by 2006 as you have to be able to score consistently closer to the basket.  Outlaw took a long time to get going in Portland, but really burst onto the scene last season.  Injuries limited his effectiveness this season and he's now playing for the Clippers.  Brian Cook was the object of much scorn during his time with the Lakers.  He was a big man who loved to shoot from outside, and that's all he did (in addition to getting hurt).  He fell out of the Lakers rotation and was traded to Orlando in the trade that got them Trevor Ariza.  Delfino has managed to become a solid, if unspectacular, rotation player for his entire career.  He just had the best year of his career this season with the Milwaukee Bucks.  Minnesota took a chance on Ebi fresh out of high school, and almost immediately regretted it.  They actually begged the league to let them send him to the NBDL, but at the time the league would only accept players who had been on an NBA roster for at least three seasons.  Ebi never saw a third season in the league, as he was done by 2005.  Perkins took a long time to get acclimated in Boston, but has eventually become a defensive stalwart and a staple in Boston's starting line up.  He was the team's starting center when they won the 2008 NBA Championship.  Barbosa burst onto the scene with his quickness and explosive scoring ability in his rookie season in Phoenix.  After the Suns signed Steve Nash in 2004, Barbosa went to the bench where he excelled in that role.  He won the 2007 Sixth Man award and has played his entire career with Phoenix.  Josh Howard was another four year colleigate senior who didn't blow people away, but immediately contributed for Dallas.  He became one of the best young players in the game by 2006, where he was a starter on a Dallas team that went to the NBA Finals.  However, injuries, inconsistencies and maturity issues have derailed his production.  His future productivity in the NBA is largely uncertain.

Round Two Notables:
31) Cleveland Cavaliers - Jason Kapono, SF, UCLA
32) Los Angeles Lakers - Luke Walton, SF, Arizona
38) Washington Wizards - Steve Blake, PG Maryland
41) Seattle Supersonics - Willie Green, SG, Detroit Mercy (traded to the 76ers)
42) Orlando Magic - Zaza Pachulia, C, Georgia
43) Milwaukee Bucks - Keith Bogans, SG, Kentucky (traded to the Magic)
45) Chicago Bulls - Matt Bonner, PF, Georgia Tech (traded to the Raptors)
47) Utah Jazz - Mo Williams, PG, Alabama
49) Indiana Pacers - James Jones, SF, Miami (FL)
51) New Jersey Nets - Kyle Korver, SG, Creighton (traded to the 76ers)

A solid group of guys selected here in the second round as well.  Kapono has won three three point shootouts in his career but hasn't yet become a steady rotation player in the league, even with his beautiful jump shot.  Luke Walton has been in and out of Los Angeles' starting line up for the duration of his career, but is a player with a ton of intangibles who has managed to stay a steady part of the Lakers team.  Blake was a local product when the Wizards took him at the 38th pick.  A true point guard, Blake has managed to stay in rotations for his entire career; first with Washington and now with Portland.  Willie Green eventually became the starting shooting guard in Philadelphia and is still one of the most productive players on the team.  Zaza Pachulia is from the country Georgia (not the state), but eventually made a name for himself as a productive bench player for the Atlanta Hawks.  Keith Bogans hasn't really stuck in any rotation anywhere he's gone, but he's managed, with his defense, to stay in the league thus far and even started a majority of his games this season with the San Antonio Spurs.  Speaking of the Spurs, Matt Bonner, the three point shooting specialist, became a fan favorite in both Toronto and San Antonio, and is still a productive player for the Spurs today.  Mo Williams only lasted one year in Utah before going to Milwaukee, where he signed a big contract after some very good seasons.  However, in 2008, he was traded to Cleveland where he became an all star point guard and part of some successful regular season teams for the Cavaliers.  James Jones is another three point shooter and scorer who has managed to stay a steady rotation player for both Indiana and Miami.  Korver, meanwhile, immediately made an impact his rookie season in Philadelphia with his terrific three point shot, but is now a regular and a fan favorite with the Utah Jazz.

Notable Undrafted Players:
Marquis Daniels, SG, Auburn - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
Quinton Ross, SF, SMU - Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004
James Singleton, PF, Murray State - Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2005

Marquis Daniels had an absolutely terrific rookie season in Dallas and was rewarded with a long term, six year deal.  However, he's struggled with consistency and injuries since then and didn't get off the bench this season in Boston due to the same problems.  His future productivity in the league is uncertain.  Quintin Ross was signed by the Clippers and became a starter for the team during its 2006 Conference Semifinals run.  Effective for his terrific on ball defense, he's currently playing with the Washington Wizards.  Singleton hasn't really done much in his career, but has managed to stay on the rosters of NBA Teams since he came into the league and is also currently with the Washington Wizards.

2003-2004 NBA Rookie of the Year: LeBron James
All Stars from the 2003 NBA Draft: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Kaman, David West, Josh Howard, Mo Williams

2003-2004 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Carmelo Anthony
LeBron James
Dwyane Wade
Chris Bosh
Kirk Hinrich

2003-2004 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Josh Howard
T.J. Ford
Udonis Haslem (who went undrafted in 2002 before signing with the Miami Heat in 2003)
Jarvis Hayes
Marquis Daniels

Posted on: May 26, 2010 3:07 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 3

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.  Well we're getting down to the nitty gritty now in terms of the countdown.  With only three drafts remaining, I went into a lot of due diligence to research and review each draft before putting in this submission.  I feel as if I was wrong in a few of my early seedings in this draft and I wanted to really try as hard as possible to make the top five as acurate as I feel it could be.  I think I've done that now.  Coming in at number 3 in our countdown is the 2004 NBA Draft which actually featured a hot pre-draft debate on who would be drafted number one and a pretty good group of players in general.  So here goes it loyal readers, number 3 on our countdown!

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21869382

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21979856

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22042511

#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22065028

#3: 2004 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard, C, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy
2) Charlotte Bobcats - Emeka Okafor, C, UConn
3) Chicago Bulls - Ben Gordon, SG, UConn
4) Los Angeles Clippers - Shaun Livingston, PG, Peoria High School
5) Washington Wizards - Devin Harris, PG, Wisconsin (traded to the Mavericks)
6) Atlanta Hawks - Josh Childress, SF, Stanford
7) Phoenix Suns - Luol Deng, SF, Duke (traded to the Bulls)
8) Toronto Raptors - Rafael Araujo, C, BYU
9) Philadelphia 76ers - Andre Iguodala, SF, Arizona
10) Cleveland Cavaliers - Luke Jackson, SG, Oregon

Not a bad group of guys coming in at the top ten.  Going into the draft, it was largely rumored that Orlando would take established college star Emeka Okafor and that the expansion Charlotte Bobcats would take high schooler Dwight Howard and they'd grow as a franchise and player together.  However, Orlando felt Dwight's talents were too good to pass up and they eventually made the right choice.  Howard has become an perennial all star in this league and is already a two time Defensive Player of the Year award winner and already the best center in the league.  Okafor, meanwhile, has turned out a nice little defensive career himself, although he's nowhere near the caliber player that Howard is.  Ben Gordon took the league by storm his rookie season, showing explosive offensive talents and eventually becoming the first rookie in NBA history to win the Sixth Man of the Year award.  Livingston was viewed as some to be the "next Magic Johnson" when he was coming out of high school.  A great athlete with fantastic court vision, Livingston actually struggled to put together consistent stretches of success before severely injuring his knee in his third season in the league.  After going up for a routine layup, Livingston landed awkwardly and tore the ACL, PCL and the lateral meniscus while badly spraining his MCL and dislocating his patella and tibia-femoral joint.  He has struggled to stay in the league since, but he showed some late signs this season in Washington and will probably get another look there next season.  Harris was a lightning quick guard out of college and became a nice change of pace for Dallas during the year they went to the NBA Finals.  He eventually struggled over a definitive role in Mavericks coach Avery Johnson's system, and he was eventually traded to the Nets where he became an all star.  Childress was a really solid player for his four years in Atlanta, and started a short fad in the 2008 offseason that consisted of average NBA players going to play overseas for big money.  He may return to the NBA in due time, though.  Luol Deng has shown a lot of promise in his short career with the Bulls, but injuries and inconsistencies haven't allowed him to truly take that next step, and there's still some resentment towards the Bulls management giving him a big contract instead of Gordon, who eventually left to go play for the rival Detroit Pistons.  Aaraujo was a horrible bust from the very beginning, as Toronto was criticized for drafting by need and reaching for a player who was projected as a mid to late first round pick.  Araujo was lost out on the court and was out of the league by 2007.  The same can be said for Luke Jackson, a really solid scorer in college who was looked to be a coveted three point shooter for Cleveland.  However, Jackson couldn't do much other than shoot and never got on the court.  He last played in the NBA in 2007 as well.  The Sixers found a nice player at 9 in Iguodala.  A freakish athlete in college, he's been able to develop a semblance of a jump shot (even if he relies way too much on it) and is the current face of the 76ers franchise. 

11) Golden State Warriors - Andris Biedrins, C, Latvia
12) Seattle Supersonics - Robert Swift, C, Bakersfield High School
13) Portland Trail Blazers - Sebastian Telfair, PG, Lincoln High School
14) Utah Jazz - Kris Humphries, PF, Minnesota
15) Boston Celtics - Al Jefferson, PF, Prentiss High School
16) Utah Jazz - Kirk Snyder, SG, Nevada
17) Atlanta Hawks - Josh Smith, SF, Oak Hill Academy
18) New Orleans Hornets - J.R. Smith, SG, St. Benedict's Prep
19) Miami Heat - Dorell Wright, SF, South Kent Prep
20) Denver Nuggets - Jameer Nelson, PG, Saint Joseph's (traded to the Magic)

As you can tell, by this draft, the whole concept of jumping from high school to the pros had become quite the phenomenon, as by the top 20, eight players that were drafted were high school seniors.  Biedrins, not being one of them, has become a nice player for Golden State, fitting in perfectly with their system although he seemed to take a major step back this season due to some serious confidence issues.  But he has the ability to overcome those.  Robert Swift continued Seattle's trend of "draft a center and see what happens," and nothing happened.  He was constantly injured and never showed much promise when on the court in the first place.  Telfair was a lauded prospect coming out of school and his family ties to Stephon Marbury and friendship with LeBron James created a stir over his potential talents.  However, he's never been able to stay in a rotation and has struggled thus far in his NBA career.  Humphries has managed to stay in the league as a nice hustle player and is currently playing for hte Nets.  Al Jefferson showed some promise in Boston and was eventually the centerpiece in the trade that brought Kevin Garnett to the Celtics.  He's become a great scorer for the Timberwolves but not much more and has suffered with injuries of his own the last two years.  Snyder was a fantastic athlete who had a good year with the Hornets following his rookie season with the Jazz, but fizzled out of the league by 2008 and is now serving a three year jail sentence for a home invasion.  Josh Smith took awhile to put all of his talents together, but the hometown Atlantan has become one of the most exciting players in the league and a nice building block of the future for Atlanta.  J.R. Smith had a terrific second half to his rookie season in New Orleans, but quickly clashed with coach Byron Scott and was traded to Chicago for Tyson Chandler.  Chicago then immediately traded him to Denver, where he's shown flashes of being a terrific scorer but is still every bit the immature head case he was for his two years with the Hornets.  It's taking awhile, but Wright just may be coming into his own as a nice reserve rotation player for the Heat.  Nelson, meanwhile, was the college player of the year and his story of falling down in the draft clashed with the number of high school players that were being chosen.  Nelson eventually ended up with Orlando where he became their starting point guard and has since emerged into an all star player. 

21) Utah Jazz - Pavel Podkolzin, C, Russia (traded to the Mavericks)
22) New Jersey Nets - Victor Khryapa, SF, Russia (traded to the Trail Blazers)
23) Portland Trail Blazers - Sergei Monia, SG, Russia
24) Boston Celtics - Delonte West, PG, Saint Joseph's
25) Boston Celtics - Tony Allen, SG, Oklahoma State
26) Sacramento Kings - Kevin Martin, SG, Western Carolina
27) Los Angeles Lakers - Sasha Vujacic, SG, Slovenia
28) San Antonio Spurs - Beno Udrih, PG, Slovenia
29) Indiana Pacers - David Harrison, C, Colorado

It was pretty cool to see three consecutive Russian players drafted in the first round.  However, not one of the Russians turned out memorable careers.  Podkolzin only played six games in two seasons with the Mavericks and was out of the league by 2006 while Khryapa and didn't fare much better.  Khryapa became a starter in Portland by his second season, but was then traded to Chicago and was out of the league by 2008.  Monia continued the hat trick and only played 26 games in the NBA before expressing a desire to return overseas after not cracking a rotation in the NBA.  West and Allen became nice players for Boston during their short time there.  West showed a penchant for coming up in clutch situations and his versatility at either guard position has allowed him to become a nice role player for Cleveland.  Meanwhile, Allen's defense and athletic ability have allowed him to stay in Boston (even through their bad years where they got rid of, almost, everybody) and he's become a great reserve for a solid team this season.  Martin was an explosive scorer in college and has become the exact same in the NBA, although injuries have limited his effectiveness the last two seasons.  Vujacic was a wild shooter who struggled his first three seasons in the leauge, finally put it all together in 2008 (a contract year) and was resigned to a big deal, and has now gone back to struggling.  Udrih struggled to stay on the court for San Antonio and eventually wound up in Sacramento, where he's found a home as the team's starting point guard the last seasons.  Harrison was another really talented prospect, but his off the court issues and immaturity were a theme for some troubled Pacers teams at the time and he was out of the league by 2008.

Round Two Notables:
30) Orlando Magic - Anderson Varejao, PF, Brazil (traded to the Cavaliers)
37) Atlanta Hawks - Royal Ivey, PG, Texas
38) Chicago Bulls - Chris Duhon, PG, Duke
43) New York Knicks - Trevor Ariza, SF, UCLA

A couple of really solid second rounders here.  Varejao has become a really popular player in Cleveland and, even if overpaid, is an important rotation player for some successful Cleveland teams the last few seasons.  Ivey is a defensive point guard who's managed to stay in the league thus far and even started some for Atlanta.  Duhon was a great back up in Chicago but struggled when given starter's minutes in New York.  His future in the league is uncertain.  Meanwhile, Ariza struggled to stay on the court in New York and Orlando due to injuries and inconsistency, but was eventually traded to the Lakers where he struggled with injuries again before becoming the team's starting small forward when they won the championship in 2009.  He parlayed that into a nice contract with the Houston Rockets, where he's currently their starting small forward.

Notable Undrafted Players
Damien Wilkins, SF, Georgia - Signed with the Seattle Supersonics

I mention Wilkins because he's managed to stay in the league thus far.  Nephew of NBA Legend Dominique Wilkins, Damien has stuck in the rotation for some playoff teams in Seattle and is still playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves today. 

2004-2005 NBA Rookie of the Year: Emeka Okafor
All Stars from the 2004 NBA Draft: Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson

2004-2005 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Emeka Okafor
Dwight Howard
Ben Gordon
Andre Iguodala
Luol Deng

2004-2005 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Nenad Krstic (who was originally drafted by the Nets in 2002 before finally signing in 2004)
Josh Smith
Josh Childress
Jameer Nelson
Al Jefferson

Posted on: February 10, 2010 1:46 am
 

NBA Midseason's Acquisition Report

We're approaching the all star weekend in the NBA; the unofficial midseason point for NBA teams.  At this point, we all have a pretty good understanding and grip on what certain teams are going to be able to do and what a lot of teams are unable to do.  Lots of trades are being rumored to go down even though nothing looks concrete as of yet.  But why are teams in this situation?  A lot of them are where they are because of the moves they made this offseason.  Last year, I wrote a report on how the NBA's biggest offseason additions worked by the all star break.  Some, like the Mo Williams acquisition for the Cavaliers, worked.  Some, like the Jermaine O'Neal experiment in Toronto, flopped.  So we're going to give it a shot again.  Here's a look back at the biggest player movements during the offseason and how they've worked thus far in the 2009-2010 NBA Season.

Detroit Pistons sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva
Ben Gordon (30 Games, 16.1 PPG, 2.6 APG, 2.1 RPG, 83.8 FT Pctg., 32.3 3PT FG Pctg., 43.0 FG Pctg.)
Charlie Villanueva (46 Games, 13.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 80.6 FT Pctg., 32.8 3PT FG Pctg., 44.0 FG Pctg.)
Detroit Pistons record (17-32)
After trading away Chauncey Billups and his expensive contract for the expiring deal of a still relevant Allen Iverson last season, the Pistons fell off the face of the Earth and backed into the postseason only to get embarassed by Cleveland.  The Iverson experiment did not work at all in Detroit, and with all of this free cap space and coming off of a unfamiliar terrible season in Detroit, Joe Dumars felt the pressure to put that money to good use.  What he did was devote 55 million dollars over 5 years to Ben Gordon and 35 million dollars over 5 years to Charlie Villanueva.  These moves obviously have not worked.  At the time, it seemed like Dumars was simply making moves to make them and that's really come across as the season's progressed.  Gordon and Villanueva have not clicked with the regular Pistons in the rotation and are symbolic of a lackluster franchise.  With the money and length of the contracts given to those two players as well, things look even more damp for Detroit for the near future.  Gordon has struggled to stay healthy and both players have not only struggled with their shots, they've struggled to find any consistent groove either off of the bench or in the starting lineup.  Grade: F

Cleveland Cavaliers trade Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns to acquire Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal (46 Games, 11.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 BPG, 51.5 FT Pctg., 55.8 FG Pctg.)
Cleveland Cavaliers record (41-11)
Coming off another "close but not close enough" season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the franchise entered another offseason of "what big name player can we acquire to throw on the wall and see if it will stick?"  During last year's terrific run, Cleveland was rumored to acquire Shaquille O'Neal at the trade deadline but balked on the move.  After watching Dwight Howard destroyt the team in the Eastern Conference Finals, they basically admitted that they let the fans down by not making the move last year, by making the move this offseason for Shaq.  Early in the season, Shaq really struggled to get acclimated in the lineup for Cleveland and fans really criticized the move.  But here as of late, Shaq has really improved his play on the court and his presence as a player on the court is invaluable, regardless of what numbers he is putting up.  Not to mention, he's got a very valuable expiring contract as well.  Ever since the Cavaliers lost Mo Williams and Delonte West to injury, Shaq has been asked to do a lot more and has valiantly responded with some strong numbers during the Cavs' current winning streak.  Time will tell if this works out in the postseason, this move was made only for a championship and anything short of that makes this another failed attempt.  But so far this season, Shaq's played well and the Cavaliers team looks great.  Grade: B

San Antonio Spurs trade Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto to the Milwaukee Bucks to acquire Richard Jefferson
Richard Jefferson (49 Games, 12.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 69.2 FT Pctg., 34.9 3PT FG Pctg., 44.9 FG Pctg.)
San Antonio Spurs record (29-21)
Given the team's rapidly increasing age and history problems, the Spurs looked at last season's first round exit as a sign of declining production in San Antonio.  So they entered the offseason aggressively and immediately traded three spot starters, one who had won 3 championships with the team (Bowen) and one who started for the team's 2007 championship (Oberto) to pick up an all star player in Richard Jefferson.  At the time, it looked ingenious.  Given the age of the players the Spurs gave up, they picked up a younger player who was in his prime, coming off averaging at least 18 points a game in 5 of his last 6 seasons with the Nets and Bucks.  However, Jefferson's lack of a consistent jump shot and inability to produce offensively in a half court system have really made his defeciencies as a problem shine.  With the Spurs struggles this season, he's largely become a scapegoat and his sharp decline in production is a large reason why the Spurs have struggled against some of the league's best teams.  He's managed to stay healthy, but he's left a lot to be desired offensively and defensively and has not made any difference on a rapidly aging Spurs team.  The four time champions may be ready to deal Jefferson already.  Grade: D

Boston Celtics sign Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels
Rasheed Wallace (46 Games, 10.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 80.0 FT Pctg., 29.4 3PT FG Pctg., 40.3 FG Pctg.)
Marquis Daniels (20 Games, 5.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 57.1 FT Pctg., 47.6 FG Pctg.)
Boston Celtics record (32-17)
After last season's dissapointing laundry list of injuries, the Celtics put up a strong effort against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic before going down in 7 games.  Largely the team missed Kevin Garnett not only for his leadership, but also because he was their most effective offensive big man.  Glen Davis stepped in admirably and did a great job (which earned him a new contract with the Celtics as well) but the Celtics still needed depth in the worse way.  Enter Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels.  Wallace was to be that forward/center off the bench who can stretch the court with this three point shot, step in and play defense and who could play alongside either Garnett or Kendrick Perkins, or could even play alongside both of them in big sets for the Pistons.  Wallace's offensive production has really dissapointed this season and almost 40% of his shots are three point field goal attempts.  Given that he's shooting under 30 percent from long distance, it doesn't seem like such a good idea to camp out at that three point line for Wallace.  But he's done that for the last few seasons and you have to expect that from him.  Because of the injuries to Garnett and Big Baby this season, Wallace has been invaluable as that extra big man and has really played a lot more than Doc Rivers probably expected to play him.  Daniels was supposed to finally be that guard off of the bench for the Celtics who could spell Paul Pierce.  Given Pierce's big minutes last season and the team's lack of a true backup for him, a lot was expected of Daniels and he's struggled to stay on the court due to injuries.  I'll leave the jury out on him and only give this grade based on the Wallace acquisition.  Grade: C

Los Angeles Lakers sign Ron Artest
Ron Artest (48 Games, 11.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 68.5 FT Pctg., 40.1 3PT FG Pctg., 42.8 FG Pctg.)
Los Angeles Lakers record (40-13)
When Trevor Ariza and his agent, someone the Lakers brass wanted no part of after their negotiations with Andrew Bynum, demanded more money, the Lakers immediately turned their back on Ariza and went after Houston Rockets defender/headcase/Kobe Bryant enemy Ron Artest.  Long one of the most controversial yet colorful characters in the league, Artest looked like an immediate upgrade in terms of player talent over Ariza (in a move of fate, Ariza would sign with the Rockets).  Artest has really struggled to find a role in the triangle offense and looks as if he's lost a step or two defensively for the Lakers but he's played well as of late and this move was made entirely for the postseason.  With that being said and with the Lakers record showing no problems, the Artest struggles haven't had any drastic affect on their record.  I'll still give Artest room to grow.  Grade: C+

Orlando Magic trade Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson
Vince Carter (45 Games, 16.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 85.2 FT Pctg., 33.2 3PT FG Pctg., 39.6 FG Pctg.)
Orlando Magic record (35-17)
Even though Carter's numbers are down across the board, that had to be expected with the move to the defending Eastern Conference Champion and incredibly deep Orlando Magic.  What wasn't to be expected was Carter's low shooting percentage and lack of involvement in the execution of the offense.  When point-forward and primary playmaker Hedo Turkoglu became a free agent, the Magic thought he wouldn't be worth the money he'd command and immediately made a move to acquire Carter from the eager to shed talent New Jersey Nets to be the team's replacement for Turkoglu.  Statistically speaking it looked like a major upgrade, but Carter struggled, and so far really hasn't been able to become the playmaker that Turkoglu was for that Eastern Conference Champion squad.  Nor, with his shooting percentage, has he been able to be a more effeceient offensive player than Turkoglu.  The team and Carter really hit a bump in January with Carter shooting 29 percent from the field for the month.  But here of late, especially with a 48 point outburst on national television last night by Vinsanity, things look as if they're turning around for Orlando and Vince Carter.  Given the progress they've made as of late, I'm going to be generous with his grade.  Grade: B-

Atlanta Hawks trade Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to the Golden State Warriors for Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford (49 Games, 17.6 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.4 RPG, 85.3 FT Pctg., 37.2 3PT FG Pctg., 46.0 FG Pctg.)
Atlanta Hawks record (32-17)
The Hawks steady incline continued last season with the team going from making the postseason for the first time in nine years back in 2008 to winning the team's first postseason series in ten years in 2009.  So in order to continue taking those steps forward, the Hawks looked at their fantastic starting five and deemed it necessary to give a drastic upgrade to the bench.  After Crawford's struggles in Golden State last year and him openly being told he was not going to be welcomed back by the Warriors, the Hawks saw a player ripe for the picking and immediately acquired him in a trade after the draft.  Given the team's really cheap price for Crawford (in terms of what had to be sent to Golden State), the Hawks have made out like bandits in this deal.  Crawford has not only been the best sixth man all year long, he's been incredibly efficient scoring the basketball and has even been a player Atlanta looks to in the clutch.  Furthermore, he's come through in the clutch plenty of times for the Hawks.  With the team making strides in their record as well, this move has really paid dividends.  Whether or not it gets them past the Conference Semifinals to that natural step up to the Conference Finals is still to be seen, but so far this move has worked otu great for the Hawks.  Grade: A

Toronto Raptors acquire free agent Hedo Turkoglu in four-team trade
Hedo Turkoglu (47 Games, 12.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 78.4 FT Pctg., 38.3 3PT FG Pctg., 40.3 FG Pctg.)
Toronto Raptors record (28-23)
After getting a lot of publicity and praise during the Magic's run to the NBA finals last season (funny seeing how Orlando's run to the Conference Title really impacted a lot of these moves), Turkoglu entered an offseason in which he was, undoubtedly, going to get paid.  After the Magic basically said "thanks for your services but you're expendable" and traded for Vince Carter, a return was ruled out.  After a rumored deal with the Portland Trail Blazers was announced, it looked like a match made in heaven for a Portland team looking to take that next step.  Then, out of nowhere, Turkoglu was announced to be taking huge money from the Toronto Raptors, a team with a boisterous Turkish population significant enough to make Turkoglu want to move on in.  Turkoglu was the centerpiece of a lot of moves the Raptors made this offseason.  Early on in the season, the team and Turkoglu were dreadful and to this day, although he and the team have made strides, Turkoglu really hasn't looked comfortable in Toronto's offensive system and sometimes looks confused on what he's being asked to do.  Time will tell if Turkoglu and Toronto can continue to make the strides they've made lately but, all things considered, they've underachieved this season.  But with the progress they've made, I'll give them a break.  Grade: C

New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats swap Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler (25 Games, 6.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 72.0 FT Pctg., 50.0 FG Pctg.)
Charlotte Bobcats Record (24-25)
Emeka Okafor (52 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59.3 FT Pctg., 52.7 FG Pctg.)
New Orleans Hornets Record (27-25)
After a falling out with Bobcats coach Larry Brown, Bobcat original Emeka Okafor and his large contract were likely to be moved last offseason.  After putting the team over the luxury tax and being unable to remain healthy all season, largely hurting the team's chemistry and production, the Hornets and fan favorite Tyson Chandler looked likely to part ways as well.  And then this trade happened.  What was basically a straight up swap of centers really worked towards what both teams wanted.  Chandler had an expiring contract of great value and was a hustle, defense, athletic big man that Brown wanted on his team.  Okafor was cap relief for this season (although not for the long term) and someone who played all 82 games for the Hornets to take onto their team.  Both players have really struggled with their new teams.  Chandler's been booed by the Charlotte fans, has not been able to stay healthy (again) and hasn't produced when he's been on the court.  Okafor hasn't duplicated numbers he was expected to add on to playing with Chris Paul.  Because the Bobcats are in the Eastern Conference, it's likely they'll still make the playoffs but Okafor may not be enough to get the Hornets into the postseason in the West; especially with the injuries to Chris Paul.  So what was largely an odd trade made this offseason, neither team has really suffered or benefitted as a result of it.  Although the Hornets are probably ecstatic that they have a center who can play every game.  Grade for the Hornets and Bobcats: C

Posted on: June 1, 2009 1:13 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:43 am
 

Previewing The 2009 NBA Finals

After correctly predicting the NBA finals in my review of the conference finals, I find it important that I hurry aboard to try and keep up my good name by predicting the NBA Finals.  In all honesty, I couldn't be happier with this matchup.  Not only did I pick it, these, in my opinion, are the two best teams that the NBA could offer at this point.  Both of these teams have faced adversity.  Both have taken shots in the media and Stan Van Gundy and Pau Gasol have been the most critiqued figures in the media since the postseason started.  But how did they get here?

The Magic stumbled at the end of the season, coupling blowout losses with an injury to Hedo Turkoglu and really entered the playoffs on a sour note.  Furthermore, two of their first three games of the postseason they lose to the 76ers on fantastic last second shots by Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young.  However, with the team down 2-1 in Philadelphia and with the game tied, Hedo Turkoglu came through with the biggest shot this season for the Magic, nailing a three in the final seconds to tie the series at two apiece.  After Dwight Howard was suspended for game six in that series, the team really came together and played their most complete game of the postseason, winning and exiling Philadelphia in six games.  The defending champion Boston Celtics came next and the Magic, again, were dealt a crushing loss in game 4.  With the Magic up 2-1, just seconds away from taking a commanding 3-1 lead, Boston forward Glen Davis nails a terrific shot and the series is tied.  The Celtics went on to win game 5 and all looked lost for Orlando.  But display the stuff that champions are made of, Orlando took care of business at home in game 6 and then crushed Boston on their home court in game 7.  By the time the Conference Finals came around, the Magic had already seen everything anyone could throw at them.  So when the Cavaliers jumped out to 20 point leads three different times in this series, it should not surprise that Orlando came back in all of them because they've never displayed a lack of effort out on the court.  Thoroughly exposing and defeating the Cavaliers, Orlando now is making it's second finals appearance in franchise history but is looking for their first championship.

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storried teams in history.  In the present tense, they're probably the most talented team in basketball.  That's what makes it so frustrating when you see how they coast from time to time out there on the court.  Now making their 30th appearance in the NBA finals in franchise history, the Lakers' road was just as rocky but was more publicly ridiculed than Orlando's.  After defeating the Jazz in five games, the Lakers faced off against the Houston Rockets in what turned out to be a brutal, physical battle.  After Yao Ming got injured and the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead, it looked like all was lost for Houston.  But the Lakers allowed the depleted Rockets to blow them out two more games before the Lakers took the series in seven games.  After letting Houston take them to seven, the Lakers were suddenly everyone's favorite team to hate and people wrongfully bashed them before their series with the Nuggets.  Aside from an embarassing game 4, the Lakers genuinely played good, complete basketball against the Nuggets, including an impressive game 5 and a mind blowingly convincing game 6 in order to get the team to the finals.  Kobe Bryant looks to win his fourth NBA Championship, his first without Shaquille O'Neal, and bring Phil Jackson his 10th, which would put Phil alone atop the list of coaches with championshp rings. 

How do these teams match up and who has the advantage in what area?  That will now be addressed.
Western Conference Champion: (1) Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs. Eastern Conference Champion: (3) Orlando Magic (59-23)

Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers hold the advantage of having the best player in the game on their side.  Kobe Bryant proved in the Denver series that he is still capable of going above and beyond the call of duty in order to ensure that his team wins that elusive championship.  With an extremely talented roster, the Lakers are capable of throwing many defenders at the Magic and are athletic enough and talented enough to give Orlando fits on defense, something that Philadelphia did but that Boston and Cleveland really couldn't.  In that lineup to guard Orlando, the Lakers could also score very efficently as all of the players on the court are capable of scoring from different spots on the floor.  The bench has been really hit or miss for Los Angeles, but usually either Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar or Luke Walton will come up big one game or another.  They usually have at least one player each game stand tall.  It would help if all of them could get on the same page, but the current formulat hasn't crippled them.  Trevor Ariza will be huge in this series, as he has been all postseason, because finally there is a player whom Orlando will face that can guard Rashard Lewis.  With Ariza being tall, athletic and even strong enough to stay in front of Lewis, Lewis may have a hard time.  Lewis has had a tendency to show up in spurts for Orlando and Ariza can really contain those spots.

Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic can't be criticized for a lack of effort or be accused of coasting at all this postseason because they're not talented enough to do that and they haven't faced competition where they can get away with it.  As a result, for nineteen excruciating games, the Magic have had to go out and battle for four quarters.  Public perception would tell us that means the Magic could be exhausted by this point but I truly believe that those battles are the best experience a team can have entering the NBA Finals.  Well prepared now for any situation they could possibly experience, the Magic have shown that they can jump out on you for a big lead, come back on you if you have a big lead, win close games, handle tough losses and still stand tall throughout all of it.  They have the most unguardable player in the series in Dwight Howard.  The Lakers don't play Andrew Bynum often and he's been such a foul machine all postseason that I can't imagine him getting more than 12-15 minutes a game in this series.  That leaves Pau Gasol in the game against Dwight more often than not.  When that happens, Gasol's lack of strength in addition to wanting to avoid foul trouble will allow Howard to have a field day down in the paint.  The Magic could run into trouble if Phil goes to foul Dwight whenever he's around the basket, and the Lakers have the bodies to do that, but Stan Van Gundy has been the best at adjustments in this postseason and he can find a way to have Dwight be quicker with decisions with the basketball.  When Howard kicks it out, all of the Magic shooters have proved capable of hitting big shots.  The Magic are lucky to have two terrific on the ball defenders in Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee, and if those two can give Kobe Bryant fits then the rest of the Lakers have not proven they can carry Kobe.  Kobe has carried this team all postseason long, and if the Magic can make Kobe struggle then they will reap the benefits.

Key Player for the Lakers: Lamar Odom is going to be huge for the Lakers.  Because the Magic play such a small lineup, he will find himself matched up with both Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on both sides of the court throughout the game.  However, his versatility at the power forward position allows the Lakers to be able to match and still be effective against the Magic's unorhodox lineup.  He's been battling a back injury all postseason, but has shown flashes where he hustles, goes after loose balls and really makes it look effortless on the court.  At this level and with him being a player capable of going out to guard Lewis while still also being a force on offense, Odom cannot afford to revert back to his inconsistent quiet ways.  If he plays a huge series the Lakers will undoubtedly come out victorious.

Key Player for the Magic: Rafer Alston has been really hit or miss this entire postseason, as well, but when he's been on, the Magic have won.  Point guards have given the Lakers trouble all postseason and Alston isn't the most talented player at his position, but is a quick and smart player at the point guard position.  His shot has been really streaky and sometimes he takes ill advised chances on the offensive side of the basketball, but if can keep his head in the game and knock down open jump shots then he can be a huge difference maker for the Magic.  Derek Fisher has had a hard time on defense this postseason and has struggled with his jump shot, so this is a prime opportunity for Alston to take advantage of that and thoroughly outplay Fisher.  If he does that, then the Magic will have the advantage to the championship.

Prediction: Lakers in six.

Key As To Why They Will Win: Home court is huge here for Los Angeles.  In the 2-3-2 format, the road team has more of an opportunity than they have at any other level of the postseason.  However, although both teams have shown they're more than capable of winning big playoff games on the road, the Lakers role players play at a different level in Los Angeles.  As a result, the fact that they have more home games is crucial.  Kobe Bryant is going to be effective and consistent in this postseason, and having Trevor Ariza's versatility on both offense and defense this season will hide some of the holes that the team had in last season's finals with the Celtics.  Dwight Howard will severely take out Pau Gasol on both sides of the court, but Odom will be able to take advantage of either Lewis or Turkoglu's struggles on the ball defensively. 

Conclusion: This series is genuinely tough and could go either way.  I look at both squads and I'm happy that they're both here.  They're both experienced in tough situations and are the two most talented teams in the league.  The Magic get the bill as underdog just because the eleminated LeBron James and are facing the star studded Lakers, but they're not some cinderella team that is running on borrowed time.  Dwight Howard is going to be unstoppable in this series but his penchant for foul trouble is a reason why I went against Orlando.  With him being the only sure advantage for Orlando, he's going to be in high demand all series long and needs to be effective at all times.  If players drive it to the basket and get him in foul trouble, and if the Lakers continuously send him to the foul line, that's going to disrupt the Magic flow and really will take them out of this series.  Orlando's had a great run, but I feel as if the intelligence has finally caught up to the talent for the Lakers and I look for them to take advantage of being here for a second straight season.  I've picked them all year and I'll pick them now: the Los Angeles Lakers will be our 2009 NBA Champions.

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