Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Stretch Run: New Orleans Hornets

I'll say it.

I love the Hornets.

I can't get over it. And every time I watch them, I get to love them a little bit more. There's so many things about them that manage to amaze and confound me.

Is David West the best shooter Power Forward in the game right now?

How can a team have the best record in the West with that bench?

Why can no one contain the alley-oop from Paul to Chandler?

Is Peja really going to stay healthy the whole year? (Knock on wood.)

How is their zone that good?

What if, IF Pargo turns into a reliable shooter and manages his turnovers in the playoffs?

Is there any team you really feel comfortable with picking against the Hornets with in the Western Conference?

Watching this team has been a real joy this season. Moreso than any other team, even the Warriors, I enjoy watching the Hive. And they play relatively slow. But the other night they ran the double pick and pop with Paul, Chandler, and West. It was one of the purely best basketball plays I've seen this season. There was no way to defend that didn't require completely running through Tyson Chandler. The technical aspects of the Hornets are numerous and prolific. We've talked a lot about Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers (chuckle), SVG, Reggie Theus, and others, but right now my vote goes to Byron Scott. The way he's managed personalities, an incomplete set of superstars, and done it in the Western Conference has been amazing.

While so many people are paying attention to Chris Paul, and deservedly so, David West has arguably been my favorite player to watch this season. Opposing teams' announcers are always surprised at West's long range jumper. Even though he's pretty automatic from there. It's why he's a rare mismatch for Tim Duncan. Duncan can't extend his defense to match West's range without allowing West to get around him because of West's slighter frame and speed. But unlike most power forwards Duncan faces, West can't be allowed to shoot jumpers. Because he'll bury you with them. Now, there are obvious counter problems to this, such as West's inability to effectively stop Duncan due to his lack of size and bulk. But with Chandler down low to assist, it's not a huge gaping hole... unless you're facing the combo of Oberto and Duncan. Either way, West's offensive versatility has been excellent.

The other thing that really has struck me about the Hornets has been their defense. We place a high value on individual defense in this leaugue, but the Hornets' team defense has been nothing short of phenomenal. They're tremendously disciplined on defense. They're defensive numbers aren't exceptional, but they're not weak in any area, either?

I started to wonder about a weakness on this team. The biggest thing, besides their obvious gaping abhorrent hole of a bench, is the need for a slashing wing man. But then, I remember, that Julian Wright is a rookie. I feel pretty confident, given Wright's development this season, that he can provide that boost. I found out an interesting observation from Ryan over at Hornets 247. He told me that 19 of the Hornets' 22 losses were games where they didn't shoot the three pointer well. That casts an unfortunate shadow over the playoffs, as they will eventually be dealing with terrific perimeter defense from the Spurs and Lakers. If they were to improve on this next year, they're going to have to find a shooter on limited resources.

The dream scenario is for the Hornets to capture the 1 seed, and trounce the Nuggets in the first round. Imagine the playoff team with the worst attendance record having homecourt advantage for the playoffs. Nothing but good comes from the Hornets in the second round. Then again, with their playoff experience, a first round matchup with any team becomes a dicey proposition.

But just for a moment, let's dream.

Birdman Anderson with a championship ring.




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