Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: New Orleans Hornets


Your opening preview is from Matt Moore.

Fifty nine words about the Hornets, one for every win I anticipate from them.

Fleur De Bee.
50. Sincere.




The Hornets have the best offense in the NBA. Period. They won't score the most points, nor will they have the swiftest pace. But this Hornets scheme is the ultimate, deserving evolution of the SSOL offense started with Phoenix what seems like eons ago. Let me explain. This Hornets team is not the rock 'em, sock 'em, shoot-without-thinking Suns team that most outsiders (and even a bunch of insiders) came to know and love. However, what Chris Paul has been able to do is to take this beautiful, free wheelin' system and format it to its most ruthlessly efficient and scientific. This is a testament to his tremendous talent and foresight. Nash is, and forever will be, the wizard. Paul is the chemist. And this Hornets team and its mind blowingly adept offense will dominate this league for years to come. Sure, they may not rack up the highlights or the rabid mesmorization that SSOL did, but it will win a championship, probably sooner than anyone could have thought just a year ago.

Let me reiterate what I said earlier. This Hornets team is what everyone wished and hoped the D'Antoni era (damn, that is still hard to say) Suns would have become. Exciting, but focused, forcing their offensive philosophy onto other teams while remaining disciplined and calm enough to counter-punch using their opponents strengths. A lot of people may disagree. This Hornets team, as evidenced last year in the playoffs, are as tough as you are, as smart as you are and as intimidating and unintimidated as any team can be. Even without the talent of the Lakers, the experience of the Spurs or the brutality of Boston, I defy you to find another team in the league that inspires such LEGITIMATE hope as the Hornets. They are beautiful and bullish. Teammates and individually talented. Strong and swift. They are, simply, the best and most transcendent team the league has to offer us. It is up to the fans to judge for themselves.

Kobe may be the killer, KG the face, LeBron the global icon. But, no basketball player on the plant embodies everything that is good, decent and personal about sports as Chris Paul. As much a great person as a great point guard, he is, at age 23, the future of the league. For argument's sake, LeBron is the present of the league. Paul is the prototype for point guard as leader. He is built like a bull, with an impenetrable handle, head on a swivel and that "thing" that allows him to know where everyone is on the court, when to get them the ball and how to do it. More than that, his offensive game is as powerful in the mid-range as it is barreling to the rim. His shot has matured and his range is extending. His passing has not only made Tyson Chandler a viable fantasy candidate, but he has forced all of his teammates to increase their alertness and internal responsibility. When Paul orchestrates this measure, sure offensive system and delivers his passes to the best offensive option in the optimal area, his fellow Hornets feel personally responsible for hitting their open spot and making their shot. Paul is maestro of an offense that mutates and adjusts depending on opposing defenses just as often as it forces its crafty mechanics onto unsuspecting opponents.

All this praise only tips the iceberg when you talk about the ferocity and punkishness Paul brings to defense. Already one of the best thieves in the league, he uses his surprising bulk to muscle up larger guards and negate size advantages. His arms rival Paroxi-wife's fav (Boom Dizzle) and his seething hatred of the success of his opponents gives him a powerful mental edge.

Ok, time out. I gotta stop. This is getting out of hand. Point is: Paul Rules. Now, let's get on to the rest of the Hornets.

David West not only became Matt Moore's favorite player not named Tyrus Thomas last year, he became a sort-of heir apparent to Karl Malone. He is big, skilled, tough and tricky. After all, that face tap of Dirk in the playoffs sent the blogosphere ablaze. We all knew and loved David West, but that one moment showcased just how confident he is in himself and his team. He won't back down because he knows how hard he has worked to get to this All Star level and no former MVP will back him down. The elbow jumper is the deadliest 15 feet and in move not named Howard's dunk or Duncan's bank shot. His ball skills and handle give him the freedom to clear out the lane and operate, while his and Paul's pick and roll has become almost literally unstoppable. West's smart footwork and defensive power help alleviate a dependence on Tyson Chandler and often times forces other, less skilled power forwards away from their comfort zones. Oh yeah, he is automatic at the free throw line as well. West is the great combination of 45% Duncan and 45% Garnett. And you know what, 90% of those guys is better than 99.9% of the rest of the league. West is only hitting his stride.

Boy, what a difference a great team, less responsibility and good coaching makes. Tyson Chandler has developed quietly into one of the best rim defenders in the league. He uses his body well on defense and has cut down on fouls significantly. His athleticism is even more impressive because it has not been truncated by his beefier physique and increase workload with the Hornets. On offense, Chandler is the avatar of the alley-oop. Now that Nash is not lobbying as many net grenades to Matrix and Amare anymore, Paul to Chandler is the rim-rockingest dunk fest in all the league. And given the relative defensive deficiencies of 2/5 of the Hornets starters, Chandler is now the Landlord most people predicted him to be all those years ago when he blasted into the league straight outta Compton.

The rest of the Hornets team fits intricately into system Byron Scott has helped build. Peja has a renaissance last year, staying healthy for the most part and letting his 3 point prowess rain down. Though he is not the offensive trickster of his Kings days, he is still a lethal long-baller and monster-sized 3 who is capable of stretching defenses on the offensive end and shrinking offensive passing lanes on the defensive end. Of course, expecting another near flawless health record 2 years in a row is like betting on Ron Artest to not do something batshit crazy for a month. However, if he can remain "relatively" healthy, it is a win for the Hornets

Mo Pete will continue to slash and score when need be. He is a heady, smart player who, although getting older, still has the hops and smarts to be effective on both ends of the court. Julian Wright exceeded even my wildest expectations last year. His outside show has been seriously retooled, his ball handling and passing skills have evolved even further and his defensive awareness grows with each game. He will be a deadly weapon off the bench and it would not surprise to see him run even a bit of point early in the year (yeah, I ain't kidding, his handle and vision are that good) just to see if he can spell Paul for a few minutes a night. Melving Ely and Hilton Armstrong should be solid, second team contributors who can rebound, defend and get putbacks. Armstrong, in particular, could see his minutes increase this year, as Scott will want to save West's energy for what looks like a deep playoff run. If his interior moves can catch up to his energy and length, he could see a significant increase in offensive production (Wow, I just realized that I wrote that sentence. Better get back to the funny stuff. IIIIIEEEEEE).

The lynchpin for this Hornets team will be major offseason acquisition James Posey. A poor man's Robert Horry (that is probably the nicest thing I can say about Horry), Posey is a powerful defender, clutch shooter and veteran champion who was brought on for those 3 reasons exactly. Though many around the league found him over-praised and way overpaid, I would like to invite those commentators to suck a big fat one. Posey's got 2 rings, how many you got? Thought so. So shut up. Rather than riding the coattails of uber-stars like Wade and KG to titles, Posey can really exert his skill and craftiness with this Hornets roster. He fits in with the mean regime, but his words will mean so much more than any of the Hornets bench players could have last year. When the going got rough for Nola last year, it was a 5 man team and no matter how good you are, eventually you wear down and your execution looks more like Enron accounting than Facebook projections.

And, last but not least, we cannot forget the fact that the Hornets were the feel good story of last NBA season. Thank the good Lord (or, you know, whatever you like to thank) that they didn't get stuffed in OKC like Stern had wanted. They finally brought an excitement and energy to the Bayou that hasn't been seen since Pistol Pete's LSU days. But, how will they fair this year? Do the crowds come early and stay late from opening night onwards? Does the fact that they are now a bona-fide contender and not an underdog alleviate some of the "magic" we saw last year? Are the expectations greater than reality could possibly be? That all remains to be seen. And boy, won't it be fun to watch.

We love this team because they were built the right way. They drafted well, saw potential where others had given up hope and stuck with a tough, forceful coach who could meld these parts into a collective whole. They can be exciting, but they can also do more than inspire. They can literally achieve. We all wanted the SSOL Suns to stick it to the league, but we KNOW the CP3 Hornets can do it. But another year of near misses may only make the Paul star grow brighter while his team's cohesion and viability diminish. There is rarely a sense of urgency for a 23-year-old, but Paul - and the team he has helped galvanize and shape - know that to be the man, you have to beat the man (boy, could that be any more Disney?). So, as the Spurs begin to sink, the Suns eclipse, Dallas goes rogue and the Lakers start to strangle everything on the left side of the Mississippi, the Hornets get their work cut out for them. Now, if only they can put their money where our mouths are.


Oh, look! The Hornets are good again! Isn't that swell?

All's well that ends well.

Wait. Hold on. Isn't this the team that fought San Antonio tooth and nail and then caved in like the Denver airport after a big snow in Game Seven? Isn't this the team that was disastrous two years ago? Isn't this the team that whenever anyone winces on the floor, the entire media holds its breath like there's a baby teetering on the edge of a cliff?

Let's just slow down on the Fleur De Bee (and by the way, you're f*cking Hornets. Quit incorporating bees into your marketing crap. You know how real hornets and bees get along? The hornets kill the bees. Quit confusing your damn bugs.) coronation party, okay? Yeah, they had a great season and return a lot of talent. But David West could just as easily vanish into Drew Gooden-ville, population: Tim Thomas . Tyson Chandler had an awesome year, but what if someone comes up with an answer to the alley-oop? Whoops, you've just limited 80% of his offense. Mo Peterson is the freaking TinMan of this team. He doesn't really do anything for the majority of it, and then he runs around freaking out for a while. They lost Pargo. They added Big Game James, which is awesome, but unless he's planning on handcuffing Peja when Peja decides it's rootin' tootin' shootin' time, they've still got some problems.

You want to solve Paul? Here you go. Don't trap him. Ever. It's suicide. Just get the biggest damn guard you can, and tell them to constantly put their shoulder into him. The little bastard is mean as a rattlesnake, but he's also slender like one. You hit it with a rock, and you'll at least back him off a bit. Or he could bite you.

And while we're on the subject, why does Paul get a free pass for being underhanded? We've seen the clips. We know what goes on. Everyone who watches the game knows that for as good a guy as he is off the court, you put him on hardwood and he transforms into a ruthless little sonofabitch. But no one ever calls him out on it, besides Jazz fans. And they think he killed Kennedy while having sex with their sister while simultaneously traveling and charging.

And, oh, how about their owner? Mr. "I will do anything remotely possible to move this franchise, what, they're popular? Nevermind, I love this city! Woo NAWLINS!" Shinn? This guy is like Bennett in disguise.

I talked about the Jazz being overrated. Everyone, especially us, have already mailed these guys their rings. And the only thing they've proven is that for one year, they were able to wipe out a Mavericks team in the midst of a nervous breakdown, and push the Spurs to seven games. The playoff graveyard is littered with teams that have pushed the Spurs to seven games. It doesn't make you special. It makes you fodder.

Look, we kiss their ass more than anybody on the series of Tubes. But there's got to be a limit. Peja's going to snap off eventually and it's going to be like taking an axe to a totem pole. What if it's this year? What if the fact that they have no bench whatsoever, and their backups resemble the cast of the Strangers (completely faceless and providing an underwhelming performance) actually catches up with them this year. Maybe we shouldn't just pencil them in just yet.



David West is the lynch pin of this whole operation. Paul's going to get his. He's elite. And Chandler is going to contribute. But as we saw in last year's playoffs, David West is the weapon that makes this a gunship. If he doesn't put in all the things he did last year, and do so with the quiet vengeance he used, the Hornets will slide. West is my second favorite player to watch besides Wade. But he's got to keep up that intensity if the Hornets are going to make it.

I think losing Pargo hurts. I know he was inconsistent. I know he was a lunatic at times. But that kind of energy off the bench at the guard position is pretty valuable. Replacing him with James Jones is like replacing the Ramones with Gordon Lightfoot. They're pretty good but the energy level is vastly different.

It'll be curious to see if teams continue to try and trap Paul or if they just accept it. That's what the Spurs did. They just kind of stopped trying to stop him, focused on the other guys, and let him do his thing. They basically used the old Kobe rules on him, except he's a distributer which is why it was so close.

The food in New Orleans is, in my opinion, the absolute best in the world.


Paroxi-Wife Note: Chris Paul could be my second secret boyfriend if he works out a little bit more. Or always gazes directly at the camera. But I'm holding back my heart from the Hornets for fear they'll be just like my Warlocks used to be: so close to it all, and so heartbreakingly far away. This will ensue in my BAC to rise as I go through vodka like it's juice. So please, Chris Paul, don't fail me. HP doesn't need two drunkards on staff.

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