Tag:Tyson Chandler
Posted on: March 21, 2012 12:55 am
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The Super Team Generation is Not Done

The most intriguing aspect of Dwight Howard staying in Orlando was neither loyalty nor his shunning of a presumably fiercer spotlight.  It was that Howard, whether through naivete or clarity, willingly surrendered the opportunity to surround himself with a stronger supporting cast.  To extrapolate from this reality and make sweeping statements as to his character is absurd.  Yet at the same time, Howard’s decision flew in the face of recent convention, of the allegedly crystallizing era of super-teams.  That market size and the chance to win titles might dominate super-team construction seemed a decent enough assumption.  But then, LeBron Jamesdismissed the former, and now, Dwight Howard, at least for a year, has ducked both.

There’s a fascinating symmetry to the Dwight Howard - LeBron James - Dwyane Wade - Chris Paul (arguably the four most valuable players of the past five years) axis, the first generation to start the phenomenon in earnest.  Due to the nature of their respective first extensions, James and Wade entered free agency together, and Paul and Howard were on schedule to do the same this summer.  But while James and Wade upgraded their supporting casts, it’s tough to make the case that either Howard or, strangely, Paul have done anything of the sort.

The concept of title “contention” is difficult to quantify, let alone accurately assess through the eye test.  Competition ebbs and flows, league trends emphasize specific skills over others, and overall quality of basketball is far from constant.  Nonetheless, efficiency differential (the difference between a team’s points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions) is a relatively clean method of separating the elite from the rest.  Over the last ten years, the average NBA finalist has had an efficiency differential a shade over +6.   It’s hardly a stringent requirement, and indeed, two winners from the past decade – the 2012 Dallas Mavericks and 2006 Miami Heat – fell short of the mark.  But the +6 efficiency differential plateau is empirically a strong indicator of title contention, and this is where it gets interesting for the pair of duos in James/Wade and Howard/Paul.

Wade went from post Shaquille O'Neal chaos to perennial title contention alongside LeBron.  James himself went from contending in Cleveland to contending, in a very disparate, far less risky manner, in Miami.  The color blue represents offensive efficiency differential here (difference from team efficiency to league efficiency), red represents defensive efficiency, and green represents the total.

(I've had problems posting pictures from photobucket and imageshack in the past so I'm just going to post the link to it here).

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Teaming up was a no-brainer for Wade.  The intermediate years between the Shaq and LeBron eras of Miami basketball seem a distant memory at this stage, but the Heat were truly a dismal team.  There’s little question that in the Western Conference, Wade’s Heat would have missed the playoffs every year from 2006 to 2010.  And this is neither here nor there, but it should at least make us question why so many hold Kevin Love to the “he’s not a superstar till he carries a team to the playoffs” line of logic when a player of Dwyane Wade’s caliber only accomplished it due to a massive assist from the frailty of his competition.

LeBron’s team efficiency differentials tell quite a different tale.

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They don’t necessarily suggest that moving to Miami was the wrong move; differentials, in themselves, don’t account for integral aspects like the diversification of attacking and defensive prowess.  They do suggest, however, that LeBron’s Cavaliers were legitimate title contenders towards the end of his tenure.  Were they overly reliant on a single player?  Absolutely.  But that single player was the best of this generation.

A confluence of factors ultimately prevented Cleveland from winning a title, but by no means did James leave behind a closed championship window.  With the Boston Celtics’ decline and Orlando Magic in relative disarray, it’s a little bemusing to consider that 2012 could well have been the Cavaliers' clearest shot at a title.  It didn’t happen, but James has the opportunity to win it now, alongside Wade and Chris Bosh.

The back end of the foursome – Paul and Howard – has fared quite a bit differently.

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For all of Orlando’s missteps in recent years, it’s easy to see why Howard might still associate the Magic with success; Orlando contended for the majority of his tenure.  Stan Van Gundy’s offensive and defensive systems were always far more reflective than supplemental of Howard’s talents on each end, but regardless, they were highly successful.

Surrounding Howard with elite shooters was never as proactive as, say, the Cavaliers’ repeated efforts to trade for complementary talents like Amar’e Stoudemire, but in some sense, it never mattered.  The issue now is one of player decline and talent misevaluation; the latter precludes remediary steps addressed at the former, and so Orlando’s title contention has ground to a halt.   Howard perhaps opted for an extra year in Orlando because, for many years, the Magic legitimately contended for titles in a way that neither the Wade Heat nor the Paul Hornets came close to, but the future looks dire without a massive free agent signing next summer.

That, naturally, brings us to Chris Paul.

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The Hornets’ 2008 run to Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals was supposed to be Paul’s grand first act on the national postseason stage, establishing the David West - Chris Paul - Tyson Chandler trio as a western power for years to come.  Instead, it’s been the pinnacle of Paul’s career to this point.  Injuries, bad luck, and mismanagement in New Orleans primarily drove the subsequent downward trajectory, but, most importantly, the bright lights and hype of Lob City and Blake Griffin haven’t changed that.

As it currently stands, the Clippers are a closer approximation of the tragically flawed 2011 or 2009 Hornets than the successful 2008 iteration, which wasn’t a legitimate title contender in the first place.  The 2012 Clippers are certainly the best offensive group Paul’s ever been a part of, but their repeated and often farcical defensive failures have been their undoing.  Teams don’t learn to play defense overnight, and the issues here are systemic.  Chris Paul is on no more of a contender now than he was a year ago, and less a coaching swap or personnel overhaul during the summer, that won’t necessarily change next season either.  Paul has his big market and fellow star running mate, but, frustratingly for the neutral basketball fan, serious title contention will ostensibly elude him for yet another season.

Orlando has minimal room to maneuver this  summer, its management firmly handcuffed, the key lost somewhere in the mountains of money still owed to Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Glen Davis.  The immediate future is perhaps slightly less gloomy for the Clippers, still awash in the new car smell associated with the acquisition of the league’s best lead guard.  But if it isn’t already, it will become clear soon enough: the Clippers’ lack of defense is absolutely crippling.

By diverging from one other prior to the first summer they could have joined forces, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, in some strange twist of fate, may just have aligned themselves more closely for 2013.

Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:44 pm
 

The 2012 Hornets and How to Win Long Term

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

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

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

The Goal

The goal is to win an NBA championship.

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

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

NBA Finalists from 2002-2011 (Efficiency Differential)

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

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

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

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

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

How Close Were the Hornets with Chris Paul?

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

Chris Paul Era, Sorted by Efficiency Differential

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some more simple math at this juncture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are the Hornets now?

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

The Eric Gordon Effect

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

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

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

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

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

The Monty Williams Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team

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

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

Jarrett Jack

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

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

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

Eric Gordon

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 23%
Projected Differential: +5

Trevor Ariza

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 15%
Projected Differential: -8

Carl Landry

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 17%
Projected Differential:+2.5

Emeka Okafor

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

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 8%
Projected Differential: +0.5

The Bench

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

Chris Kaman

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 6.5%
Projected Differential: -7.5

Al-Farouq Aminu

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -9.5

Marco Belinelli

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -2.5

Jason Smith

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 4%
Projected Differential:-7.5

The Rest

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

Projected Possessions Used: 6%
Projected Differential: -10

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future

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

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

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

+6, y'all. +6.


Posted on: October 21, 2010 12:42 am
 

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

There is no tried and true formula to winning in the NBA.  Most people, my foolish self included, believe in the sanctity of building through the draft and through cost effective moves in free agency to build around those great players you drafted.  However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the most successful formula, is to stack your team to the best of your abilities and then follow by adding in a bunch of older players willing to take a veterans salary to contribute to a championship team (or coattail their way to a championship, if you will).  There’s been no more glaring example of stacking your team than what happened in Miami this offseason.  The Heat stayed away from improving their team through free agency for most of the last two years, traded away players this offseason with the sole hope of free agency and then watched it all pay off as both LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami to form one of the most controversial rosters in NBA history.  Whether or not this pays off is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, teams like Orlando and Atlanta, the division’s two best teams the past two seasons, went the traditional route of building on their success by focusing on player development and keeping the core intact.  Orlando, already possessing one of the best players in the league in all world center Dwight Howard, were exposed in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, and whispers of the team being soft were as loud as ever.  Meanwhile, those whispers against Orlando were shouts against Atlanta, as a second straight season ended in them being swept out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  They’ve now dedicated a ton of money to a roster that many feel have already peaked, and this may be Atlanta’s last year to be seen as contenders in the East. 

Meanwhile, Washington drafted their hopeful superstar this past June in John Wall.  Lucking into the number one overall selection, Washington chose Wall and decided to ask questions later.  It’s still a mystery as to how Wall and Gilbert Arenas will play on the court together and Arenas’ insistence on not being seen as a distraction has already directly caused a distraction for the team.  And Charlotte, after buying big time to make the playoffs last year, got swept in their first postseason appearance in franchise history and kept the team together in hopes that they improve. 

So which method of management is best conducive to an NBA Championship?  We’ve seen both methods in the last few years, but the better bet is on Miami this year.  Ultimately, though, we’ll see come June which blueprint is truly the most successful.


1) Miami Heat
Incoming Players:
Dexter Pittman, Da’Sean Butler, Patrick Beverly, Chris Bosh, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, LeBron James, Mike Miller
Outgoing Players:
Quentin Richardson, Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Beasley, Dorell Wright, Yakhouba Diawara, Daequan Cook
Team Analysis:
Easily the most hyped team in recent NBA memory (including the 2008 Boston Celtics), the Heat enter this season as a captivating story, polarizing figures and, most of all, a pretty solid basketball team.  Although not your traditional eight deep, in sync roster that you’d come to expect from many of the league’s greatest, the Heat feature three of the best players in the league in their starting lineup and did so after a humongous free agent coup by Pat Riley this offseason.  When the team did everything from passing up on free agents, trading away draft picks and letting players walk in order to clear the cap space for this summer, it was pretty evident that team president Pat Riley had gone all in and was gambling the franchise’s future on this offseason alone.  But his gambles paid off when Dwyane Wade resigned, Chris Bosh came over in free agency and then two time defending NBA MVP LeBron James, in a not so subtle manner, announced he was taking his talents to South Beach as well.

What sets these guys apart from previous players who teamed up to take over the league is that all of these guys are in their prime.  From a historical standpoint, most fans were upset to see three players in their prime basically take the “easy route” and join up to win championships.  But from a basketball standpoint, it’s a bold move that should pay off for the Heat.  After trading away Michael Beasley in order to resign Udonis Haslem and add Mike Miller in free agency, the Heat had every who’s who of past-their-prime role players knocking on the door to try and get that elusive championship before retirement.  Former all stars Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard were among the first to join the team and will probably be among the team’s most important reserves in the frontcourt.  Take that for what it’s worth.

The rest of the roster isn’t shaping up as anything beautiful but, honestly, they don’t need to be incredibly deep.  The talent gap between the third best player on the team and the fourth best player on the team is humongous, and therein lies the question of how this team is really going to perform this season if an injury is to happen, if one of the players struggles in adapting to a limited role or if dare the other starters like Mario Chalmers or Joel Anthony to beat them.  At the end of the day, the Heat will rely heavily on Miller and Haslem to bolster the big three and, if they stay healthy and perform to their capabilities, it could be more than enough for the Heat to reign as champions.  But with players like Wade, Miller and Bosh all having a history with injuries, the room for error is really thin.  There’s no doubt that just as Pat Riley was this offseason, this Heat roster better be all in to win a championship this season, or else the critics will be as loud as ever.

2) Orlando Magic
Incoming Players:
Daniel Orton, Stanley Robinson, Malik Allen, Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson
Outgoing Players:
Matt Barnes, Adonal Foyle, Anthony Johnson
Team Analysis:
Lost in some of the hoopla surrounding this offseason was the 2009 Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  After making the NBA Finals in 2009, the team was bounced from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 in convincing fashion by the Boston Celtics.  Although the team had strong performances from Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, the rest of the team faltered as the Celtics closed out the Magic in six games.  Despite his strong performance, however, all of the criticism remained on Dwight Howard and his inability to will his team to victory.  Due to his frustration with the criticism, with teams playing him very physical and with consistently being in foul trouble during last year’s postseason, Howard is said to be a man on a mission this offseason, working with 2008 Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon on his still developing offensive repertoire and promising to cut down on the fan friendly, childish actions that most fans have associated him with.  If Howard is able to continue to progress offensively to already meet his fantastic defensive presence and capabilities, then the Magic could soon posses the most dominant player in the league.  But his development is key to how far Orlando goes this season.

Players like Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis struggled with consistency last season after huge years in 2009.  There’s no doubt that the team as a whole performed much better when Nelson played at a high level and struggled when he did, and his attempts to regain his early form of the 2009 season will be huge for Orlando if he’s to reach that level.  However, numerous offseason attempts to move Nelson to improve the roster probably don’t bode well for the team’s hope of him doing so.  Lewis on the other hand is finally being criticized for his ludicrous salary as his production, while never fully meeting his paycheck before, became a detriment to the team last season when his offensive numbers fell across the board.  A move back to his more natural Small Forward position would probably suit Lewis well, but the offense that Orlando runs gels better when Lewis is at the Power Forward spot shooting a high percentage from outside.  The team’s lineup, ultimate success and even fiscal future could depend a lot on how Lewis plays this year.

As far as the role players that surround the team’s most central figures, Quentin Richardson enters after Matt Barnes left to join the Lakers.  He can probably replace Barnes’ offensive production, but he will struggle to match Barnes’ importance on the defensive end.  Therefore, more will be asked of Mickael Pietrus this season in Orlando, and you have to wonder if he’ll be up to the task for a full season and postseason.  The team matched Chicago’s offer sheet for J.J. Redick, giving them three of the highest paid reserves in the league in Redick, Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass.  Bass, who barely played at all last year, is more of a traditional PF and his strong postseason play may result in a more traditional lineup at times for Orlando.  But whether Stan Van Gundy commits to him or Ryan Anderson as the back-up PF depends on whether or not he wants to abandon the system the team has ran the past two seasons.  Whether or not the system they’ve ran has run its course is still to be seen, and will play a large factor into whether or not the team returns to the NBA Finals this season.

3) Washington Wizards
Incoming Players:
John Wall, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Hamady N’diaye, Hilton Armstrong, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlian

Outgoing Players:
Shaun Livingston, Mike Miller, Fabricio Oberto, Cartier Martin, James Singleton, Cedric Jackson, Quinton Ross, Randy Foye, Earl Boykins
Team Analysis:
Two years ago, Washington did very much the same thing that Atlanta did this offseason.  Even though the team had made the postseason four consecutive years, they had only one playoff victory in those four years to show for it and many felt the team had reached its peak.  Instead, the Wizards committed a combined 161 million dollars over 6 and 4 years, respectively, to franchise players Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.  Arenas has played only 34 games in the two seasons since signing that contract while Jamison was traded to Cleveland at last season’s trade deadline in a moment where the Wizards decided to rebuild the roster.  Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were all traded at last season’s deadline, but Arenas’ contract looks immovable, and the team will put him on the court again; at least for this season.  But after committed a huge chunk of cash to what many felt was an above average cast, the Wizards saw injuries and suspensions ruin the team’s reputation and overall winning percentage, as the Wizards have combined for 55 victories in the two seasons that followed that spending spree to keep the team intact.  And although 2009’s 19 win season was ugly, it hit rock bottom last year after Arenas was suspended for supposedly drawing a gun out towards a teammate in an argument over a card game in the team’s locker room.  What followed was a largely upsetting season where the team only won 26 games. 

But the team’s luck may eventually be turning around.  After the death of owner Abe Polin last year, the team was successfully sold to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, they scored the number one overall pick in the draft and used it on Kentucky point guard John Wall, and had impressive second half performances from big men Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee after the trade deadline, giving the team a semblance of hope this upcoming season.  In John Wall, the Wizards immediately have a new face of the franchise and cornerstone player around whom the team plans to build.  Wall won almost every collegiate award in his freshman season at Kentucky and hopes to follow in Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans’ shoes as point guards under former college coach John Calipari who went on to win the Rookie of the Year award.  Rose and Evans have won the last two respectively.  That would be a welcome change of pace for Washington, who are trying to reunite with their fan base and shake the problems that hurt the team on and off the court the last two seasons. 

Gilbert Arenas has already caused problems.  Most media outlets are talking about his stern expressions, reluctance to give interviews and unwillingness to show any emotion as an act more so than a turning of the leaf, and he’s already been fined by the league for faking an injury to allow guard Nick Young more playing time this preseason.  How he reacts to this year plays a large role in how the team ultimately does.  Blatche performed very well as the go to guy in the second half of last season and McGee had an impressive showing at this year’s summer league and followed it up by being one of the final players cut from the final roster for the USA’s World Championship team.  If those two players team up with Wall to show a consistent production this year, then the Wizards, at the very least, will have something to build around for the future.  They could be one of the surprise teams in the league this year.  But a lot of that depends on whether or not Gilbert Arenas buys into the system, and also whether or not he can regain some of the magic he showed on the court prior to his first knee injury late in the 2008 season.


4) Atlanta Hawks
Incoming Players:
Jordan Crawford, Pape Sy, Josh Powell, Etan Thomas
Outgoing Players:
Randolph Morris, Mario West, Joe Smith,
Team Analysis:
For eight straight seasons, the Atlanta Hawks were a dependable team in terms of NBA Futility.  They routinely finished among the worst teams in the league, underwent numerous head coaching and regime changes and couldn’t convince any star player to capitalize on their infinite cap space.  Joe Johnson changed all that when he left for Atlanta in the middle of that run in 2005, and by his third season with the team, Atlanta had returned to the NBA playoffs and pushed the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round in 2008.  Two Eastern Conference Semifinals appearances followed, but both were convincing sweeps at the hands of Cleveland and Orlando.  Instead of figuring that the roster had reached its peak with those two consecutive embarrassing exits, the Hawks instead figured it to be head coach Mike Woodson, who oversaw a gradual improvement with the Hawks from 13 wins in his first season in 2004 to the 53 wins the team achieved last season.  Stepping into his place will be longtime assistant coach Larry Drew, who wants to run a more motion based offense instead of the isolation game that Woodson preferred.  Fully believing that it was Woodson, and not the roster, that had held the Hawks back, Atlanta committed six years and 129 million dollars to Joe Johnson this offseason in hopes that he can continue to lead the Hawks as they try and improve upon their past success.  Whether or not that contract eventually spells an early fall from grace or an eventual rise to glory is largely debatable. 

But Johnson’s not the only important player on the team.  The Hawks still have hope that Josh Smith, coming off a very impressive season last year, will continue his ascension among the most exciting players in the league.  Graced with natural athleticism and starting to finally develop a better feel for the game, Smith had his best year last year with new head coach Drew working directly with him.  His development could mean wonders for Atlanta.  The team does have two more contract situations to work out.  Reigning sixth man of the year Jamaal Crawford is asking for an extension as is All Star center Al Horford.  As of yet, neither have reached deals and Crawford has asked to be traded if he doesn’t reach an extension with the team.  With rookie Jordan Crawford capable of playing a similar role, there’s a good chance that Jamaal doesn’t finish the year with the team.  But we’ll see with how those contracts are worked whether or not the Hawks are truly committed to keeping this team intact.  And we’ll see in due time if that was the correct decision to make. 

5) Charlotte Bobcats
Incoming Players:
Sherron Collins, Kwame Brown, Matt Carroll, Shaun Livingston, Dominic McGuire, Eduardo Najera
Outgoing Players:
Raymond Felton, Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler, Larry Hughes, Stephen Graham, Alexis Ajinca
Team Analysis:
Ever since head coach Larry Brown came to Charlotte in 2008, the team has seen a plethora of bold moves made by team president and eventual team owner Michael Jordan in an attempt to remove Charlotte from the sea of mediocrity it had been in for the majority of its existence.  Those bold moves finally resulted in a playoff appearance last season, although the Bobcats were quickly swept by Orlando in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.  But because of the major moves Charlotte made to become winners: namely taking on the contracts of big men DeSagana Diop and Nazr Mohammed, and also taking on the contracts of productive wing players Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats reverted back to seller mode this offseason.  Since Brown came to the team in 2008, only Gerald Wallace remains from the team that Brown inherited, and the team has made so many moves that it reacquired Matt Carroll, a player the team traded in 2009, in an offseason trade that rid themselves of Tyson Chandler’s big salary.  Therefore, it could be said that the Bobcats won’t be afraid to wheel and deal again this season, although early indications would be that the team will be more in seller mode this season.

True to that, the team let Raymond Felton walk in free agency and the biggest question surrounding the Bobcats is who will play the point guard position.  2008 first round draft pick D.J. Augustin looks to be the early favorite, although he’s been pushed by former lottery pick Shaun Livingston for the job.  Neither are Earth shattering candidates to run the point, so we may see a lot of the offense being run through Stephen Jackson.  It’s fair to call Wallace the best player on the Bobcats team, but it’s no coincidence that Jackson’s midseason acquisition coincided with a run that got the team to its first ever playoff appearance.  More may be asked of Jackson this year, who saw his numbers dip a little bit last year after leaving Golden State’s offense.  He and Wallace are easily the team’s best players, and Wallace is still the face of the franchise, having remained with the team since its inception in 2004. 

The Bobcats downgraded the team in terms of talent when they traded disappointing center Tyson Chandler to Dallas for Erick Dampier’s non guaranteed contract and mainly hustle players in Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera.  Najera has been a fan favorite wherever he’s gone, but his skill set is better suited for a more talented team.  Carroll had his best years in Charlotte, and may assume a bigger role with the team this season than he had while in Dallas.  Dampier was quickly cut, leaving the center position about as uninspiring as the team’s outlook at point guard, with Diop and Mohammed being the early options at that position.  The Bobcats are a tough team to get a grip on, as they should be looked at as a team on the rise given their first postseason appearance in franchise history occurred last season, but the team is largely made up of veterans, and not all of those veterans are in the peak of their careers anymore.  In fact, it’s arguable that Wallace is the only one still in his peak.  So while the Bobcats built something last year, it’s hard to envision them building on that this season.

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/
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#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#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: May 20, 2010 3:22 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 7

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.  This is, easily, the hardest time I've had trying to decide where to put a draft.  There were three or four drafts I could have considered here for the #7 spot but, after a careful 3 minute deliberation, I feel that I've made the right choice to put here.  What choice was that?  Well here is the number 7 draft on our countdown, the 2001 NBA Draft which features some monumental busts, a lot of high school players (coincidence?), and quite a few really talented foreign players.  Let's see how it all went down.

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

entry/5993128/21869382?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

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

entry/5993128/21895619?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

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

entry/5993128/21928696?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#7: 2001 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Washington Wizards - Kwame Brown, C, Glynn Academy High School
2) Los Angeles Clippers - Tyson Chandler, C, Dominguez High School (traded to the Bulls)
3) Atlanta Hawks - Pau Gasol, PF, Spain (traded to the Grizzlies)
4) Chicago Bulls - Eddy Curry, C, Thornwood High School
5) Golden State Warriors - Jason Richardson, SG, Michigan State
6) Vancouver Grizzlies - Shane Battier, SF, Duke
7) New Jersey Nets - Eddie Griffin, PF, Seton Hall (traded to the Rockets)
8) Cleveland Cavaliers - DeSagana Diop, C, Oak Hill Academy High School
9) Detroit Pistons - Rodney White, PF, Charlotte
10) Boston Celtics - Joe Johnson, SG, Arkansas

Not an overly horrible top ten, but not a great group of guys either.  There was a lot of controversy before the draft at the speculation of how many high schoolers would be drafted so early.  For that reason, a lot of people were cheering for Shane Battier, a four year colleigate athlete who was a terrific player for the Duke Blue Devils, to be the number one guy.  Instead, it came down to Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler for the number one pick and, famously, Michael Jordan's Wizards drafted Kwame Brown.  Brown was, obviously, the first high schooler ever to be taken number one and he showed flashes of being a really good player in his third season, but totally regressed and will struggle to stay in the league this offseason.  Chandler was drafted by his hometown Clippers but was immediately traded to Chicago for all star Elton Brand, with Chicago hoping to pair Chandler up with hometown product Eddy Curry and create the team's frontcourt for the future.  Neither Chandler or Curry lasted five years in Chicago.  Chandler has shown to be the better player of the two, but has struggled with injuries and consistency.  Curry has struggled with his weight and work ethic, but is still eating up the Knicks payroll.  Gasol is probably the best player out of the draft and he made a splash for the Grizzlies (who relocated to Memphis shortly after this draft) but has really made a name for himself for the Lakers the past few years.  Richardson was a high flying shooting guard who played in the post a lot for the Warriors, but he eventually learned a three point shot and now that's all he takes.  He's still been a solid player in this league though.  Battier, while never showing he was worthy of the number one pick, has made a nice career for himself as a great on ball defender.  Eddie Griffin was once rumored to be the number one pick, but attitude issues sent him down the list and then battles with alcohol eventually led him to fall in and out of rotations in the league.  Sadly, Griffin made a nice comeback with Minnesota in the 04-05 season, but was waived a few years later after battling with his alcohol again, and was later killed in 2007 when his car was hit by a train.  Diop and White turned out to be huge busts for their respective teams.  Diop showed no basketball talent at all after Cleveland selected him, but because of his size has found a way to stay in the league.  Rodney White was a nice offensive player who did not work in Detroit at all before Denver took a chance on him and was eventually out of the league after three seasons.  Joe Johnson, meanwhile, was shipped to Phoenix during his rookie season where he eventually become a solid player before signing with Atlanta and becoming an all star.  He'll be a sought after free agent this offseason. 

11) Boston Celtics - Kedrick Brown, SF, Okaloosa-Walton Community College
12) Seattle Supersonics - Vladimir Radmanovic, SF, Yugoslavia
13) Houston Rockets - Richard Jefferson, SF, Arizona (traded to the Nets)
14) Golden State Warriors - Troy Murphy, PF, Notre Dame
15) Orlando Magic - Steven Hunter, C, DePaul
16) Charlotte Hornets - Kirk Haston, PF, Indiana
17) Toronto Raptors - Michael Bradley, PF, Villanova
18) Houston Rockets - Jason Collins, C, Stanford (traded to the Nets)
19) Portland Trail Blazers - Zach Randolph, PF, Michigan State
20) Cleveland Cavaliers - Brendan Haywood, C, North Carolina (traded to the Magic who then traded him to the Wizards)

Jefferson and Collins were immediately traded by the Rockets to New Jersey for the talented, but troubled Griffin (who we already covered).  Jefferson and Collins became starters for the second of two straight NBA Finals apperances for the Nets while we all know what happened to Griffin.  Brown followed Joe Johnson as the second consecutive first round pick for Boston and while they gave up on Johnson, Brown simply did not work out at all and was out of the league in four years.  Radmanovic was a big man who could shoot from deep long range and was a solid contributor for Seattle and the Clippers before signing a long term deal with the Lakers and regressing big time.  He's still in the league, though.  Murphy has found a way to be a consistent 15 and 10 guy for his entire career.  He's a great three point shooter and rebounder but has still not yet played in the playoffs.  Hason and Bradley were both out of their league in the NBA and Haston was gone in two years while Bradley only lasted five.  Randolph has managed to become a great low post scorer in this league but has not yet had much team success.  Haywood was taken to be the smart college player to Brown's high school inexperience and managed to be a better player than Brown.  Haywood has managed to stay a starting center in this league for, basically, his entire career.

21) Boston Celtics - Joseph Forte, SG, North Carolina
22) Orlando Magic - Jeryl Sasser, SG, SMU
23) Houston Rockets - Brandon Armstrong, SG, Pepperdine (traded to the Nets)
24) Utah Jazz - Raul Lopez, PG, Spain
25) Sacramento Kings - Gerald Wallace, SF, Alabama
26) Philadelphia 76ers - Samuel Dalembert, C, Seton Hall
27) Indiana Pacers - Jamaal Tinsley, PG, Iowa State
28) San Antonio Spurs - Tony Parker, PG, France

If anyone's wondering why there's only 28 picks this season, this was during the stretch where the Minnesota Timberwolves had their first round picks taken away from them due to the Joe Smith contract situation.  Picks 21-24 did not make it in the NBA at all.  Forte continued a horrible draft for the Boston Celtics and was eventually out of the league in two years.  Sasser did not make any impression at all (I had no recollection of him in the league) and he was out of the league in two years as well.  Armstrong was part of the Jefferson for Griffin deal between Houston and New Jersey but he didn't make the splash that Jefferson or even Collins did and he was out of the league by 2004.  Lopez was supposed to be the eventual replacement for John Stockton in Utah but took a year to sign, tore his ACL and was then out of the league by 2005.  The last four picks, however, weren't that bad.  Wallace was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats in their expansion draft after three years on Sacramento's bench and has become the face of the franchise, even making the all star game this season.  Dalembert became a nice shot blocker for Philadelphia and is still a fantastic athlete who has never put it together on the court (even after Philadelphia payed him that huge contract).  Tinsley was immediately Indiana's starting point guard but eventually inconsistencies and legal problems ruined his career in Indiana and he sat on their payroll without playing for almost two years before he was eventually cut.  He's now a back up for the Grizzlies.  Tony Parker, meanwhile, was the last pick of the first round and was one of those famous Spurs unknowns who walked in and made an impact immediately.  Parker was the team's starting point guard by the end of his rookie season, won the first of three NBA Championships in his second season and was even named the 2007 NBA Finals MVP. 

Round Two Notables:
30) Chicago Bulls - Trenton Hassell, SG, Austin Peay
31) Golden State Warriors - Gilbert Arenas, PG, Arizona
35) New Jersey Nets - Brian Scalabrine, PF, USC
38) Detroit Pistons - Mehmet Okur, C, Turkey
40) Seattle Supersonics - Earl Watson, PG, UCLA
42) Seattle Supersonics - Bobby Simmons, SF, DePaul (traded to the Wizards)
53) Utah Jazz - Jarron Collins, C, Stanford

This draft featured a pretty deep pool of talent.  Hassell is a defensive specialist who started for some successful Minnesota and Dallas teams and is currently playing for the Nets.  Gilbert Arenas won the Most Improved Player of the Year in 2003 after finally learning the point guard position but then signed on with the Wizards.  Unfortunately, knee injuries and legal issues have caused him to miss 199 out of a possible 246 games the last three seasons.  Scalabrine has managed to stay in the league and was even on the Celtics roster that won the 2008 championship.  Okur would win a championship in 2004 with Detroit before going on to Utah and becoming an all star center.  Watson has managed to be a nice back up point guard in this league for his entire career and looks to still have some kind of future in the NBA.  Simmons, meanwhile, was a raw talent with no shooting ability and, coincidentally, has become a player who shoots nothing but three pointers.  Jarron Collins is the twin brother of first round pick Jason Collins and has, like his brother, found a way to stay in the league this long and even started in this postseason for the Phoenix Suns

Notable Undrafted Players:
Carlos Arroyo, PG, Florida International - Signed with the Utah Jazz in 2002
Charlie Bell, PG, Michigan State - Signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005
Maurice Evans, SF, Texas - Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
Jamario Moon, SF, Meridian Community College - Signed with the Toronto Raptors in 2007
Andres Nocioni, PF, Argentina - Signed with the Chicago Bulls in 2004

Arroyo eventually joined 24th pick Raul Lopez as the future point guard for the Jazz after John Stockton left.  He didn't have much success in that spot but has found a way to stay in the league so far.  He's probably best known, however, for scoring 25 points in a game during the 2004 Olympics leading his Puerto Rican team to a blowout victory over the USA team.  Bell is a defensive specialist at the point guard position and, eventually, was paid handsomely in the 2007 offseason.  He's still with Milwaukee.  Evans was a nice scorer for Texas and, after struggling to stick with certain teams, became a rotation player for Sacramento in 2004.  He eventually became a starter for the Magic in 2008 during a successful postseason run for the team and is now a bench specialist for the Atlanta Hawks.  Moon waited the longest for his big break and played a lot in the NBDL before finally signing with Toronto in 2007.  The high flyer eventually made the 2008 NBA All-Rookie Second Team.  Nocioni, meanwhile, signed with Chicago in 2004 after winning a gold medal with the Argentinan National Team and immediately made a splash for the Bulls with his aggressive defense (which some called dirty) and his frantic style of play.  He was, however, overpaid in 2007 and is barely on the court for Sacramento.

2001-2002 NBA Rookie of the Year: Pau Gasol
All Stars from the 2001 NBA Draft: Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Gerald Wallace, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, Mehmet Okur

2001-2002 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Pau Gasol
Shane Battier
Jason Richardson
Tony Parker
Andrei Kirilenko (who signed with Utah Jazz in 2001 after being drafted by the Jazz in 1999)

2001-2002 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Jamaal Tinsley
Richard Jefferson
Eddie Griffin
Zeljko Rebraca (who was originally drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 1994 before having his rights traded to the Detroit Pistons in 1999 and finally signing in 2001)
Vladimir Radmanovic and Joe Johson tied for the fifth spot

More ties, NBA?!

Posted on: May 16, 2010 11:01 pm
 

Hornets History With Lottery Picks

I'm pretty bored and, actually, pretty interested in the Hornets upcoming draft selection.  This will be the team's first lottery pick in a couple of years and after the success of last season's draft (in case you haven't heard me bragging like a school girl all season, the team drafted Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton), pressure is on Jeff Bower to repeat that success with a higher pick in this season's NBA Draft.  Entering a very pivotal point in franchise history, the team needs to respond accordingly with a solid pick who can pay dividends immediately here.  Since the Hornets have a short history, I'm able to go back and look at everyone of their lottery picks and since I have nothing to do until I go to work in four hours, let me begin the Charlotte/New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets' history with lottery picks.  By the way, for their averages, I'm only going to go by the players' averages with the Hornets.

1988: Rex Chapman, SG, Kentucky, 8th overall (220 Games, 16.2 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.8 RPG) - The first player ever signed in Hornets history, Rex Chapman was the franchise's first draft pick before their expansion 1988-89 NBA Season.  Chapman was immensely popular right away, as he was a fantastic shooter and was one of the best white dunkers in the NBA's history.  The Hornets didn't achieve much success while Chapman was here, but he did participate in two Slam Dunk Contests and finished tied for 2nd in the 1990 contest.  Chapman would start to suffer from injuries in his third year with the Hornets, and the team quickly traded him during the 1991-92 season to the Washington Bullets for Tom Hammonds.

1989: J.R. Reid, PF-C, North Carolina, 5th Overall (325 Games, 9.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.1 APG) - Coming off the first season in franchise history, the Hornets obtained the 5th overall pick and selected a North Carolina player (making the Charlotte fans happy) to man down the center position.  Although undersized for center, Reid played pretty well for the Hornets before they moved him to a more natural power forward position in his second season.  After hsi second season, the Hornets moved Reid to the bench for Larry Johnson.  After Johnson's great rookie season, Reid was eventually traded during the 1992-93 season to the San Antonio Spurs for Sidney Green, a 1993 1st Rounder and a 1996 2nd Rounder.  Reid would eventually resign with the Hornets in 1997 and was a pivotal bench player for a Hornets team that made the conference semifinals in 1998 before being traded midway through the 1998-99 season with Glen Rice and B.J. Armstrong to the Lakers for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell.

1990: Kendall Gill, SG, Illinois, 5th Overall (266 Games, 15.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.5 SPG) - Gill was taken out of the University of Illinois in 1990 and immediately stepped in as the Hornets starting shooting guard.  Participating in the Slam Dunk Contest his rookie season, Gill was a very effective scorer and efficient starter for the Hornets.  He was still on the team when they made the conference semifinals in 1993 but was eventually traded to Seattle.  He would rejoin the Hornets for a brief stint in 1995-96 before being traded, again, this time to New Jersey. 

1991: Larry Johnson, PF, UNLV, 1st Overall (377 Games, 19.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 4.1 APG) - When drafted in 1991, Larry Johnson immediately become the star for a Charlotte Hornets team that seemed to be lacking one.  A prodigy at UNLV, Johnson immediately stepped up in his rookie season, winning the Rookie of the Year award and leading the Hornets in scoring and rebounding.  Eventually, Grandmama would become a pivotal player for some mildy successful Hornets teams in the early 90s before suffering a major back injury in his third season.  While recovering from the back injury, Johnson developed a long range shot but his rebounding and low post play suffered and he was eventually traded to the New York Knicks for Anthony Mason in the 1996 offseason.  Johnson, however, is probably best known for signing his twelve year, 84 million dollar contract while with the Hornets (the largest deal in NBA history at the time), which led to heated contract talks with Alonzo Mourning that would eventually result in Mourning being traded and the team breaking up its nucleus.

1992: Alonzo Mourning, C, Georgetown, 2nd Overall (215 Games, 21.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 1.3 APG) - Lucking into this position, the Hornets actually had to overcome long odds to obtain the 2nd overall selection in the 1992 draft.  After consensus number one Shaquille O'Neal was drafted by Orlando, the Hornets took Alonzo Mourning and took off.  Immediately in Mourning's rookie season, the Hornets made their first postseason appearance in franchise history and made it to the conference finals on a terrific moment in Hornets history during the 1993 playoffs, where Mourning hit a fallaway 20 footer to upset the historic Boston Celtics and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  However, after seeing the deal that Johnson got, Mourning demanded that much money and was eventually shipped to Miami for Glen Rice.  A polarizing figure in Hornets history, most fans appreciate the moments Mourning gave the team but don't have many fond memories of him as a person with Charlotte.

1994: Traded 11th pick to the Seattle Supersonics

1996: Kobe Bryant, SG, Lower Merion High School, 13th Overall (Never played with Hornets)
- Yes, for all who don't know, Kobe was originally drafted by the Hornets.  In what will, uneducatingly, be referred to as a blunder for the Hornets, the move actually wasn't really at the fault of the Hornets.  They were merely a team in the middle.  The New Jersey Nets actually wanted Kobe Bryant 8th overall but Kobe's agent told New Jersey that he did not want to play there, so they instead passed and drafted Kerry Kittles.  The Lakers would then call the Hornets, who were drafting 13th, and asked them to draft Kobe Bryant, and in return they would give the Hornets all star center Vlade Divac.  The Hornets happily obliged and Divac gave them two solid seasons while Kobe went on to win four championships with the Lakers.  While this selection may look really bad, it's really to no fault of the Hornets (unless you want to blame the scouting department, in which case there's 12 teams in front of the Hornets who deserve similar blame) that they were the ones that drafted and traded Kobe.  But it does look bad.

1999: Baron Davis, PG, UCLA, 3rd Overall (381 Games, 15.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.9 SPG) - Although facing slim odds (1.3% actually) to land a top 3 pick, the Hornets were able to obtain the 3rd overall selection in 1999 and used that pick on UCLA point guard Baron Davis.  After bringing Davis along slowly, he began to show promise for the Hornets in his second season and, by the third season, had joined Jamal Mashburn as the faces of the Hornets franchise.  Originally a fantastic slasher and finisher around the basket, Davis eventually developed a three point shot that made him almost impossible to guard.  After signing his contract extension the same offseason that the Hornets relocated to New Orleans, though, Davis started suffering injuries that would plague his next two and a half seasons with the Hornets.  After butting heads with head coach Byron Scott, being accused of faking injuries and demanding a trade during the 2004 offseason, Davis was eventually traded during the 04-05 season to the Golden State Warriors for Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis.

2005: Chris Paul, PG, Wake Forest, 4th Overall (345 Games, 19.3 PPG, 10.0 APG, 4.7 RPG, 2.4 SPG) - One interesting thing to note here; in 2005, the Hornets and the Charlotte Bobcats finished with identical 18-64 records and the teams had a coin flip at an owner's meeting befor ethe draft lottery.  In case neitehr team picked up a top 3 draft selection, the coin flip determined which team would select ahead of the other.  At the time, both teams had a 50% chance they'd get a top 3 pick, but the Bucks, Hawks and Trail Blazers grabbed the top three picks, giving the Hornets the 4th overall selection ahead of the Bobcats.  The Hornets would take North Carolina native Chris Paul and the Bobcats would take Raymond Felton.  Things couldn't have worked out better for the Hornets.  Paul stepped in and won the 2006 Rookie of the Year award and by his third season in the league, led the Hornets to the first division championship in franchise history and finished 2nd in MVP voting that season to Kobe Bryant.  Still the team's franchise centerpiece, the Hornets are still looking for the formula as to how to build a successful team around Paul and look to do so this offseason.

2006: Hilton Armstrong, C, UConn, 12th Overall (209 Games, 3.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG) - A solid prospect out of UConn, Armstrong was one of five Huskies drafted in the first round in 2006 and became the Hornets second big man off the bench in his rookie season.  Armstrong showed flashes his rookie season (including leading the Hornets to a victory in Detroit in a game where three Hornets starters were injured) and was expected to build on that in 2008.  He never did and in 2009, when given 21 starts in place of the injured Tyson Chandler, Armstrong still looked passive and lost out on the court.  He was eventually traded to the Sacramento Kings this season where he was then traded to the Houston Rockets who eventually released him.

2007: Julian Wright, SF, Kansas, 13th Overall (179 Games, 4.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG) - In need of a big man, the Hornets went against their need and drafted the best player available in Julian Wright at the 13th selection.  A high flyer who can play tough man to man defense and finish around the basket, Wright developed a little bit of a jump shot his rookie season and was a key contributor off the bench for that successful 2008 squad.  After the team signed James Posey, Wright's progress halted last season in what was considered a major dissapointment.  Coming into this year, after a great showing in the Summer League, Wright eventually was named the Hornets starter for the opening game at small forward but only lasted seven games before being benched in favor of original starter Peja Stojakovic.  Still waiting on Wright to develop, it's looking more and more like this will be another Hilton Armstrong case of wasted potential for a great talent.

All in all, I was actually kind of surprised at some of the really good players the Hornets have drafted with their lottery selections.  However, the last two look pretty bad and the Hornets need to look to have better success wherever they should end up this season as this draft pick will be looked at to do a lot for the Hornets next season. 

Posted on: May 3, 2010 2:32 am
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding the Hornets franchise currently, and then sitting back and watching the Ford Center packed to the rafters with blue shirts cheering on the Thunder in the postseason, I can't help but be a little bitter.  I find myself rolling my eyes when people continuously talk about how great Oklahoma City's fans are.  I find myself trying to disprove the Thunder as a team on the rise.  Want to know why I do that?  Because I'm jealous.  I look at the Hornets and I see a franchise struggling to stay afloat amidst financial uncertainty.  I see George Shinn shopping the team to anybody who would take them, and although primary candidate Gary Chouest is a Louisiana native and has the benjamins to back up what could possibly be a lucrative situation with the Hornets, I doubt the long term prospects of a successful operation for the Hornets in New Orleans.  And it all goes back to those people in the blue shirts in Oklahoma City.  If the Hornets were playing in front of crowds like that in the New Orleans Arena, things wouldn't be as bleak as they currently are for the team.  Had the Hornets stayed in Oklahoma City, there's no doubt in my mind they wouldn't have the struggles they are currently having.

George Shinn shocked a lot of people when he briefly flirted with the idea of keeping the Hornets in Oklahoma City following the team's two year lease with the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.  It looked like a genuine public relations nightmare.  Shinn's name (what was left of it after the Charlotte debacle, anyways) was tossed in the mud and insults were thrown at him left and right.  But look at what Shinn saw in Oklahoma City.  I'm sure he won't admit it, but Shinn has to know that the Hornets relocation to New Orleans has been a mistake.  The Hornets were such a successful and popular franchise in the mid 90s, and felt a resurgence of sorts during their two years in Oklahoma City.  In OKC, Shinn found a city and community that finally embraced one of his teams again and he felt the financial benefits of doing so.  After all, this is a business, and I'm positive Shinn knew that financial situations would be better in OKC than they would be in New Orleans.

The main basis for this argument is attendance numbers.  Contrary to popular belief, the Hornets haven't been a joke of a franchise their entire existence.  They've never been great, but they've been above average a majority of the time in this league.  There's rarely been a period of prolonged uncertainty or long term mediocrity for the Hornets, which is why I don't think the Hornets get the credit they deserve as a franchise.  This isn't a difficult team to embrace, yet they've had difficulty finding the community support in New Orleans necessary for a successful franchise.  Some people will argue it's the product on the court that's keeping the fans in New Orleans from coming, some fans stating they want a winner to watch.  But they don't understand that it can't happen if they don't show up in the first place.

Since the Hornets relocation to New Orleans in 2002, they have played six full seasons in New Orleans.  Of those six seasons, four have resulted in postseason births for the Hornets.  In 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2009, the team made the playoffs with a rebuilding 2005 and injury ridden 2010 resulting in the team missing the playoffs those years.  However, the attendance didn't reflect the Hornets on court success.  In 2003, the Hornets inagular season in New Orleans, the team finished 19th out of 29 teams.  That's the best attendance number they've gotten since relocating to New Orleans.  They would finish 28th out of 29 teams in 2004, a year where the team was in the top half of the Eastern Conference for a majority of the season, and would even post up horrible numbers in the best season in franchise history, 2008, where the Hornets finished 26th out of 30 teams in attendance, and would follow up that season by finishing 19th out of 30 teams in attendance in 2009.  We'll try and refrain from dwelling on attendance numbers during the Hornets non playoff seasons (which include finishing 30th out of 30 teams in 2005 and 26th out of 30 teams this season), but I do want to shake my head at the lack of support for legitimate postseason teams in each of those years in New Orleans. 

Had it not been for Oklahoma City, it's a wonder how long that rebuilding year in 2005 would have dragged out.  After Hurricane Katrina forced the Hornets to temporarily call Oklahoma Citiy home, the Hornets saw a support system that they hadn't had in almost a decade.  Fans came out in droves to support a team that wasn't even there's, and the Hornets reaped the benefits financially.  Let's not discredit the team's drafting of Chris Paul in 2005 as well, but the Hornets improvement to 38 wins in 2006 and seeing the true benefits of a home court advantage had Hornets supporters (regardless of the city they played in) secretly wishing there was a chance the team could stay in Oklahoma City.  Look back at those attendance numbers in New Orleans.  While supporting two teams that missed the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, the Hornets would finish 6th and 8th, respectively, in attendance in Oklahoma City.  And those attendance numbers helped encourage some very bold moves by George Shinn. 

Following the very lucrative first season in Oklahoma City, Shinn used that money to open up his wallets and make moves that the Hornets organization hadn't made in over a decade.  We saw an aggressive George Shinn, one willing to spend money to put a winner out on the court for Oklahoma City and knowing he had the financial backing in a city in order to do so.  In that 2006 offseason, Shinn signed Bobby Jackson to a 3 year, 15 million dollar deal.  He signed David West to a 5 year, 45 million dollar contract extension.  He signed Peja Stojakovic to a five year, 64 million dollar contract.  And then he traded J.R. Smith to take on the remaining 5 years and 54 million dollars remaining for a center in Tyson Chandler who was coming off a horrid season in Chicago.  Some of you may look at those players and kind of snicker, but three of those four players were hugely crucial to the best season in franchise history in 2008.

Now I'm willing to admit that I like the team in New Orleans.  I certainly wish, though, that the crowd would show up more often.  I don't think Shinn was hesitant to spend money, but he knew that if he had to fork out money to overspend past the luxury tax for the team in New Orleans, he wouldn't get that money back in attendance numbers like he did in Oklahoma City.  Outside of the James Posey signing in the 2008 offseason, the Hornets have mainly been cost cutters as opposed to the aggressive "spending to win" team that they were in 2006 following the first season in Oklahoma City.  I know injuries to a lot of key players on the team are important to why the Hornets are where they are right now, but you can't understate the importance of a home crowd to the success of a franchise.

In 2007, Chris Paul missed 18 games.  David West missed 26 games.  Bobby Jackson missed 26 games.  Peja Stojakovic missed 69 games.  The Hornets still managed to win 39 games.  Oklahoma City fans still allowed for the Hornets to finish 8th out of 30 teams in attendance.  In 2010, Chris Paul missed 37 games.  Peja Stojakovic missed 21 games.  The team still managed to win 37 games.  New Orleans fans finished 25th out of 30 teams in terms of attendance numbers.

Those numbers are alarming.  I see that you can't predict injuries.  Had the team stayed in Oklahoma City, I'm sure injuries still would have affected the team.  George Shinn still would have gotten prostate cancer (the big reason why he wants to move on and sell the team) and I'm sure Shinn wouldn't have been so aggressive every offseason in Oklahoma City.  But for two years, I saw a willingness to spend.  I saw fans come out in bunches to watch the Hornets play basketball.  I saw a team that mattered.  In the three years that have followed, I've seen waned interested.  I've seen empty seats in the New Orleans arena.  I saw a division champion finish 26th in attendance in 2008.  I see a team that's not appreciated.

Say what you want about Shinn, residents of New Orleans, but don't forget that he was aggressive for teams in Charlotte and Oklahoma City.  And I think the attendance numbers for those cities are a big indiciation of why he did.  I can't help but think if the Hornets had stayed in Oklahoma City, how differently things would have turned out for the team.

Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:05 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview

It's playoff time!  At this point, the stakes are high and offseason paychecks and inseason acquisitions are expected to be rewarded with postseason success and jobs will be secured and won with big playoff appearances.  There are a ton of great matchups and the NBA really got it right with the sixteen teams that made it.  There's not one matchup, maybe outside of Cleveland, that looks like it won't be a fantastic matchup.  But here we go, this is GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview.

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Chicago Bulls - A really intriquing matchup here.  The Cavs ended this season with the most wins in the league for the second consecutive season.  The Bulls looked dead a few weeks ago, only to experience a resurgence and have straked their way into the postseason.  The Cavs have coasted for awhile now and LeBron James hasn't even played in a couple of weeks.  Likewise, the team will be integrating Shaquille O'Neal back into the lineup after missing two months with a right thumb injury.  The Bulls, though, are experiencing their own bit of inner turmoil after a reported confrontation between head coach Vinny Del Negro and VP of Basketball John Paxson dominated the headlines in Chicago.  The Bulls are playing great basketball, but they don't have the horses to keep up with Cleveland.  The fact that they have a head coach that, in all likelihood, won't be there next season doesn't do much to help the team's psychi.  Derrick Rose will make things interesting, this won't be a sweep, but Cleveland has time to get their players back, figure out their rotation and still win this series.
Predicton: Cavaliers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Shaquille O'Neal - As mentioned earlier, the Cavaliers will be bringing Shaquille O'Neal back to the lineup in this series and his play is vital to the team moving forward.  How effective he is and how he plays will speak volumes about how things will unfold for the team in this series and in future series.  The team has played well without him, but his presence is still necessary down the road.  He must be effective.
Bulls Player to Watch: Kirk Hinrich - With Derrick Rose assuming a lot of responsibility for the team's chances of winning the series, the Bulls will look to Kirk Hinrich to step up and play huge this series.  His defense on Mo Williams will be important but he has to show a more consistent jump shot this series for the Bulls to have a chance to win.  It's not enough for him to just be out there on Williams.  He has to keep the Cavs honest on the offensive end and that will begin and end with him rediscovering his jumpshot.

(4) Boston Celtics. vs. (5) Miami Heat - A tough matchup to predict here.  Both teams have glaring weaknesses and considerable strenghs.  The Celtics have the championship experience from 2008 and say they're healthy for the first time this season.  However, they've really struggled the last two months of the regular season and if they didn't have their name, they'd receive no championship consideration.  Conversely, the Heat struggled earlier this season but, led by Dwyane Wade, the team looks to have its feet back under them.  They took advantage of a significantly easy stretch of games at the end of the season and can carry that momentum forward.  The home court would come into play in a 4/5 matchup, but the Celtics have lost 17 games at home this season.  They've never been more vulnerable.
Prediction: Heat in six
Celtics Player to Watch: Nate Robinson - A lot of the Celtics problems this season have had to do with the team's considerable age and thinning depth.  Robinson can play a huge role off the bench if given the chance and if he were to have a big series, there's no doubt the Cetlics would win.  He's been really inconsistent since going to Boston in February, but if he can find his stroke and some regular playing time, the Celtics will be a formidable team.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley has been so aggravatingly inconsistent this season that a lot of people have just given up on him in Miami.  The Heat need that consistent second option that can help Wade and lead this team to victory.  Not only is Beasley the most talented option for the Heat, he's the only player the Celtics have no immediate answer for.  Paul Pierce will likely be busy with Dwyane Wade, which leads him matched up with the smaller Ray Allen or the slower Kevin Garnett.  If he takes advantage of that, the Heat will win this series.

(3) Atlanta Hawks vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks - Picked by many to be among the worst teams in the league this year, the Milwaukee Bucks surged this season under the guidance of Scott Skiles and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  The franchise now has an identity in rookie guard Brandon Jennings and have responded well to added expectations as the season's progressed.  The Hawks, meanwhile, continue to steps towards becoming an elite franchise.  After making the playoffs for the first time in nine years in 2008, they won a playoff series last year and look to expand on that this season.  Their play all year gives no indication that's going to end.  The Bucks are at a huge disadvantage without center Andrew Bogut in the lineup and the team's lack of experience in the postseason together will give them troubles enough.  Skiles will keep his team competitive but it will catch up to them.
Prediction: Hawks in five
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - With Bogut out, Horford will be matched up with the aging Kurt Thomas and the underachieving Dan Gadzuric.  With that kind of advantage inside, Horford can make it easier for the Hawks perimter shooting which will take the Bucks out of any game.
Bucks Player to Watch: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Most likely will be assigned the dutie of guarding Joe Johnson.  His ability to do this well will allow John Salmons to conserve himself for the offensive end which is where he can really shine for the Bucks.  Considering the Bucks will need any offensive production they can get, it's important for Mbah a Moute to spell Salmons defensively.

(2) Orlando Magic vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats - For the first time in the franchise's history, the Charlotte Bobcats are in the NBA postseason.  Their reward for making it, a date with the red hot defending Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  The Magic boast the league's deepest team top to bottom, but that may not always be a good thing in the postseason.  Coach Stan Van Gundy barely set on a rotation entering the postseason whereas the Bobcats have had to go with the best players available night in and night out.  Both teams have played well down the stretch and both have a ton of momentum heading into the series.  I expect Charlotte to play to its full potential this entire series and push the Magic to the limit.  But I still expect the Magic to advance.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - Always a matchup problem with his size and outside shooting, Gerald Wallace will probably be given the assignment of guarding Lewis which could really negate a lot of double teams down in the post on Dwight Howard.  Lewis has really struggled with his shot all season, but we saw last postseason that if Lewis is hitting his shots, the Magic are almost impossible to defend.
Bobcats Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Banged up the entire season, Chandler is the only big man capable of staying in front of Howard one on one defensively and will likely be given that assignment throughout the series.  He will be spelled by other big men on the Charlotte team but he's the best option for them offensively out of that group.  If Chandler has a big series, then the Magic could really be in for a fight.


Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Oklahoma City Thunder - A classic matchup of youth vs. experience here.  The Thunder are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005 (when the team was still in Seattle) and are in the playoffs as the youngest team in the NBA.  Facing them are the defending NBA Champions; who struggled in the last month of the regular season.  The Lakers are banged up across the board and look vulnerable here in the postseason and the Thunder are young, fearless and dynamic across the board.  But what is the Lakers biggest strength, size, is the Thunder's biggest weakness.  Unfortunately, the Thunder are a bit overmatched in their first playoff series going up against the champs.
Prediction: Lakers in six
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - As mentioned earlier, the Lakers biggest strength is their size, but that's only true when Bynum's in the lineup.  Expected to play in the playoffs, Bynum's production will be all gravy for the Lakers as the Thunder have nobody to matchup with him inside.  Coming off an injury, though, he may struggle (as he did last postseason) so his production is still important to the Lakers success.
Thunder Player to Watch: James Harden - If Harden continues to be effective off of the bench for the Thunder, he gives the team what the Lakers don't have, and that's someone over the bench who can take over games offensively.  With Bynum expected to be brought along slowly form his injury, Lamar Odom will get a lot of minutes and that leaves the rest of the bench largely ineffective.  Because of this, Harden alone can make all the difference in the second units which prevent the Lakers from every running away with a game. 

(4) Denver Nuggets vs. (5) Utah Jazz - Two really tough teams to figure out go to battle in this series.  The Nuggets have really struggled ever since George Karl's unfortunate cancer diagnosis back in February and have gone through moments where they looked like the same, immature, selfish Nuggets of years past.  The Jazz have gone through stretches this season where they look great, stretches where they look bad, and stretches where they just look lost.  Add Carlos Boozer to the team's indecisiveness, as he's a game time decision for the playoff opener.  However, I think the Nuggets longer spell of mediocrity is a sign of things to come with Dantley at the helm, and unfortunately they really miss their general.
Prediction: Jazz in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: Kenyon Martin - If he's matched up against Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsap, Martin, still recovering from an injury of his own, will be important to stopping the Jazz pick and roll and containing their best big man.  Martin did fantastic in the playoffs last year and was a huge reason why the team went to the Western Conference Finals.  For them to advance, they need Martin to have a similar impact this season.
Jazz Player to Watch: Mehmet Okur - With Boozer's injury in question, Mehmet Okur's production will be important for the Utah Jazz.  Because Martin will get the assignment down low, Okur will be left alone offensively mainly with Nene guarding him, which gives him a quickness advantage to go along with his lethal shooting ability.  Okur showed last season that he can produce with Boozer out of the lineup, and if he struggles the Jazz will look to him for big buckets.  He's played well during the home stretch of the season, and the Jazz need that to continue into the playoffs.

(3) Phoenix Suns vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers - Probably the NBA's hottest team, the Phoenix Suns finally look like a formidable team again for the first time in a few seasons.  Now with an added attitude on defense, the Suns look as complete as they ever have since the seven seconds or less days.  Still lethal on offense, the Suns will follow Steve Nash's lead in hopes of taking advantage of a Bradon Roy-less Trail Blazers squad.  Without Roy, the Blazers will look to other players to step up; as they have all season long battling the injuries the team has.  However, they look to be too overmatched against Phoenix at this point in time.
Prediction: Suns in five
Suns Player to Watch: Louis Amundson - With Roy out for the series, LaMarcus Aldridge becomes the only consistent offensive threat for Portland and Phoenix will have a tough time matchup up with him.  Amar'e Stoudemire, even though he's playing fantastic ball of late, is still poor defensively and Robin Lopez's injury limits what the team can do to slow down Aldridge.  Because of this, Lou Amundson's production off of the bench defensively will be counted on in this series.  Anything he can do to rough up Aldridge or limit second chance points will go a long way towards helping the Suns advance.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Jerryd Bayless - Earlier this season with Roy out, Bayless had the best game of his young career while spelling Roy.  Bayless was a huge prospect when he was drafted by Portland, but has struggled to find his niche yet with the team.  With Roy out again, the onus will be on Bayless to take the responsibility and live up to his lottery selection.  If the Blazers continue to get poor production out of him, this will be a quick series.

(2) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs - Another intriguing matchup, the Mavericks and Spurs face off in a rematch of last year's playoff series, where the Mavericks upset the Spurs in five games.  The Spurs have battled injuries all season long but finally look to have everyone, minus a hobbled George Hill, back for the playoffs.  The Mavericks, meanwhile, made a huge deal at the all star break to acquire Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in hopes of finally winning that elusive championship.  Division rivals matching up in the postseason always leaves a bit of a mystery as to how the games will play out.  Both teams are stacked top to bottom, but the Spurs are the one team with the size to match up with the Mavericks.  Who on Dallas has an answer for Manu Ginobili?  This should be a fun series but I see the Spurs shocking Dallas in game seven on their home court.
Prediction: Spurs in seven
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Last postseason, J.J. Barea was my player to watch for this series and was a huge difference maker for the Mavericks as the Spurs had no answer for him without Ginobili in the lineup.  Now that the Mavericks have added Butler to the lineup, not a lot is expected out of Barea and I think the lack of pressure will help him.  Along with Jason Terry (who you know will produce), Barea can make the difference in the second unit for Dallas and can really help separate the Mavericks from the Spurs if he plays well. 
Spurs Player to Watch: Matt Bonner - Last season, Bonner was a starter for the Spurs team that fell in five games to the Mavericks as he and Roger Mason Jr. struggled with their shot the whole series and the Spurs just couldn't get production offensively.  Now on the bench, Bonner has found his groove shooting the ball as of late and can make a huge difference for the Spurs if he's knocking down his shots.  They'll count on him again and I think last year's struggles will help him this season.  Look for Bonner to make a difference off the bench for the Spurs.

 
 
 
 
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