The Hornets beat the Kings

Published: December 9, 2009

Jeff Bower has said this team needs to run more.

After watching his team get outscored on the break 22 to 8 in a closer-than-expected 96-94 home win against the Sacramento Kings, I have to say I agree with him.

Bower’s got two young thoroughbred rookies, Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison, whose main attributes (speed, athleticism and finishing around the bucket) lend themselves to a fast-paced game.  He’s got the best possible asset in a fast-paced offense he could have in Chris Paul (who converted his two first-half steals into Hornets points on his way to a typical Paul stat line – 15 points, 12 assists, 3 steals).  He’s got what amounts to a couple of useless defenders in Peja Stojakovic and James Posey (and David West, depending on who you talk to, is no All-Star on defense either).  So why not run more and aim for a Phoenix Suns kind of mentality?

As is usually the case with the Hornets, the answer is not a simple one.
For one thing, the first argument that comes to mind is, why fix what isn’t broken?  After all, the team is playing much better lately, and they even put up 96 points tonight in a comeback win.  Emeka Okafor is looking better on the pick and roll, the team is running a varied offense that produces open looks, and even Peja stepped up tonight and hit some set jumpers, which as we all know, doesn’t always happen unless he’s feeling a rhythm.

To all of that I would respond, when has this offense over the past two seasons ever felt really effective?  Moreover, it’s one thing to be playing better, it’s another thing altogether to be a playoff team.  I agree with the notion that this team has improved to the point that it is competitive again.  I also agree with the thought that this team has the potential to go on a run at some point and put some wins together.  I just think there’s a difference between having the potential to do something, and actually doing it.  This team looks like one that is good enough to win at home.  Maybe steal a couple on the road.  Lose to the better teams on the schedule.  And there you go.

Normally that would be enough (especially if the team played in the East).  But given the hole this team dug for itself, that isn’t going to get them where they want to go (playoffs).  Instead, it will get them 35-40 wins and poor lottery position.  Now like I said before, this team has the potential to do better, but we just haven’t seen any indication that they will.  Any switch in team philosophy at this point may be worth a try … for the simple fact it isn’t status quo, which just isn’t working quite well enough right now.

Now, I don’t see the fast break being a magical elixir here, because the team is poorly assembled.  Some of these pieces just don’t fit that mentality (West, in particular, would have a tough time going full-speed all the time, I think).  But I do believe this team could be more than adequate at pushing the ball (and consequently more effective on offense than they are at present), and I say this for the following reasons:

  • Chris Paul.  When your best player, a top five player in the league, is most effective in the open court (he’ll always be at his best penetrating and dishing it off), you should probably play to his strengths.  Moreover, you should also probably build your team around him (and by probably, I mean definitely).  If other guys aren’t up to the challenge, replace them.  It’s as simple as that.
  • Peja can once again become a valued member of the team.  He may be a great locker-room presence, and he might be a fan favorite, but Stojakovic is so bad on defense that he has to be scoring on offense or he is a complete and utter liability.  We can debate from now until eternity whether the team needs to be getting a return on its investment with him or not, but I say if the $14 million man can hit some shots for you (still one of the only guys on the roster you can say that about), why not take advantage of that and give him more opportunities within his comfort zone?   His 14 points tonight just weren’t enough.
  • Devin Brown, Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison are better in the paint than outside of it (a combined 1-for-5 from long range tonight).  The stats will vacillate on this some, and it could be a moot argument in another few weeks (or even days), but my eyes simply tell me these guys are more comfortable driving to the hoop than they are spotting up from three.  With Peja, West, and to a lesser degree Posey (a much lesser degree) available to set up shop on the wings, these guys will be freer to penetrate in a fast-paced game.
  • Okafor’s hands are made of stone.  Dipped in lead.  Stone hands, dipped in lead.  But that isn’t conducive to him being a true asset on offense regardless of whether the team is slowing it down OR speeding it up.  I think you get more value out of him on the break:  the guy can move around okay, and he’s the kind of guy who can initiate a break with his blocks and/or rebounds on defense (12 boards and 4 blocks tonight).
  • Taking advantage of Julian Wright’s athleticism.  Say what you want about his offensive game and lack of understanding of the playbook, the kid is still long, lean, quick and can jump out of the gym.  I say if you can’t out-execute ‘em, out-athlete ‘em (and right now, JuJu is only rotting away on the bench anyway).

Again, this isn’t a cure-all.  But this IS the best offense available for your best player.  And whether you’re thinking long-term rebuilding or short-term playoff run, it makes tremendous sense to me that the Hornets start catering to him, sooner rather than later.

Other observations:

  • Hornets up 88-85, 3:25 left, and Darius Songaila draws an offensive foul on Jason Thompson, who had checked back into the game a few seconds earlier.  It was foul No. 6 on Thompson, the Kings’ second-leading scorer with 20 points, and it was one of those little hustle plays that can make a big difference between winning and losing … especially in a 2-point ball game.
  • Mark Cuban in the wrestling ring, and now wrestling schlock, in the form of “The King”, in the basketball arena.  For a sport trying to dodge allegations of fixed games and scripts being followed, it might be a wiser course of action for the NBA to distance itself from pro wrestling as much as humanly possible.  Just a thought.
  • Tyreke Evans isn’t just going to be good, he’s already good.  Paul never really went off in this game, thanks in part to the long Evans guarding him most of the night.  More impressively, he made some tremendous plays on offense (after leaving the game briefly in the first half with an injury to his face).  His pretty floater at the 9:00 mark of the third quarter probably made Collison jealous.  He followed with an amazing finish with under 2:00 to play and his team down 91-90.  He then tied it up with :30 to go as well.  His last miss, which could have tied it, will be discussed largely, but color this observer impressed with his overall night (25 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds).
  • Marcus Thornton played more minutes than Devin Brown tonight (22:47 to 20:43).  I will be quite pleased should this become a trend.
  • The officials in the game (Bob Delaney, Curtis Blair and Eric Lewis) were comically joined at the hip with the rulebook in the first half.  To wit, they put extra time on the clock at the end of each of the first two quarters, 4/10 of a second the first time, 2/10 of a second the second.   In each instance, they were technically correct.  In each instance, it didn’t matter a lick as neither team could muster a shot in such a short period of time.  So why bother?  To extend the game another five minutes while they huddle around a television monitor and the fans look at each other in confusion?  If so, consider it mission accomplished, fellas.
  • There was an insane block by Brown around the 8:00 mark of the third quarter that amounted to nothing except to make me less liable to question his defense going forward.  Nice work.
  • Actual text that made it onto the Jumbotron:  “Hi Brad, and virgie love from …” <quick switch to a Honda ad>
  • Paul showed some rust.  Dribbling the thing out of bounds with no pressure?  Glad that didn’t come back to bite the team in the end.
  • I absolutely loved seeing West box out on the final rebound.  He freakin’ turned his back to the basket completely, just to make sure his guy couldn’t get off of him.  I can be critical of the big guy, but when he’s doing things like that late in games, it’s impossible for me to stay mad at him.

UPDATE: Check Mr. Kennedy’s post-game Journal report.

UPDATE 2: Lots of video, including Devin Brown getting the top play of the night in the NBA…

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