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Published: September 15, 2010

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New Orleans Hornets 2010-2011 Preview
By: Alex Kennedy   Last Updated: 9/15/10 11:05 AM ET | 1540 times read
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The New Orleans Hornets entered last season with very high expectations. The team’s core was returning, a solid draft yielded productive rookies, and the Western Conference was wide open.

But after a disappointing start, head coach Byron Scott was fired and replaced on the sidelines by general manager Jeff Bower. Shortly after, Chris Paul sustained a serious left knee injury that forced him to miss thirty-seven games. While rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton were able to keep the Hornets competitive down the stretch, they would ultimately miss the playoffs.

After a summer of Chris Paul trade rumors, the Hornets got on the same page as their franchise player and brought him some help. With a new head coach, general manager, and personnel in New Orleans, the team enters this season with many questions but also with a sense of urgency to improve.

The HOOPSWORLD staff looks ahead to the 2010-2011 season and the state of the New Orleans Hornets in 2010-2011.

Five Guys Think…
Yannis Koutroupis The best thing to happen in New Orleans this summer was the debunking of the Chris Paul trade rumors. With that distraction out of the way the new brain trust can focus on trying to build a contender around him. It’s not a fast process, but they’ve already started in the right direction with the acquisition of Trevor Ariza. He’s an ideal fit at small forward alongside Chris Paul. A big priority for Monty Williams will be getting the most out of Emeka Okafor. He’s owed a lot of money and isn’t going to be easy to move, so they have to figure out a way to make him successful. The division they play in is brutal, but finishing fourth doesn’t mean the playoffs are out of reach.

4th Place, Southwest Division

Bill Ingram The Hornets have a new GM, a new head coach, and several new pieces in place, but the best part of the summer for New Orleans was the primary thing that didn’t change: Chris Paul is still their franchise player. Trevor Ariza promises to be a factor as the team looks to improve defensively, and Marco Belinelli will add firepower to the backcourt, but the Hornets are in the league’s toughest division, and have their work cut out for them to finish ahead of the Texas powerhouses.

4th Place, Southwest Division

Luke Byrnes The New Orleans Hornets 2010-11 season comes down to two words: Chris Paul. If their All-NBA point guard is on the basketball floor and healthy, the Hornets can play with the best teams in the NBA. Without him? The Hornets are in big trouble, particularly after trading Collison to the Pacers. Shooting guard Marcus Thornton turned out to be one of the steals of the 2009 NBA Draft and appears to be the team’s long-term solution off the ball and recently acquired swingman Trevor Ariza will instantly make this team better athletically, defensively and in transition. While they are still a few years (or a big trade) away from contention, this should be an exciting Hornets team that will contend for a playoff spot, as long as Paul is healthy.

4th Place, Southwest Division

Joel Brigham If I were Chris Paul, I’d be frustrated, too, because this isn’t a team that’s going to compete for a championship this year or any time in the foreseeable future. With that said, they’ve still got arguably the most talented point guard in the entire league leading the charge, and their frontcourt guys, though underachievers last season, do have impressive resumes. Paul can only take this team so far; it’ll be the play of Emeka Okafor and David West that really dictates how good they’ll be. Keep your eyes on second-year shooting guard Marcus Thornton, too. He could very well be a candidate for Most Improved Player this season.

4th Place, Southwest Division

Lang Greene Down In the Big Easy, it starts and ends with the play of point guard Chris Paul who appeared in a career-low 45 games in 2010. Hornets fans also endured an offseason filled with trade talk surrounding their star guard, but Paul is now seemingly onboard with the franchise’s rebuilding efforts. Trevor Ariza will likely step into the starting small forward spot, pushing veteran Peja Stojakovic and his expiring contract to a bench role to add punch to the second unit. David West is just a year removed from an All-Star selection and should have a bounce back year with a healthy Pau distributing the rock. 50 wins was the playoff bar last season in the Western Conference, which may be a little out of reach for this unit.

5th Place, Southwest Division

Top Of The List

Top Offensive Player: Chris Paul. While injuries limited Chris Paul last season, there’s no question that he’s the top offensive player in New Orleans. Even when Darren Collison was playing at his best last season, his teammates were quick to remind everyone that he had big shoes to fill and that there was no comparison between the rookie and the superstar. Prior to his knee injury, many considered Paul to be the best point guard in the league and the numbers support that claim. Two seasons ago, he averaged 22.8 points and 11.0 assists while shooting .503 from the field. Even with his injuries last season, he averaged 18.7 points and 10.7 assists. He may have fallen out of the top point guard debate last season, but when healthy there’s no question that he’s one of the best and easily the most dominant offensive player on the Hornets.

Top Defensive Player: Emeka Okafor. A case could be made for Paul as best defensive player as well because of his 2.13 steals per game, but after years of finishing with the lowest number of blocked shots in the league, the Hornets acquired Emeka Okafor primarily for his defensive abilities. Last season, he didn’t see consistent minutes and struggled a bit but still managed to block 1.55 shots per game. When he’s at his best, he’s one of the top shot-blockers in the league and the Hornets expect him to improve their interior defense next season. Monty Williams will put an emphasis on defense this season and while Paul’s steals will help the team, Okafor’s presence down low will be crucial to the Hornets’ success.

Top Playmaker: Chris Paul. This is a no-brainer for two reasons. Not only is Chris Paul one of the best point guards in the league, he’s also the only starting caliber one on the Hornets’ roster. After trading away Darren Collison this summer in exchange for Trevor Ariza, the only other point guard in New Orleans is newly-signed Mustafa Shakur. As previously mentioned, when Paul is healthy he’s one of the best playmakers in the league. He led the league in assists for the past two seasons before dropping to second best – behind only Steve Nash – last season due to his injury. The Hornets are confident that Paul will return to form this season and that likely means another year atop the assists leader board.

Top Clutch Player: Chris Paul. With the ball in his hands so often, it’s not a surprise that Paul is the team’s best clutch player. Last season, he finished ninth best in the league in scoring during pressure situations with 39.2 points per 48 minutes of clutch time. He was also fifth best in assists with 9.6 per 48 minutes of clutch time. When he was out, Marcus Thornton and David West made some things happen in crunch time but now that he’s healthy, there’s no question that Paul will be the one taking the shot if the game is on the line.

The Unheralded Player: Marco Belinelli. Because he was acquired at the same time as Trevor Ariza, the trade for Marco Belinelli flew under the radar. Trading seldom used Julian Wright, the Hornets were able to grab the twenty-four year old without giving away any significant pieces. Belinelli has been written off by some critics but at the end of the day, he’s still the talented scorer that received a lot of hype when he came into the league as the eighteen overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. When given minutes, he has been able to put up numbers and the situation in New Orleans could be perfect for him as he continues to tap into his potential.

Best New Addition: Trevor Ariza. With that said, there’s no question that Trevor Ariza was the best addition for the Hornets this summer. While Darren Collison was tough to part with, New Orleans wanted to add a starter and the acquisition of Ariza would keep their franchise player happy, at least temporarily. After signing with the Houston Rockets last summer, Ariza struggled in his first season as a primary option on offense. He averaged just 14.9 points while shooting a dreadful .394 from the field, by far the worst of his career. Being able to run the floor while playing alongside a terrific playmaker should benefit Ariza and improve those numbers. At only twenty-five years old, he still has room for improvement and now he must prove that he’s a solid starter who can consistently produce or a journeyman who will continue to bounce around the league.

Who We Like
1. Marcus Thornton – After seeing his role expand midway through last season, Marcus Thornton made the most of the opportunity. He developed great chemistry with fellow rookie Darren Collison and was able to score at ease. In the last month of the season, he averaged 21.7 points per game and was a big reason that the Hornets were still fighting for a playoff spot even with Chris Paul on the bench. Going into this season, Thornton’s role is likely to increase even more as he’ll likely be moving into the starting lineup. The Hornets are excited to see what Thornton and Paul can do together in the backcourt so don’t be surprised if the second-round pick continues turning heads and exceeding expectations.

2. Chris Paul – The New Orleans Hornets may be able to field a competitive squad when Chris Paul is in street clothes but they’re just not the same team. Over the years, Paul has become the Hornets and that’s what made this summer’s trade rumors so surprising. Now that he’s on good terms with the organization, at least for the time being, Paul can continue focusing on what matters. Last season was a disappointment but with Paul healthy, the Hornets will be able to compete in the West and play some of the league’s most exciting basketball in the process. Without Paul, the Hornets are a rebuilding team that’s searching for an identity. With Paul, anything is possible.

3. David West – This offseason, the supporting cast in New Orleans was put under the microscope quite often. With Paul questioning the team’s desire to win and the players that the front office had assembled on the roster, many forgot about the other All-Star in New Orleans. While his numbers dipped a bit, which is expected with a rookie backcourt, David West remains a consistent post scorer who can average twenty points over the course of a season. Last season, it was difficult for West to play the role of Robin with Batman limping around on crutches. With Paul back in the lineup, expect another All-Star caliber year out of West.

4. Quincy Pondexter – With the Hornets focusing on winning now, they couldn’t have drafted a better prospect than Quincy Pondexter. After spending four years at Washington, many considered Pondexter to be one of the rookies that were ready to contribute right away. Coming off of his team’s deep tournament run, the Hornets were impressed by Pondexter’s well-rounded game. During Summer League, he showed his ability to finish at the rim and was able to hold his own against some of the best rookies in the class. Pondexter, along with fellow rookie Craig Brackins, could emerge as contributors right away for this young team. Regardless of how much they play next season, both look to be solid role players down the road as well.

5. Monty Williams – After making a name for himself in Portland as one of the top assistant coaches in the NBA, Monty Williams takes over in New Orleans as the league’s youngest head coach. Because he’s only thirty-eight years old and ended his playing career just seven season ago, he’s able to relate to his players and has already begun building relationships with them with training camp still several weeks away. The Hornets expect Williams to return the team to the contender status that they held just two seasons ago. While Williams definitely seems like the long-term answer at head coach for the Hornets, he’s expected to do more than just develop the young players on the roster. There is a sense of urgency in New Orleans and the team wants to see results right away. Despite the fact that Williams enters this season as a rookie head coach, the team feels that he’s the perfect man for the job.

Any team that has Chris Paul on their roster will have ball movement as one of their main strengths. The Hornets consistently finish as one of the top passing teams in the league and Paul is a big reason for that. They also shoot a high field goal percentage because they’re often getting open looks at the basket thanks to their floor general. This should help Trevor Ariza, who struggled to create his own shot in Houston’s half-court offense. Last season, the Hornets were the eighth best three point shooting team, averaging .363 from behind the arc. Defensively, New Orleans makes up for their lack of interior defense by averaging 7.62 steals per game. Monty Williams will focus more on defense this season so expect their opponent’s average score of 102.71 points to decrease. With Paul returning and a lot of new faces coming in, the team’s statistics could change next season but expect the Hornets to focus on many of the same strengths that have allowed for them to be successful in the past.

Many of New Orleans’ problems involve the team’s big men. Last season, the Hornets finished last among all teams in blocks per game with just 3.66 per game and sixth worst in rebounding with 40.27 boards per game. Emeka Okafor has averaged nearly two blocks per game since joining the team but nobody else on the roster has averaged close to one swat. This must improve if the Hornets want to lower their opponent’s scoring average. New Orleans must also improve their shot selection. While they were able to shoot a high field goal percentage last season, they can improve on that number if they stop forcing shots and attempting the majority of their shots ten seconds or less into the shot clock. That number may be a bit skewed because of the rookie backcourt that led New Orleans towards the end of last season but they’ll have to be more efficient offensively next season.

The Coach’s Chair By Anthony Macri

 What Needs To Be Said On Opening Day…. 

The most important thing we can do as a team is to remember that you guys must lean on each other. We have to be tight. Because if we’re not, our talent won’t really matter. And make no mistake, we are talented. We have elite level talent at five positions, and it all starts with you, Chris. I don’t care what happened in the offseason and what people around you are saying: we need you and you are here now. You can lead us to wins. Marcus, you can take a big step as a sophomore in the league – and Trevor, this is a great spot for you to restart your career. David, Emeka, you guys need to be solid but not spectacular in the frontcourt. If you can control the glass and set great screens, Chris will reward you, and you both know that. I think we battle for a playoff spot this year. And if we do that, no one will want to play us in the postseason. Let’s make that a reality.

– Anthony Macri

From The Capologist
One of Dell Demps’ highest priorities as the new General Manager is to convince Chris Paul that New Orleans is where he wants to stay. You have to assume that means surrounding CP3 with more talent. Acquiring Trevor Ariza was a start, but perhaps he could have gotten more in return for Darren Collison. Demps has a nice trade chip in Peja Stojakovic’s expiring contract, which might be used to bring in some talent. He also has a sizable $6.2 million trade exception from the Morris Peterson deal at draft time at his disposal.

– Larry Coon

The Burning Question
Will Chris Paul be happy with the team’s production?

Right now, the Hornets are doing everything they can to keep their superstar happy. Every team with a star player witnessed what happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer and nobody wants to find themselves in the same position. After meeting with Paul this summer and clearing the air, the Hornets know that they must back up what they told him by winning some games and fielding a competitive team. Dealing reserve players for big contributors was the first step. The organization knows that it has to win now and sees this as their last chance to salvage the relationship with Paul. At the end of the day, their goal is to keep Paul happy and whether or not they’ll be able to do that will determine how successful the franchise can be in the immediate future and in the long run.

Read more NBA news and insight: http://www.hoopsworld.com/Story.asp?story_id=17326#ixzz0zdcvuJoY

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