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Notes from Hornets Open Practice

Published: October 4, 2010

Here is a report from the open practice on October 2, 2010, 11:30 a.m. local time at the New Orleans Arena.

Non-basketball Comments on the Practice

The Hornets held an open practice Saturday, and if their intention was to excite the locals . . . it worked.  I estimate about 1200 people showed up, and a few people asked me about it on my way to the practice and at my lunch after.  The crowd was brought to their feet a few times, gave rousing applause many times, and some fans were talking to reps while I was on my way out.  People brought kids who were running around having a good time.  The partisan crowd was enthusiastic, intelligent, and polite. It was really fun and a great example of just how great the organization is at making sure the fans get what they want at each event.  Also, David “Big Shot” Jovanovic, the team’s equipment manager, at-times-ambassador, and hero of the fire extinguisher incident (in my mind), was at the event.  I assume he is free to remain with the team at his pleasure for the time being.

The session closed with the entertainment segment.  In the first round of half-court shot attempts, Marco Belinelli hit it.  Pops dropped it in during the second round.  Gray hit the rim both times.  Marco wisely didn’t try the second time. Pargo, making a festive choice, and perhaps one that belies a realization that he can’t make every shot, tried an over the back shot the second time.

Our last-rookie-standing, Quincy Pondexter, wore a pink wig and pink dress and entertained us with song.  He sang something I didn’t know ((“California Gurls” by Katy Perry, a cappella; thanks to a poster who’d rather remain anonymous for this tidbit)), then tried to take requests from the crowd.  No fans honored his request that the fan who suggests the song also join him at center court in a duet, but Hugo, whom he called “Bee Man,” helped out with dance moves.  With the help of the track over the in house system, he did a very funny YMCA, of which I think he knew no words other than the 4 eponymous letters.  He was a good sport and embraced it.  I was hoping he’d do “Beat It,” which was requested by a child far too young to request it.

Basketball Comments on the Practice

Chris was wearing a knee brace, and Emeka was present but did not participate.  Chris was certainly having a good time and was interacting with everyone.

The practice started with a huddle up in the middle of the court followed by some half-court action which turned out to be `clean up’ activity from the last practice.  Then came general warmups such as stretching, and various forms of trotting took place.  Later these gave way to more complex 3-man drills, some of which focused on fast-breaks.  The ensuing 4-on-4 drills in the half court were very vocal defensively. I remember hearing “cutter” yelled more than once.  I don’t remember hearing it at all in 3 years.

Monty handled the ball a little.  He also stopped the drill a few times to either correct what was happening, or, more impressively in my mind, he would rewind the drill and point out what an offensive player would have done had the drill not dictated the next move.  I thought this was excellent pedagogically and was something I did not see at the open practice I went to under Coach Bower.  These guys are pros, among the 1000 best players in the world in a world of 6+ billion people; acting like they can’t handle nuance or that they can’t deal with multiple issues at once is short-sighted and insulting.  Monty was repeatedly focusing on position.  You could hear him repeat it over and over.  Defense was clearly the emphasis and it looked good from my seat at the back of 101.

After these drills there was the closest I’ve ever experienced to a slow clap.  The lady next to me actually started it.

Following was the heralded scrimmage.  It was originally billed to be 4 8-minute quarters, but after `halftime’ the last half was changed into a long 10 minute period.  This didn’t really help the schedule since the scrimmage went into double overtime, consisting of a 2 minute period followed by a 3 minute period with a running clock, except for the last 30 seconds.

The teams were, in the order Rob Nice named them on the mic:

Trevor Ariza, Aaron Gray, Marco Belinelli, Chris Emmanuel Paul, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, David Moorer West, DJ Strawberry, Mustafa Shakur

Jannero Pargo, Quincy Pondexter, Darryl Watkins, Marcus Thornton, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Smith, Joe Alexander, Willie Green

  • Trevor: Ariza looked good.  He had an oop with Chris (crowd to its feet, roars).  He made some deep shots and looked comfortable.
  • Aaron: He looks better.  He went after rebounds.  He was weaker to the basket following a rebound than he was going for the rebound, but it was an improvement.  There is room to grow, and I don’t mean into his old uniform.  He also was active on his feet, slightly hoping or shuffling as opposed to standing around flat-footed.
  • Marco: Marco ran the point a few times with Chris out on the win (with Chris drilling a 3 to kick off the session).  He nailed some long shots too.
  • Chris: Chris was Chris.  He looked good.  Damned good.
  • Pops: Of the new guys, I think Nana Papa Yaw Dwene Mensa-Bonsu has the best shot to make the team, even ignoring the lack of depth.  Briefly, Pops was playing like Big Daddy.  The dude has energy and seemed to be in the right place and the right time but with a certain softness when placing the ball in the basket.  Beauty plus beast.  He may be that `attitude’ guy we need, or at least I want.
  • David: He looked good.  He was having fun and performed well.  He continued his thieving ways as well. DJ: He didn’t really stand out.
  • Mustafa: Mustafa just may make the team.  He seemed smart.  Chris was chatting him up.  He also had a nice inbound pass. I would say it’s nice to do that to someone finally, but it was us, so . . .
  • Jannero: Jannero was unremarkable, but that may be a positive considering the lingering fear that he’ll take ill-advised shots and ill-advised times.
  • Quincy: Q built on the positive marks he earned in summer league
  • Darryl: Darryl played some good defense at times.
  • Marcus: Picture Marcus plus defense. Yeah.  Done grinning? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Chris says Marcus is the reason he re-signs with the Hornets.
  • Peja: Peja looked good.  He was nailing the long ball.  He did just fine on defense, hurrying Ariza at times.
  • Jason: This guy has potential.  I’m not the first one to say it.
  • Joe: I don’t remember him doing one thing. I’m sure he did something, I just don’t remember it. This is more a comment about myself than Mr. Alexander.
  • Wille: Willie is inconsistent. He looked like the fans doing the 3 point contests at times, but then had great flashes at others.  If Pops works out and some other guard can do a little point work when we get Chillie Willie, the trade to get him will probably have been worth it.

Following the practice. Chris and Jannero were working on shooting.  Chris working on shots with Pargo, in my mind, said a lot. One, this guy isn’t phoning it in this season.  He’s not going to pout and demand a trade.  He’s going to work harder this year than any other.  This guy doesn’t need to work on shots to be NBA-ready, but he needs to work on them because he’s Chris Paul.  Pargo working on shots may show a sense of awareness that would end up pleasing us all.  Them working together says something about the camaraderie that Chris seems to love.

Also, these guys can work on shots anywhere at any time; them doing it there for all to see, I take as a message.  Chris is media savvy and is growing more so each day.  He’s showing the fans he’s the leader of this team and takes that role seriously.  There have been lots words about Chris in the past few months, but these are solid actions, actions out of the spotlight but in plain sight of some people with a stake in what Chris does with his life. When it comes to Chris Paul, I’ll trust his actions over words of others and I think he’d take that as high praise.

Overall, the defense was improved.  It was clear. The guys were vocal and there were many more defensive plays than I remember in the past.  It was very encouraging.  It’s a new day, Hornets fans.  In fact, some of you Hornets foes might want to keep one eye trained down here.  It may not be opening night, the all-star break, or this season, but watch yourself: we just might have something for you, and maybe a little lagniappe.


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