The State of the Rotation

Published: October 7, 2010

Sifting through what Monty Williams has said(and not said) to the media the past couple days, I think we’re pretty close to a preliminary rotation.  Here’s what I think Coach Williams is hinting at – and I have my own thoughts, of course.

The Starting Lineup

PG: Chris Paul – There’s not much to say here.  The only commentary about Paul from the coaching staff is that they want to limit him to no more than 36 minutes a game.  We’ll see.  Both Bower and Scott said as much, and he still played closer to 39 minutes or more.

SG: Marco Belinelli – For some, this is stupidity.  For others, this makes sense.  I tend to fall into the latter category.  Monty Williams has stated over and over that he needs more from Marcus on the defensive end.  In fact, I think it’s a conditioned response for him now:

Reporter: What about Marcus Tho-
Monty Williams: Defense!  More defense!

I don’t disagree.  I’ve been chopping up video of the Hornets games last year for a little movie I’m trying to construct, and Marcus was absolutely abysmal on that end of the floor.  Regardless, there could be four things going on here.

  1. Monty Williams thinks the SG with the starting line-up only needs to be a spot up shooter next to Ariza and Paul.  Keeping Marcus as a 6th man explosive scorer off the bench is a better use of his talents.(This is my personal take on Thornton and the team)
  2. Monty Williams doesn’t at all intend to start Marco Belinelli, and is using the threat of not starting pre-season and training camp to motivate Thornton to pick up his game, with Thornton “earning” the position by the end of October.
  3. Belinelli has been way more impressive than anyone expected, and Monty feels Thornton’s defensive issues completely negate his aggression.
  4. Monty Williams has been infected with Byron-itis, has built a doghouse, and is introducing Thornton to it, setting up Hornets fans for months and months of sphincter-tightening frustration.

SF: Trevor Ariza – Peja was finished last year, prompting Scott to move him to the bench.  While that didn’t work out, I full expect it to stick this season with Ariza around.  The only way I see this position being filled with Stojakovic is if Ariza is moved to shooting guard because Belinelli doesn’t work out and Williams wants to keep Thornton in a sixth man role.  As for comments the coaching staff have made about Ariza, they appear to focus on his defense and versatility.  I hope they are combining the two, and mean his defensive versatility, because I sure don’t consider him that versatile an offensive player.  On offense, I want him to run the floor, cut to the hoop without the ball, and otherwise, stand in the corner.  For threes.  No dribbling in traffic!

PF: David West – I actually find West’s position with the team to be the most interesting.  Monty Williams has been careful to talk about how the team is Paul’s and David’s, but he’s also called West out a couple times for his defense.  When he says, “A lot of people blame West for his defense in the paint, but that defense has to start on the outside too,” he’s not giving him a pass.  He’s calling him out, albeit gently.  I think West is in an evaluation period with Williams and Demps, and should he prove to not be putting in the effort defensively, I’m betting he’ll appear right next to Peja on the list of “Players most likely to be moved by the trade deadline.”

C: Emeka Okafor – There isn’t really any other option here, and trading him isn’t likely.  Monty Williams knows this, and that’s why he’s been much more outspoken about a need for defensive intensity from Okafor, unlike he has been with West.  Okafor needs to anchor the middle for this team to do any sort of damage.  We’ll see how that works out.

The Bench

PG: It appears Willie Green has locked up the backup position at the point.  Color me surprised.  Every statement out of training camp has indicated he is leading the charge as the backup point guard and relegated DJ Strawberry and Mustafa Shakur to purely end-of-the-bench roles.  I won’t lie.  I worry about Green being able to pull this off.  He’s been a swingman for 95% of his career.

SG: We’ve already touched on Thornton, so next I’ll talk about Quincy Pondexter, who is only nominally a SG.  I don’t think you should expect to see him much, particularly early on in the season.  Right now, he’s the fifth swingman on the team, behind Ariza, Stojakovic, Belinelli and Thornton.  Without injury or Peja/Bellinelli falling completely out of the rotation, I think we can count on him being brought along slowly with an eye to next year.

SF: As for Peja Stojakovic, I have no idea what to expect from him.  I cringe every time someone mentions the thought of using him as a stretch four.  That tells me two things:  Either Monty and everyone else have lost their minds, or Monty doesn’t really have a substantial role planned for Peja, so when people ask about him he responds with, “Oh, he’ll get a few minutes backing up Ariza . . . and maybe I’ll play him a little at the 4 in certain situations.”  Maybe he just wants to let the old, extremely expensive veteran down slowly.  That second theory is supported by the fact that there have been multiple reports that the Hornets are shopping Peja aggressively.  Not much point in planning around him if you plan on getting rid of him soon.

PF: Joe Alexander and Pops Mensah-Bonsu are reportedly fighting it out for the backup power-forward position.  Since neither of these guys are optimal or have over-lapping skill sets and attributes, I’d rather the Hornets just keep both for match-up purposes.  If the Hornets are getting killed on the boards, use Pops.  If they are facing a stretch four, use Alexander and his athleticism to try and keep up with him.

Oh, and yeah, Darryl Watkins is also in camp.  No, I haven’t heard anyone suggest he’ll make the team.

C: Aaron Gray and Jason Smith will be the back-up centers for the team.  Like Alexander and Mensah-Bonsu, but even more extreme, this is a battle between Power vs Finesse.  Of course, Gray isn’t that powerful, and Smith hasn’t shown a high level of Finesse, but you get the idea.  I don’t think either of these guys will lock down the backup center position for at least a few months, and early on the substitution pattern will be driven by match-ups.  I wonder if these two guys will end up hanging out and going to bars together.  Jason Smith can reel in the ladies, and Aaron Gray can . . . well he can be the wingman.

What starting line-up do you want to see?


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