Cautiously Tiptoeing Through a Field of Optimism

By:
Published: November 9, 2010

The most recent data shows that 98 percent of romantic relationships end at some point, and most of them end badly. The odd thing is that an even higher percent of those relationships start off so well. How can this be? When something starts off well, it seems logical to assume that things will only get better. As much as we want to believe this in life, the truth is that words like “good” and “better” are only subjective and in the end it all falls back on the eye of the beholder.

After a 6-0 start, it is hard not to get carried away as a Hornets fan. As much can be said after the first two dates of a relationship that go absolutely perfect. You focus on all the positives, you compare the current subject with subjects from the past and realize their superiority, and you project forward all the positive things that are still to come. Even when you do notice possible negatives, you justify them or say that they can be changed. But why is it that we only give the negative articles this attribute of change? Isn’t it possible that the positive things about a prospective partner (or NBA team) can change as well? Or at least be viewed differently in future months?

The goal of this article is not to be a Debbie Downer, it is to look at everything we have seen so far realistically and objectively. There are plenty of fluffy Hornets pieces all over the web right now, and nobody would blame you if you spent your time reading one of those articles.  Go back to the first two sentences of this piece, though. Why does that happen? Why do relationships that start so great sometimes end up so horribly? It’s because people feel blindsided. They have one idea of a person and reality shows them another side that catches them off guard. They ignore the pitfalls and focus on the positives, and say things like “I feel like I never knew him/her at all!”  But whose fault is that when you ignore what is right there in front of your face or you just accept it for now because you believe it will change in the future?

I show this correlation because I feel like Hornets fans are in danger of being victimized by their own unrealistic expectations based on a small sample size and a tendency to look away from potential pitfalls because the record is 6-0. As evidence I will point people towards outcries by some Hornets fans that New Orleans was ranked 4th in some power polls this week- behind the Miami Heat. The chants of “no respect” and “but we beat them” went up on this message board and several others, almost predictably.

However it was only two weeks ago that even the most diehard Hornets optimists were saying that the 5th seed in the West was a possibility. Have six games really raised expectations this much? Six games that honestly could have each gone either way and would all be losses if CP3, West, or Okafor were not playing? (I point that out because you know all three of these guys will not play 82 games this season)

So now the Hornets sit here at 6-0 and many of the same ideologies are present as I have discussed before in this article:

“They still haven’t jelled yet- just wait until they get to play together more!”

“Okafor is finally coming around and he is only going to get better!”

“Bayless has been horrible, but once he learns the offense, he will be a great backup PG.”

I can go on and on, and my point is not that none of these are correct statements. Some of them might be; heck, all of them might be when it is all said and done. But where is the other side of the story? When do we get to talking about the possibility of inflated numbers due to facing teams with horrible front court defenders? We can talk about West shooting 57%, but we also have to acknowledge that he won’t be facing Antonio McDyess, Drew Gooden, Shelden Williams, Luis Scola, and Chris Bosh every night. Those are five of the worst defensive PF’s in the league, and West luckily avoided a matchup with Kenyon Martin who always gives him fits.

Can we talk about Emeka Okafor and his possible evolution into a top 8 center? Sure, as long as you are willing to talk about the fact that if you take out the Miami game when he faced the immortal Joel Anthonty and Big Z, Emeka is averaging 9.6 PPG and 7.4 RPG in games where he hasn’t exactly been facing physical, intimidating big men.

We can talk about Peja’s expiring deal and how that will bring us additional pieces in February or by letting him expire, the Hornets will become free agent players in 2011- but the sad truth is that neither of those things are necessarily true. Peja’s expiring simply does not have the value that big expirings have had in past years due to so many TPE’s and the fact that many big contracts are running out this year as well. As for the summer, if the Hornets pick up options on Belinelli and Smith as expected, and extend West, there simply won’t be any space left to get a quality player.

I am going to stop here, because I hope that the rest of you can facilitate the conversation moving forward. The goal is not to tear this team apart, but to be proactive in recognizing the potential weaknesses of this team, so that we don’t feel blindsided down the road. When that happens, people start getting angry and looking for scapegoats, because they don’t want to admit that a lot of these issues were right in front of them all along. Conversely, if you have healthy and realistic expectations for people in your life (or an NBA team), then you are much more likely to appreciate them, both in good times and bad.

31 comments
Mazon
Mazon

@DefensiveMind- From an iPhone at work. Respectable! :-) love the analysis and couldn't agree more.

DefensiveMind
DefensiveMind

excuse the typos. typing from an iphone at work.

DefensiveMind
DefensiveMind

By the same token, the statistics show that Golden State is not a 55 win team. This article would work for Golden State fan because it would be true. To assume that a 5-2 start would is the catalyst for an excellent season would be to ignore the evidence of that team which suggests otherwise. We don't have that conundrum as Hornets fans, not to cocky, but that team has played extremely well, thus far.

DefensiveMind
DefensiveMind

I need to see statistics that back up our perceived flaws. Are we giving up free throws at an alarming rate? Do we foul too much? Is our crunch time FT percentage low? Do we give up too many shots in the paint? Have we yet to face a premier big? A premier wing? Regardless of past performance, the STATISTICS are showing (this season) that we have an elite level defensive team, and a player that has the single biggest positive impact on his team in the league. Injuries could derail that, so could CP3 robbing a bank. But, what's the likelihood of that happening and aren't those odds the same for other teams. I'm not saying the Hornets are infallible. Just that as currently constructed, we are better than the majority of the teams in the league as a unit, and we should probably win more games then we lose. No need to adjust expectations about our play, unless there is a reason to believe we need to.

Bug Marley
Bug Marley

I like the way the article makes me think about the team and its future. But the thing is I don't want to go through all that trouble. Does that make me less of a fan if I just want to enjoy every Hornets game one at a time without all the analyzing and stuff? We could end up not making the playoffs but I tell you this, my belief on this team will not waver. Are we a championship team? Yes we are. That's being blind to the facts and statistics but as a fan IMHO, you've got to believe. I choose to listen to those three little birds and not worry about a thing. Also, I know that 100 percent of romantic relationships end at some point because of this minor inconvenience called death. :D

Mazon
Mazon

Oh yeah. And I forgot to mention... “They still haven’t jelled yet- just wait until they get to play together more!” “Okafor is finally coming around and he is only going to get better!” “Bayless has been horrible, but once he learns the offense, he will be a great backup PG.” So I don't know how you improve on perfect but the Hornets got a good shot at it! :-D And the power forwards that defended david west aren't maybe the best at defense but all have great offensive games. (well not sheldon or mcdyess) but how many of them put up solid stats with dwest defending them?? If we were out scoring opponents in shoot outs I wouldn't be so optimistic...

Mazon
Mazon

I believe! I'm a helpless romantic! Tonight my sweet love will be 7-0!!!

thechosenuno
thechosenuno

I agree with all of your points; good post. The thing that has me optimistic, though, is that Monty isn't satisfied. After almost every win, he will say that he's happy, but is ready to get to the tape and into practice because there are things that still need to be worked on. He also talks about how you can't let your guard down with any team in the NBA -- each one has the potential to beat you. This kind of mentality -- keep working, keep practicing, keep improving -- is similar to that of CP3 and, to throw in a Saints reference, Brees. When did Byron Scott or Jeff Bower ever say anything like that?!? One thing I've noticed, too, that I haven't seen in past practices is that CP3 gets the team together at half court after each game, while the opposing team and fans are leaving, and gives them a little pep talk. I like this unity. Excited about tonight! 7-0!

Icebird
Icebird

I was one of those people arguing that the Hornets ought to be 3 on the ESPN Power Rankings. Power Rankings are always a balancing job between "current form" and "future potential". Do I anticipate that the Hornets will be the third best team in the NBA over the course of the season? Heck no (but I'd be glad if they surprise me). Do I think they're the third best team in the NBA *for this past week*? I'm happy to say yes. At some point, soon, there will probably be a "reality check" game, where we lose to an opponent we could have, and perhaps even should have, beat. Our bench will misfire, our shooters will be off, Okafor will go AWOL again, and some of the things that have been going right for us to allow us to win the close games will go wrong. At some point, the Hornets will descend from the lofty heights of the unbeaten start to something approximating their true form. I'm crossing my fingers that that "true form" might just be a little better than we were anticipating at the start of the season. I'm not actually anticipating that the bees will get significantly *better* than they are now. Player-wise, I hope Marcus Thornton rediscovers his mojo, as an insurance policy against declining production from other players on the court (and that really is a combination of being given the opportunity to do what he did last year, and taking advantage of those opportunities).

QueenBee
QueenBee

Hopefully the Hornets are taking the approach that I am taking and knowing Monty Williams, they are. And that approach is, one game at a time. One game at a time.

D. Highmore
D. Highmore

I'm more cautiously optimistic. I've seen too many good starts from the Hornets over the years only for them to slump in the last third of the season. I think limiting the minutes our starters play will help - in the past we've had a tendancy to overplay our best players, which has only hurt us down the stretch. I think 50 wins is more than a possibility though. With Paul the Hornets probably would have won 46-48 games last year, so 50's not unreasonable for this year.

nikkoewan
nikkoewan

i think I still expect the Hornets to win around 50 games, as i've said from the beginning. A Hot Start doesn't change that(although it does feel good). As other's pointed out, the win-loss record is less important, what's more important is the things we see on the court. What do we see? 1.) Our team has used defense to win through adversity. Is this a good thing? Yes. Will this last even if we go to a 3 game losing streak? I hope so, we have yet to see. 2.) Our bench has been stepping and has more punch than in previous years. the only known bench players we've had is that pesky guy named Pargo(and even he isn't that good). Today? We have Jason Smith( who is using his midrange game - which MIGHT normalize, will be bad for the bench during those 3 - 5 game stretch where he is bad), Willie Green(another one that MIGHT normalize), and Bayless( that MIGHT normalize to the mean in a good way for us) and an occasional Marcus Thornton scoring spree here and there. So we have a lot of potential in the bench. Is it better than previous years? Yes. Can they keep it up? We hope so, but its a moderately good possibility. 3.) Health. Health. Health. 0708 was the best season we had, because of that freaking 6 letter word that start and end with a letter between G and I. :)) So there. Although i don't think this is going to be a 60 win team( i don't right now) i do think they still fall right around 50 wins. this 6 - 0 start only helps to my cause because, you Mike actually predicted right around 40~ish, that's predicting a .500 ball right there. if the hornets want to AT LEAST win 50 games, they'd have to go 44 - 32 the next 76 games, which is right around .500 (its around .578). So its not anymore unreasonable to expect a 50 win season. that is why everytime our team goes to play, i pray that NO ONE gets injured for a long time, especially to our big 4( Paul, West, Okafor, Ariza).. that is all.

42
42

Yup.

hewhorocks
hewhorocks

6 games is a small sample size. A wait and see attitude is usually prudent however there is more reasons to be optimistic than not. To those "die-hard fans" who had the Hornets finishing 5th in the Southwest I put it to you. You were wrong about the level of play the Hornets would provide. Boom. YOU WERE WRONG. Embrace the fact that the Hornets surprised you and jump on the band wagon whose engine started warming up when Bower parted ways with the Hornets. Will the Hornets go undefeated? No. But the truth is Bradford Doolittle's science experiment had a better handle on the Hornets team than you did. (Props to 42) http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1221. The Hornets beat 6 teams in a row that were expected by the vast majority of pundits to be much better than they were. If the games were each a toss up we'd see that result 1.6% of the time. What does that tell us? It tells us that in all likelihood the games weren't toss ups. It tell us that generally speaking the Hornets were better than there competition. It doesnt mean we we better than each team we defeated, simply that the Hornets were likely better than their competition. Each one of those teams was slated for the playoffs before the season began. We may not see the Hornets win it all and it is a long season but nobody in their right mind now believes that the Hornets will be the doormat the Preseason prognosticators slated them as. So to the Debbie Downers look for the rainclouds all you want. Try and bring Hornets fans "back to reality" the truth is, You were wrong before the season started and having the Hornets beat six "better" teams in a row doesnt make you any more right. Truth is, if the Hornets had gone 3-3 for the first six Hornets fans would have been excited about the season potential once everything gelled. As it stands Hornets fans know the team has the talent to compete with anyone, and as long as there's a chance call me a hopeless romantic.

42
42

Bouncing Souls reference there? I hope so. Fun little suckers, they are. Billy Corgan once said that a fan (talking about his Smashing Pumpkins fans) is someone who will give you a chance. I like that. I think he was talking about Adore, so he had an agenda, but the point is the same regardless. Some lyrics, perhaps 10 days too late to be timely, from the pumpkins: "Believe, believe in me, believe In the resolute urgency of now And if you believe there's not a chance tonight Tonight, so bright Tonight We'll crucify the insincere tonight We'll make things right, we'll feel it all tonight We'll find a way to offer up the night tonight The indescribable moments of your life tonight The impossible is possible tonight Believe in me as I believe in you, tonight" -- Tonight, Smashing Pumpkins (go get the Mellon Collie album, people) It really is more about believing than knowing at his point. It's about taking that leap. We need to shake Monty's hand, Dell's hand, Chris' hand, Jason's hand . . . for giving us a team that we can believe in, win or lose. That is something not a lot of teams have. (This is essentially, also, what Mikey said, but he said it more better; Mikey talk good).

42
42

Loving it.

ur_gmas_daughter
ur_gmas_daughter

Not only are we all "Hopeless Romantics" we are ALL "True Believers" all the way!!!

Juncti
Juncti

While I certainly understand the caution, I think there's a few things to look at. All throughout the Saints season last year us fans were cautious after having been let down so many times before, we neglected to just sit back and realize that we had a great team performing greatly. The present Hornets may not be great, but they are playing great and even if they lose, but lose playing their heart out, I can't imagine being disappointed. We've seen what they're capable of, now they just need to stay healthy and fight. If they do that this season should be a success no matter the eventual outcome. Also, as to the power rankings, the only thing I took offense at was their ranking by perceived future potential rather than what has happened thus far. When the records and performance show that the Lakers and Hornets are the only unbeaten teams remaining. The present power rankings should reflect that. Lakers have one more win on the rankings I've seen and are defending champions, so I would think a rank of Lakers 1, Hornets 2 isn't out of line. Shouldn't the rankings be a snapshot of the present rather than a hypothetical guess at a potential future?

42
42

How about this? We got beat on like a red-headed step-dog this summer. Let's call this a well-deserved treat, like the little bits of powder at the bottom of hot cocoa. So sweet. It's a 76 game season now and we have a little cushion to reach our target of 44 of 76 for the 50-wins-be-satisfied crowd or a 51 of 76 target to hit the franchise record of 57 wins. I've got my treat and no one is going take it from me even if they take the next 76 games.

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara

Here is a more broad thought exercise than the one I proposed in the piece: Imagine you run into a Warriors fan today and they told you that they were a lock for the playoffs and are on pace for 55 wins. They told you how Monte was leading the league in PPG and they are only going to get better because Curry was hurt and eventually Udoh is going to come in and provide some toughness. What would you say? Now, realistically, are we able to be that objective and impartial when we think about the Hornets hot start? When the Hawks started off 6-0 did anybody here really see them getting past Miami, Bos, or Orlando? No, because we are not invested personally in the Hawks, so our vision is less clouded. So far I am very pleased with the feedback- I was expecting to get torched to be honest! I love this site- much more respectful and intellectual than most fan sites

MaxALM
MaxALM

not to knit-pick, but Atlanta i think was a different scenario because they played and beat all lottery teams until they faced the Suns and Magic, both of which they lost. The Bees have played all playoff teams except Houston and won them all. But i see your point.

Caleb
Caleb

Just one thing on Emeka... he has a PER of 23 and per 36 averages of 15, 10 and 3... with less than a single turnover per game and a ridiculous 72% shooting percentage. All that's not caused by a single game. Even if you take away the Miami stats he has still played fantastic ball for the most part. The per game stats are misleading because Emeka isn't playing 35-40 minutes a night. With that out of the way... I agree that we can't suddenly expect that we are going to challenge the Lakers for an NBA title because we started 6-0, or anything along those lines. Nonetheless, we can be very excited that this team is as good as its been since 07-08.... and possibly better. Its a long season, but great excitement about this start is certainly justified. I personally expected this team to be quite good (50-win quality), I just didn't think they would come firing right out the gate like this. That fact does make me think that maybe their ceiling is higher than I (or anyone else really) expected.... but stuff like that remains to be seen. For now I'm just going to enjoy it.

Caleb
Caleb

Actually... make that 16, 11 and 3. Forgot to round up!

42
42

One thing to keep in mind is that winning 6 of 10 pretty consistently gets you in the playoffs, even if we go back and start counting from the Spurs game. As it turns out, this is not easy but this is basically the clip we need to operate at and should be the baseline for our expectations. I snapped a Debbie Downer yesterday and will post the comment here, but it noted that massive winning streaks predict a title at a 70 percent rate, eith massive being at least 18. So there's what a streak is good for. Byron said good teams don't lose 3 in a row. That has a nice feel to it, some nicr punch, and makes some statistical sense as well. I'll think more on the factors for our team specifically, but basketball is largely about winning the little battles at a good rate, and these small battles govern the runs that determine the outcome of the game. Right now our 'replacements' are battling enough, somone has come through and credit Monty for trying enough stuff and Dell for providing as many pieces as we'ce needed thus far.

42
42

In reply to John's "Reality will set once the Hornets face the Lakers" That’s what the Heat said? What reality, John? Are you imagining something I am not? I imagine around 50 wins. 57 would be killer. Are you thinking people are putting too much stock in the streak? Let’s see what sensible people think about a streak. The Rockets won 22 in a row, stopping only at the soon-to-be-champ -Celtics and got bounced by the Jazz in 6, so they didn’t sniff a title. In fact there are 7 completed winning streaks in NBA history of 18 games or longer: 18, 18, 18, 19, 20, 22, 33. These resulted in 5 titles, with and 18 and the Rockets 22 ending in failing to appear in the finals. This is about a 70% effective indicator of a championship winning, or competing, team. Since the Hornets have about 1/3 of such a streak built, and giving a generous linearly dependence on streak length up to that point, the Hornets streak show them to have about a 20% chance to win the title at the high end. This is in line with the current power rankings and their performance their last healthy year, perhaps optimistic, but the generosity was noted in the prior sentence. Besides, clearly no rational being (the use my term du jour) would put much stock in a streak, especially one starting the season. So I’m wondering: what exactly is it you are imagining that the Lakers will introduce reality into?

Mikey
Mikey

Sometimes I wish I was a dreamer, but its just not in my personal makeup. My expectations are no different than they were when The Python and Demps took over. I expect to see a team that is working on their chemistry, and will compete for 48 minutes a night, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Wins and losses don't mean as much to me this early in the season, but I'm as happy as anybody that they have all been "Ws" thusfar. I expect to see a team that will improve their perimeter defense and defensive rebounding, and so far I'm happy with their development. Here's a sobering fact, at some point this season, the Hornets will struggle. What happens then? Will all those defensive principles that Monty taught throughout the summer and preseason be thrown out the window, or will they buckle down and fight their way through it? Here are some general observations about the Hornets so far: 1. The Hornets are protecting the paint at all costs on defense. They are not allowing as many opportunities at the rim, and much of that is credited to an improved perimeter defense, crisp rotations, and a renewed dedication to defense by the likes of Emeka Okafor. They are really doing a good job of stopping dribble penetration. Once their tape gets out there, other teams will make adjustments. We'll see what happens then. 2. The Hornets have not faced a frontcourt that puts them in a decisive size disadvantage. This will happen when the Bugs play MEM, LAL, UTA and DAL in the West and BOS in the East. I'm intrigued to see what the Hornets' defeisive rebound rate is in those contests.

Steve
Steve

Maybe you know a little more about the CBA than I do but I believe both Marco Belinelli and Jason Smith will be free agents after this season. Both are in their 4th year and their two options have already been picked up. Its my understanding that the Hornets must make a qualifying offer between the end of the season and June 30 to keep them as restricted free agents. And its my understanding that either Belinelli or Smith will be an unrestricted free agent if the Hornets do not make a qualifying offer. Maybe you can clear this up.

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara

No need to clear it up- you hit it right on the head. The assumption is, however, that both will get that qualifying offer because it is relatively low. I think Jason Smith gets it for sure, simply because bigs are so rare and hard to find, and I am 65-35 that Belinelli gets it if he continues to show that he can give a solid 25-30 mins per game. If Hornets are going to pay Bayless 3 mil next year, they will pay Marco 3 mil IMO, especially since letting him go won't increase flexibility that much.

42
42

While we are talking ducats: Are Mbenga and Pops on non-guaranteed contracts? I can't seem to get anything I would call definitive on the matter. HoopsHype makes it look like Pops is on a 2 year deal. I suppose we need less cap flexibility if we have Smith and Belinelli playing well, but I'm thinking it is reasonable for Peja to be sent out with someone for an assortment of expiring contracts. A small salary dump and more pieces to experiment with. Pondexter and Marcus? We continue our experiment so we can hit the ground next year intact in good shape on and off the court. I'm not saying it'll happen, but it's got to be a scenario on the war room board.

eric
eric

its true that all our players wont go all 82 games and there will be lapses but the one thing this article fails to address is Monty Williams attitude and his drive to push his players every minute of the game were top 5 now and look at our roster compared to the other 4. we have proven we can win with the guys we have, alot can be attributed to CP3 but what team wouldnt take a hit without their star. I like the article but i dont think anyone expects a 82-0 season. an espn article made a good point "in the nba its as easy to lose 9 of 10 as it is to win 12 of 15"