Hornets Training Camp and Pre-season Battles Commence

Published: October 1, 2008

The Golden State Warriors ain't looking that good after the defection of Baron Davis and off-season injury to Monta Ellis that will keep him off the court for a few months.  So you'd could probably assume that the Hornets will smack them when they roll into town October 5th for the Hornet's opening pre-season game.

Don't hold your breath.  This pre-season means nothing to the starters.  Last season, when the Hornets still had everything to prove, David West made it fairly clear in an post-game interview he wasn't trying hard, and our shooters were terrible.  It was actually bad enough that despite knowing the pre-season means nothing, I still grew privately worried about the pre-season shooting percentages of David West, Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson:

M. Peterson 11/48 24% 5/28 19%
P. Stojakovic 26/79 33% 12/40 30% 
D. West 24/81 29.6% 0/1 0%

An inspiring display, eh?  Of course, Peterson went on to have his 2nd best year ever in 3-point accuracy(39.4%), Peja destroyed his old benchmark for 3-point accuracy(44%), and David West stroked it from the field at an impressive 48% clip.  Remember that when four of our big five don't seem to be taking the games too seriously.

However, while the pre-season means little or nothing to the Hornets starters not named Morris Peterson, it will mean everything to the rest of the team.  Chandler, West, Stojakovic and Paul will be on the floor for less than half the game, and the rest of the Hornets will play big minutes so Byron can determinee the starting shooting guard role and the three primary backup positions – Big, Wing, and Guard.  Here are my contenders, and how I think it will shake out.

Starting Shooting Guard:
Morris Peterson v James Posey v Devin Brown v Rasual Butler v Julian Wright
In the end, I don't actually expect Morris to lose his starting position.  He's come in with the right attitude, he plays adequate defense, and he's an integral part of spreading the floor for the first unit.  Posey may be clutch and defensively nasty, but he's not as consistent a 3-point shooter.  Brown is more slasher than shooter, but ball creativity that's needed on the second unit. Butler has proven to be consistently inconsistent over the past few years, and Julian Wright . . . well . . . I just can't see it happening yet, though it would be a nice surprise.

Now, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Peterson lose his spot in the starting lineup a few months into the season if his contributions start to slip like they did at the end of last year.

Back-up Big:
First off – I want to say that when I say back-up Big, I generally mean the center position.  Sometimes this means Power Forward too, but considering the dearth of talent we have behind Chandler, I'm hoping it won't mean that.  On to the contenders:
Hilton Armstrong v Melvin Ely v Ryan Bowen v Sean Marks
As usual, we are getting good stories out of training camp about Ely arriving for camp in great shape, and that Sean Marks may have potential to take this position.  Surprisingly, we haven't heard a peep about Hilton Armstrong while last year they raved about him.  Hopefully that means Hilton is flying under the radar.  Probably that means Hilton isn't expected to contribute much more than he did last year, and I have no faith in Sean Marks producing anything at all.  This means we'll have the same big man rotation we did last year behind Chandler.  Ely for ten games, Hilton for ten games, Ely for seven games, Hilton for seven games, Byron getting sick of it and playing Marks for two games, then putting in Ryan Bowen for about a dozen before finally getting sick of that and going back to rotating between Ely and Hilton.  Not good.  At least we'll get to see a series of games of Bowen running around with his odd mix of infectious energy and hilarious awkwardness. (Anyone else think this should be Bowen's Theme Song? Careful, the language is not safe for work)

Backup-up Wing:
James Posey v Julian Wright v Rasual Butler
James Posey will reign supreme here.  Coming out of camp, I don't think there's anyone who expects him to have not wrapped up being the first one off the bench to spell Peja, Peterson, and possibly David West as well.  It is a bit of a hard pill to swallow in one respect: Julian Wright is simply oozing potential, but this team isn't about potential, it's about contending.  That means that the most ready players will play now, with no consideration for potential given.  The only consolation is that every game there are stretches were two of the three Posey backs up won't be on the floor.  Julian should be able to snag minutes then.  Rasual Butler?  Unfortunately, by the time a player is 26 or 27, they have established what they will be in the league.  Butler is 29.  Don't expect anything new.

Back-up Guard
Devin Brown v Mike James

One thing that's always been true about Byron Scott's teams – he likes to have a pair of ballhandlers at the guard positions.  This will probably be Morris Peterson's ultimate downfall, since he isn't comfortable pushing the ball up the floor or handling pressure.  In the past, Byron has thrown out guards like Kerry Kittles, Lucious Harris, Speedy Claxton, and Jannero Pargo, and played them big minutes next to his star point guards as well as in relief of them.  Both Devin Brown and Mike James have good handles, so both are going to have their chance to seize the backup role – and whichever seizes the spot should probably expect minutes behind both Peterson and Paul. 

This is a hard one to call – and it's clear by Byron telling the Times-Picayune that this the most important battle in camp, he doesn't know which way he's going to go either.  My own personal take is that Mike James is going to win the in-camp battle based on his long-range shooting and greater speed with the ball, but eventually lose the position a month or so into the season due to poor defense – something Byron will not forgive.

Oh – and in case you missed it, ESPN's Marc Stein started the Hornets out 3rd in his Power Rankings, while ESPN's John Hollinger picked the Hornets to win 50 games and come in 4th in the Western Conference.  Of course, Hollinger also picked the Hornets to not improve last year at all and only win 39 games.  I'm just sayin'.

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