Hornets Power Rankings- First Quarter Report Cards

Published: December 14, 2010

I know that technically the first quarter was 20.5 games into the season, and that I should have issued grades at halftime of the Pistons game last week, but its not like we have any NASA engineers or mathematicians who frequent the site, so who cares? 24 games in with a 14-10 record is when I deem it time to look back at the first quarter, so it is written, so it shall be done.

The first quarter of the season, ironically, was really a tale of two halves. In the first 12 games the Hornets went 11-1 and you would have thought every player on the roster was flawless. The Philly and Toronto trades were being hyped as the steals of the decade, and the national media was claiming another victory after we got Jack from the Raptors for a turnover prone guard and a shooter past his prime. Since then, the Hornets have gone 3-9.

For the first quarter report cards, I have to take all of this into account and not be a prisoner of the moment. The second half of the quarter can not count more than the first half, and I can not project moving forward in the assigning of my grades either. I will take the whole body of work into consideration and grade each player based off of that. And with that said, here are your first quarter report cards:

Satisfactory/Exemplary Performance

Chris PaulA minus

I went back and forth between A minus and B plus on this one, but at the end of the day CP3 has been exceptional in the role that Monty wants him to assume on this team. I know fans have been frustrated as of late, but Paul is playing the same way he was playing when the team was 11-1. In that stretch where the Hornets were 8-0 to start, Paul was phenomenal at the end of games and was the best closer in the league. In fact, one of the only games he didn’t close was that Miami game and that was only because of that bogus charge call. If that call goes the way it should have, CP3 finishes the Heat with an And One.

Over the past twelve games, teams have simply figured out how to beat the Hornets, how to eliminate role players like Jason Smith and Willie Green from the equation. The perimeter offense has been horrible and Emeka has been a no show in most games. While it is true that New Orleans could probably have gone 5-7 or 6-6 in this stretch if CP3 had just taken over games by shooting 18-22 times per game, it wouldn’t have boded well long term. Eventually the Hornets need to find some guys other than Paul and West who show up every night, but the fact that they don’t have those guys shouldn’t impact Paul’s grade.

David WestB plus

So far, David West is having his best offensive year since he has been in the league. While he averaged more points per game in each of the last three seasons, he is shooting 53% (career high) and he is making better decisions when double teamed compared to years’ past.

The reason why he is not getting an A is two fold- his rebounding numbers are down for the 4th year in a row and he just is not getting to the line as much as a guy who touches the ball as much as he does should.  The rebounding isn’t going to change, but I do think that West could find ways to be more aggressive on the offensive end, especially if our wings can provide more spacing.

West also gets passing grades for his bluntness in the media. He has come right out and said what is on his mind since Day One of the new Williams/Demps regime. He has even gone on the record with regard to how frustrating the whole ownership situation is and I like directness from players, so I applaud him on that front.

Emeka OkaforC

A fitting grade for Emeka, as he is average in almost every way (except for in terms of salary!). He is not going to be the reason you win on most nights and he won’t be the reason you lose on most nights. In all honesty, if he was making 6 million per year, he would probably never be discussed by Hornets fans. He only comes up in conversation so frequently because of his salary. One camp says his contract will kill us, the other camp says you have to overpay for even an average center. Bobcats fans don’t have 50 post conversations about Nazr Mohammed. Why? Because he is an average center making 6 mil per who doesn’t win or lose games.

Emeka was amazing in the first game against the Heat, and there was reason for optimism at that point, as Emeka was 2nd amongst centers in PER, shooting 71 percent, and changing shots on the defensive end. Not surprisingly however, he has come back to earth and is basically having the same season he had with the Hornets last year. Not good, not bad. Just Emeka. He has become an adjective. You try out the fancy new restaurant in town with the overpriced fish that is just so-so and the next day your friend ask you how it was, you just tell him: “It was Emeka.”

In Danger of Being Left Behind

Trevor ArizaC Minus

His grade should not at all be tied into what Darren Collison is doing in Indiana, but in some ways it always will. With Paul’s future uncertain, Hornets fans will find themselves wondering if we gave up on DC too soon and if Ariza was worth the price. Thankfully Collison has not been the 18 and 9 guy he was here for a stretch, and it looks like Collison is destined to be an average starting point guard, not a future All-Star some predicted.

Either way, Ariza is here now and he can be graded independently of DC. Based on what we have seen so far, he is an exceptional defender when he wants to be and an inefficient scorer, at best. He is shooting 39% from the field, 30% from the arc, and 66% from the line. Honestly, I don’t know which of those numbers are the worst, though I tend to lean towards the free throw percentage since it is called a FREE throw, yet he misses 1 out of every 3, and seemingly every big one the Hornets need in tight games.

If the Hornets can get a true number 3 guy on the offensive end, Ariza can be a valuable piece for this team, but as constructed, he just does not have the skill set to fill all the holes on this roster. If Kevin Martin or Stephen Jackson were at the 2 guard spot, I have no doubt that Ariza’s numbers would rise and he would be the X factor those who supported the trade envisioned. For now, he is a poor ball handler who is trying to do more than he is capable of on the offensive end and nobody else is playing well enough to justify them getting touches as opposed to Trevor.

Marco BelinelliC Minus

You wanna know if the Hornets won? Just look at Marco’s stat line in the box score. You don’t have to look anywhere else. In wins, Marco is averaging 13.3 PPG on 48.5% shooting from the field and 48.5% from three. In losses he is averaging 9.5 PPG, shooting 32% from the field and 24% from distance. Need I say more?

Most will say the guy is horribly inconsistent when you look at his numbers, but I will argue the opposite. He is consistent. He is consistently poor against good teams and consistently good against poor teams. 20 against Cleveland, 22 against Detroit, 32 total against Milwaukee, 32 total against an undermanned Portland team, 18 against Houston. Meanwhile, 5 against Denver, 17 in THREE games against San Antonio, 17 in Two games against the Heat, and on and on.

Good teams have good players, good teams listen to their coaching staff and make adjustments, good teams force you to beat them with your plan B or C, not your plan A. Marco has a very limited toolbox and he can get by with that when there is not much work to be done, but against good teams he needs to be unpredictable, he needs to develop countermoves and use shot fakes more often. Luckily for the Hornets, the second quarter of the season is laced with below average teams, but if they are fortunate enough to make the playoffs they aren’t going to be facing Sacramento or Detroit.

Willie GreenC Minus

Nobody has been a bigger fan of Willie Green than I have, but his magic dust is starting to dissolve and those poor shots that were going in during the month of November are clanging off the rim in December. What I love about Green is his effort and respect/love for the game. Some of you might think that is a ridiculous thing to applaud a guy for, seeing that they are all making millions off this game, but you would be SHOCKED by how many NBA players really don’t care at the end of the day. It’s a paycheck and lifestyle to them and they only appreciate the game long after they retire and they can’t play it any longer.

To be fair to Green, he has had a merry-go-round of players joining him on the second unit. In the preseason, he was the primary backup point with Marcus joining him, then Bayless came and the Hornets used a 3 guard lineup for a few weeks. Then that lineup was thrown out in favor of getting Peja in some games. Then Peja and Bayless are traded and here comes Jack. And even more recently Green has been getting some minutes at PG again.

If and when Monty gets a rotation he likes and Green can assume just one role, I expect to see his numbers and his efficiency pick back up. For now, though, expect some 5 for 5 nights, followed by some 0-7 stinkers.

Jason SmithC Minus

I can’t tell you how much I got blasted when I listed Jason Smith as the 12th best player in my Week One power rankings. I once got drunk at a girlfriends’ family holiday party and proceeded to tell her entire family that I was only with her because she was good in bed (the PG version of the real words that came out of my mouth), and even then I got less flak than I did after that first column.

Surprisingly, now that the league has figured Smith out and his poor defensive rotations, bad fouls, and slow feet are not being overshadowed by 3-4 17 footers a game, nobody seems to be defending good old Smitty. Fact is that this guy is probably a good 5th big man on a playoff team and could benefit from playing with a better offensive unit, which would in turn get him some better looks. For now, though, he is just a below average 3rd big on a struggling team.

Jarrett JackC Minus

David Hume once said that there is no such thing as Causation, and that what we perceive as such is just a correlation between two variables that we label cause and effect based on our own experiences. Some Hornets fans see an 11-1 record without Jack and a 3-9 record with Jack as enough data to say that he is the cause, but I just think that is absurd. This team was not playing well even before Jack arrived (see wins 10 and 11 in which they played horribly against Cleveland and the Kings).

Regardless of wins and losses, however, Jack just has not been the player the Hornets were expecting to get when they made the swap. His numbers have been awful and he has yet to really grasp his role on the team. Because of that he is sometimes too hesitant, and other times he tries to do too much. He has yet to find a balance. He did show some good signs, however, in the recent game against the Thunder that were encouraging and long-term he still appears to be a better fit for this team than the turnover prone Bayless.


Marcus ThorntonIncomplete

By far the most polarizing player on the roster; people either think Thornton is the answer or they think he would just add to the problem. Outside of Chris Paul, nobody on this team can get their own shot as easily as Thornton and nobody else is as capable of lighting it up in bunches. You have to wonder why, with the Hornets struggling to score points, Marcus isn’t getting more minutes as a spark off the bench.

I know it is not a popular opinion around here, but I will voice it anyway. We have seen Marcus in the NBA for 100 or so games. Monty and his staff watch the guy in practice every day, analyze everything he does in each and every game, and spend hours discussing the guy as a staff. They have over five decades of total NBA experience combined and are the same braintrust that got the Hornets to an 11-1 start pretty much without MT5.

But now that the Hornets are losing, Thornton is the savior. How, then, did they go 11-1 without him? Look, I don’t disagree that he is an explosive scorer, but Monty is trying to build a very specific team here. Some teams would make JR Smith a part of their rotation, others would not. No doubt Denver would have won less games over the last 3-4 years without JR, but in my opinion (and Monty’s as well apparently), you are NEVER gonna win a title with JR Smith as a key part of your rotation. Never.

So, most likely, the fans just don’t agree with the teams overall philosophy and big picture mindset. When you are losing in the present, it is hard to not want to put in a quick fix, but Monty is committed to building this thing the way he wants to build it and that does not include offensive minded players who admit that they never focused on defense in years past. Maybe Monty changes, hopefully Thornton does, but for right now it is an incomplete.

DJ Mbenga, Aaron Gray, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, David AndersonPart Time Students

None receive a grade because none of them have attended enough to have justified a grade one way or the other. Mbenga has been decent defensively in spurts, but his offense is hard to watch. Of the other three, Pops looks the best in a suit when inactive, although his infamous “Jersey Foul” and him trolling the site as a poster named ‘rm’ will likely be his legacy here.

Quincy PondexterPromising Transfer Student

Q-Pon has not played enough to have gotten a grade for the first quarter, but what I have seen so far gives me hope for the young lad. He has a passion for the game and is usually in the right place on both sides of the court, which is impressive for a rookie. If he continues to develop that corner three and if he can add a mid range jumper to his arsenal, I think the Hornets can have a Ruben Patterson minus the attitude type player.


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