Sometime in the next month it will become obvious the New Orleans Hornets are better than their skeptics had imagined. Or so thinks coach
"That's what I envision: the Western Conference finals, and then seeing what happens after that," says Scott, who has played or coached in eight NBA Finals. "I think everybody in [our] locker room feels we can get there."
The mainstream thinking has been that the Hornets are too thin off the bench and too young overall to get by their postseason elders in San Antonio and Phoenix, not to mention
Could the Hornets' rise, though, also be a product of playing all season in New Orleans, where they may have been inspired by the needs of their city? Have they grown up quickly by living in a community that faces a much braver mission than overcoming
"That might have a little bit to do with it," says Scott of the Hornets' year of community service in New Orleans. "But I really think it's just the people that we have. They've been raised extremely well. You meet
"I tell people all the time, I'm so blessed and fortunate to be able to coach these guys because they just don't give me problems. Whatever I ask them to try to do, they go out there and try to do it. There's no conflict with me yelling at one and him yelling back. It's like a dream job. Its unbelievable, really, and I think a lot of it has to do with the way they've been raised."
Which leads abruptly and surprisingly to the season Paul has been having. He's going to be the first player in 15 years to average 20 points and 10 assists, dating to
Simply, Paul is the main reason the Hornets have earned the best record against the West (31-14) as well as the best road record in the conference (23-12). The third-year pro dominates the ball without playing selfishly; at 6-feet and 175 pounds he's strong enough to finish at the rim and smart enough to kick out to the open teammate when a defense collapses.
After devoting last summer to improving his shooting, Paul is now converting 49.4 percent overall and 37.5 percent of his threes, which is crucial for an offense that depends on spreading the floor. "
The Hornets are 14-5 in games decided by 7 points or fewer this season, and they've shot 62 percent in the last five minutes of those games, undoubtedly a testament to Paul's drive. "He thrives having the ball in his hands, he loves being the creator," says Scott. "His first year he looked at me all the time; his second year he looked at me all the time. I finally had to tell him his second year, 'You know the offense as well as I do. Figure it out. Just call something.'"
Paul's independence has resulted in a terrific season that has come along at the right time for New Orleans. The Hornets have committed to building 20 new homes in the city, and their Hoops for Homes Teachers' Initiative will provide financial assistance to 39 teachers who need help to repair their homes. Beyond his inspiring play on the court, Paul also has been involved in several charitable endeavors, including a shared effort with
The good feelings surrounding the team also have finally translated at the box office after a sluggish start. The Hornets have sold out eight of their last 13 games, which in turn raises hopes that they'll remain in New Orleans for the long term.
The Hornets are uniting Paul's MVP candidacy with the larger mission of New Orleans by sending each award voter a scrapbook made by a middle-school student in New Orleans. The scrapbooks were made by 350 children and commend Paul as an athlete who has done much to help them and the city. It's a unique campaign suited to an unusual and unexpected star.
"It's a great feeling that the kids knew about the Hornets," says Paul of the scrapbooks. "All-Star Weekend was great and everyone came in, and it was a lot of fun with the day of service we had. But it's an ongoing thing for us. We are out in the community day in, day out, and it's not always things you do in the news. It's just day-to-day things."