Are they a real championship contender? They were a great team with excellent chemistry [last season], and they've got everybody back to go with their signing of James Posey from Boston. They're headed in the right direction. But I'm not convinced. They rely too much on Chris Paul, and their other players don't have the makeup to be playmakers. They have one playmaker, and they don't have the second star like a lot of championship teams have had over the years.
You saw that the Spurs discovered this [in the second round of the playoffs]. They stuck close to Peja Stojakovic and didn't allow him to get shots after the first couple of games. That's what happens to Peja, and it's not a knock on him. That's who he is: He scores off penetration-and-kick action, he's a catch-and-shoot guy. During the year that works out great, but in the playoffs teams can lock into him and stop him easier than could a guy like Paul.
Posey will help because he can knock down shots while giving them something on the defensive end. By contrast, if you take Peja's shots away, then you've nullified him because he's not going to give you so much at the other end. Even when Posey was in Miami, he would make big plays in key moments. He's kind of like Robert Horry that way -- I'm not saying he's up to Horry's level yet -- but you don't see it as much during the regular season as you do when the heat is on in the playoffs. On the other hand, Posey may have a bigger regular-season role in New Orleans because they don't have the big three stars like Boston had. In the playoffs, they may have him on the floor in crunch time as a replacement for Peja or Mo Peterson.
They deserve a lot of credit for drafting David West and developing him. But I still don't see him as the No. 2 guy that a championship contender needs. He's not big for a power forward. He can knock down the open shots and stretch his man out just short of the three-point line, and that's good for their system. But against playoff teams, is he going to demand a double team and become a playmaker for the Hornets? I don't know. If -- and this is a big if -- West has increased his post game and his one-on-one play, then they've made that next step and found another guy they can go to. It's all about making himself a focal point where he can score on his man at will, which forces another defender to come down, which then allows West to develop as another playmaker to take pressure off Paul.
The way they're set up now, the burden is on Paul to make every play. That's a hard thing to keep up. You could argue that he's the best point guard in the league. I would still choose Steve Nash because he can make the big three or create a shot for himself when they really need it. Paul has more power to his game and sturdiness, and defensively he might be better than Nash.
One thing that has helped Paul is that coach Byron Scott has kept the system pretty simple, and he's mastered the high pick-and-roll set. He knows where the shots are, and if the defense plays a certain way, he knows which shots are available. Last season, he improved his outside shot. The next phase for him is to keep improving it. Defensively, you want to keep him out of the paint, so if he goes underneath and knocks down the shot consistently, now what are you going to do? I bet we'll see he's a better shooter this year. Everything else he has already, like leadership and knowing when to push buttons and when to back off. If he's on your team, you want the ball in his hands. And if he had another playmaker with him, it would benefit him to mix up their plays a little bit.
Their starting lineup is well balanced. On the other hand, if one of them goes down, then the defense can tighten up on the others. They're all kind of linked together.
From what I gather about Tyson Chandler, they were on him in Chicago all the time and didn't allow him to be himself. They were critical of what he couldn't do instead of emphasizing what he could do -- be athletic, set the screen and roll down the middle and finish. Because they were more positive with him after he joined the Hornets, he was a little more at ease with himself. He's obviously the main big man on that team. He has a little post game, he can score there, though you don't want to double him. A next step for him is to improve at the free throw line.
Mo Pete's major strength is catch-and-shoot, or one or two dribbles and pull up for the jumper. Because he's left-handed, they can put him on the other side of the floor. It's nice to have a left-handed guy because he complements the right-handed guy on the other side and they can each play to their strong hand.
Julian Wright showed signs of becoming a helpful guy off the bench [as a rookie last season]. He could be a change-of-pace guy with energy, lift and athleticism.
They'll probably be small off the bench like they were last year. During the regular season, that's a problem for other teams because you've got to score with them. But in the playoffs, size often wins out. Dealing with the size of the Lakers, Spurs or even the Rockets is going to be an issue, especially if the opponents can dictate tempo.
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