Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Once again back is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining offseason moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Up next, the New Orleans Hornets.

2008-09 Record: 49-33, fourth place in Southwest Division
Head Coach/Facial Hair: Byron Scott/Mustache
Key Additions: Emeka Okafor(notes), Darius Songaila(notes), Ike Diogu(notes), Darren Collison(notes), Bobby Brown(notes), Marcus Thornton(notes)
Key Losses: Tyson Chandler(notes), Rasual Butler(notes), Antonio Daniels(notes), Ryan Bowen(notes), Melvin Ely(notes)

Please-o, please-oh, oh, please, everyone stay healthy this year.

From the point man to the pivot man. From the gulf to the basin, from the tosser of the beads to the neck of the disappointer-of-her-parents -- please, everyone stay healthy.

Start at the top. Chris Paul(notes)? Just a slight improvement from him and a healthy year from the Hornets, and that could be enough for an otherwise distracted voting lot to hand him the MVP this year. Also, it'd be nice if the best point guard of our generation keeps it up, health-wise. He's not prone to taking time off, but we're just tossing that out there, amidst the other pleadings.

Emeka Okafor? He's not exactly Sam Bowie, averaging 66 games a season and 82 games a season over his last two campaigns, but he has to stay healthy.

Darius Songaila, healthy. David West(notes), healthy. James Posey(notes), healthy. Peja Stojakovic(notes) ... let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Because in spite of some sound maneuverings from the New Orleans front office this summer, this is still an ultra thin team that can only play as strong as the latest pick set for Paul. If he's hung out to dry with two defenders draped all over him with eight seconds on the shot clock some 33 feet from the basket, then we've another problem. Another wasted year, for this backcourt giant.

Because that means the screen wasn't there, for whatever reason. It means the spacing wasn't there, for whatever reason. Injuries or poor shooting or some unfortunate combination of both. No fun, no fun, no fun.

This isn't to say that the team's depth is as bad as last year's legendarily bad campaign, one that saw players who had no place in the NBA being forced into service as immediate backups and sometimes fourth-quarter collaborators. Both up front and in the backcourt, the Hornets had to trot out a series of players that nearly negatively made up for the presence of an MVP-level point man or supersolid power forward playing alongside them.

It was terrible, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, it seemed almost appropriate that the Hornets lost by an average of 30.8 points per game in their four defeats at the hands of the Denver Nuggets. This wasn't matchups gone mad. This was a team, save for two guys, that just didn't belong.

This year, it might.

The Okafor deal is huge. In one move, it helped the team's current salary structure while adding a far superior player. I still think pundits (not necessarily "observers") underrate Chandler's defensive value, but he can't stay on the court these days. You don't know if his turf toe is ever going to improve. Okafor's solid (if not exceptional) ability to actually score in the low post will be a huge blessing.

Trading Rasual Butler in a tax-helping move will force coach Byron Scott to play Julian Wright(notes) more. Wright has issues, but he's better than the players that worked ahead of him last year for long stretches. And when you're trying not to ruin the career of an all-world point guard, you're probably better served by playing your best team possible and not denying a better player minutes just because he gave you attitude during wind sprints.

Songaila helps, rookie Darren Collison could contribute right away as the backup CP3 just didn't have last year and Ike Diogu ... long-time readers know how I feel about Ike Diogu. If he gets minutes and the ball, he will help your team. And replacing Sean Marks(notes) with Ike Diogu is probably this offseason's biggest upgrade besides replacing Ben Wallace(notes) with Shaquille O'Neal(notes). Bigger, if we're honest.

This outfit isn't going to blow anyone's minds, but Paul will. And in a West that will keep improving, adding just a bit of competence to the brilliance will help stem the tide. And make for a more competitive outfit next spring.

Prediction: 50-32

Kelly Dwyer

Will swapping Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor be enough to return the Hornets to the NBA's elite?

Probably not in itself, unless Peja Stojakovic also stays healthy and the Hornets get more production from their other wings. Still, Okafor will be a significant improvement over Chandler even if he simply stays on the court — which, with his back issues, is never a given. Okafor rebounds well and his offensive game, while limited, is better than that of Chandler, whose greatest skill was flushing Chris Paul's lob passes.

— Fran Blinebury, Yahoo! Sports 2009-10 NBA Preview magazine

Hornets Hype: "I believe the Hornets believed they were destined to be 'The Next Big Thing' after their run in 2007-08. Now, of course no one will admit this. But you could see that the underdog fire they rode to the top of the West in 2008 just wasn't there at times last season. Great teams find a way to maintain that fire, and to know that things are not going to be handed to you. So, I say the Hornets need to remember the First Rule. 2007-08 is gone. Last year's playoffs are gone. The old faces who used to be on the team are gone. The Tyson Chandler trade saga? Done. Over. This year let's only look forward." [more]

At The Hive: "The second unit was arguably the Hornets' biggest shortcoming last year. Antonio Daniels is the only guy I can possibly defend. Julian Wright, serious step back. James Posey, mediocre. Morris Peterson(notes), invisible. Sean Marks, eh. Melvin Ely, bleh. And that's without even getting to the unmentionables, Hilton and Devin. Speaking of which, we should combine them into one player this year. Delton Browstrong. Okay, that sounds way cooler than this combo player possibly deserves to. Helvin Brownarms. There we go. Helvin Brownarms. The overall point is that the bench can't possibly be this bad again. I mean ... it could. But it can't." [more]

HOOPSWORLD: "The Hornets took a lot of flak last year for finishing as a 7th seed in the West, but falling just one win shy of 50 isn't necessarily something to shake a stick at. Chris Paul is at this point the best point guard in the NBA, and he's got a fellow All-Star in David West and a new center in Emeka Okafor to help make things a little more competitive this season. Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, and James Posey might not be as effective as they once were, but all are significant role players when healthy. The key for this season might be rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, who looked really sharp in Summer League and should give New Orleans the spark off the bench they so sorely needed last season." [more]

Will Smith, "Just The Two Of Us"

Outside of Chris Paul and David West, is there anybody else on the Hornets that make other teams jealous? Probably not. Sure, Okafor is a nice player, but he doesn't strike fear in anyone other than a spellchecker's heart. Everybody else is too old (Stojakovic, MoPete, Posey) or too young (Wright, Collison) or too Kiwi (Sean Marks). But those two — CP3 and West? They're a mighty fine two to have.

— Trey Kerby, The Blowtorch

The Hornets haven't had many useful fantasy players outside of Chris Paul and David West in recent seasons, mirroring the organization's struggle with depth beyond their two stars in real life. Paul is the thinking man's top overall pick in fantasy thanks to a near-faultless line that is highlighted by other-wordly steals and league-leading assist numbers. No matter what settings you league employs, there's a decent chance that Paul should be drafted first overall. West has matured into a reliable and efficient post presence, posting back-to-back 20/8 seasons with sterling percentages. He's a rock-solid selection in the middle of the third round, after many of the more glamorous bigs come off the board in the first few rounds.

The team should have a bit more help and fantasy impact this coming season in the form of Emeka Okafor and Julian Wright. Okafor has dealt with a sprained tow in recent weeks but appears close to returning to the court. He's averaged double-digit boards and blocked at least 1.7 shots per game in each of his five pro seasons, and running with Paul should help him top last season's scoring average of 13.2 points. He's more of an asset in H2H, however, thanks to a career 60-percent mark from the foul line. If you draft Dwight Howard(notes) in your H2H league, Okafor immediately becomes your Round 5 target. The 22-year-old Wright will replace Peja Stojakovic in the starting lineup, who has become largely ineffective at this stage of his career thanks to back issues. Wright has put together some solid defensive stats in limited minutes to this point of his career, with per-36 minute averages that include 6.9 boards, 1.6 steals, and 0.8 blocks. He's a very attractive late-round target in standard drafts.

— Matt Buser, Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Basketball /

Sign up now for Fantasy Basketball '09.

Jemaine_FOTC: Sean Marks' game is so beautiful, like a tree or a high-class prostitute. #NBA #Hornets #NZ
about 3 hours ago from TweetDeck


Atlantic Divison: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors
Southwest Division: Mavericks | Rockets | Grizzlies

Related Articles

Ball Don't Lie

Add to My Yahoo RSS

Related Photo Gallery

Y! Sports Blog