Know Your Enemy: The New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  September 23, 2008


This is the first in a series here at FB&G that will run through the start of the season, focusing on some of the top teams in the West and maybe a couple from the East. We start with a team that many think will take a step forward next year, the New Orleans Hornets.

Last Season Record: 56-26 (second seed, one game back of the Lakers)
Last Playoffs: Beat Dallas in the first round (4-1), lost to San Antonio in the next round in seven games
Offensive Rating: 111.5 (5th in league)
Defensive Rating: 105.7 (7th in league)

Last year, the Hornets emerged as a power, improving by 26 wins and rather than challenging for the eight seed they were challenging for the top seed (and the MVP). They did it with Chris Paul running the high pick-and-roll better than anyone in the league, Peja spreading the floor and people in the mainstream finally figuring out that David West is really, really good. Don’t forget that Tyson Chandler is a beast on the boards, pulling down 19.5% of the available rebounds, and that leads to a fair amount of offense as he gets some easy put backs.

The young Hornets were somewhat unexpected and fun to watch (even though they played at one of the slowest paces in the league, nearly six fewer trips up and down the court a game than the Lakers), but their youth caught up with them. They learned some lessons from the veteran Spurs in the playoffs. The question now is, can this team mature, take the confidence of last season and those lessons and turn them into a possible title?

Maturity and improvement of existing players will be key — starting with Chris Paul, who enters just his fourth year in the season. He is the unquestioned leader and force behind the team, and his time (and impressive showing) in Beijing likely will lead to an even faster maturation process. That is good for the Hornets and bad for the rest of the West.

One big knock on the Hornets last year was depth — they had a great starting five but off the bench came Jannero Pargo, Rasual Butler and others of such quality. If you look at the numbers, the starting five regularly outplayed their opponents (60% of the time or more) but the bench was in the 40% range or lower.

This season, the first guy off the bench (and maybe starting at times) will be James Posey, a very good pick up for the Hornets. First, he can shoot and stretch the floor. Second, he plays good defense. And finally, he brings a winning attitude to a young locker room. He has rings, he knows how to win.

Just how big an upgrade Posey is was the first question I asked of Ryan from the fantastic blog Hornets 24/7.

Laker fans are plenty familiar with James Posey. Just how big is the Posey signing for the Hornets? What does he bring that New Orleans needed? Depth and outside shooting?

Posey adding depth and outside shooting is the easy answer. That’s a given, considering The Hornets had no proven back up at the forward spots with Julian Wright being only spottily utilized/trustworthy, Rasual Butler being Rasual Butler and Bonzi Wells being Bonzi Wells.

Posey brings a grit and desire that isn’t that prevalent on the Hornets. The Hornets aren’t a soft team, but they aren’t a tough team either, if that makes sense. Their players won’t let someone push them around (except Peja), but neither are they going to make them pay for doing so (except Paul). Posey brings that willingness to get into it. That’ll be important for the Hornets as they go deeper into the playoffs.

What else will help improve this team and move it forward next season? How important is the maturity factor, having players a year older and having gained good playoff experience?

The Hornets are an odd bunch. Typically a few years in the playoffs tempers a team, forcing them to recognize their mistakes and compensate – or fail. The Hornets, however are wise beyond their age. Despite the relative youth of their core trio, they are a tightly disciplined crew, and are already a team that rarely makes mistakes. Last year they played at a deliberate pace (5th slowest in the league), committed few turnovers (3rd least in the league), and played solid, basic defense without much risk taking. (lowest number of fouls in the league)

That sort of discipline is typically forged in the playoffs. I’m not sure the Hornet’s starting five will become noticeably more effective given that exposure.

The one great hope I have for internal improvement is with Julian Wright. His brand of energetic, brilliant basketball could turn into something special. I’m still somewhat convinced his ceiling is a Scottie Pippen-style all-around force. Posey’s presence complicates that some, as it may stunt his minutes some, but I still would love to see Julian emerge this season.

And of course, Chris Paul is still only 23. He can still improve as well, as scary as that thought is.

Both the offense and defense were good last season (fifth and seventh in the league in points per possession, respectively). Still, based on opponent PER the Hornets has some trouble defending good two guards and some centers. What are the areas that the Hornets need to improve to take the next step?

Honestly – one of those things will not improve. The Hornets purposely leave Chandler on an island against big scoring centers, and concentrate on jamming the perimeter. He does a solid job, but the offensive talent of some of those players is nearly impossible to stop without assistance and the average NBA center outweighs Tyson by a good fifty pounds. You also won’t find many bigger drops off in talent in the league than when the Hornets go from Chandler to Hilton Armstrong or Melvin Ely.

As for defensive improvement this season, I have my greatest hopes pinned on two things:

A. Julian becoming more disciplined, effective, and gaining Byron Scott’s trust.
B. Improvement from the shooting guard position. Morris Peterson is a solid player, and his ability to hit the corner three is valuable with a penetrator like Paul. However, his limitations kept him in the lineup only for 24 minutes a game, and frequently the Hornets were running with Pargo at the 2. Replacing Pargo as the primary backup shooting guard will help both the defense and offense. I liked Pargo, and I think Byron used him appropriately, but I also think it is not difficult to replace his highly inconsistent and inefficient offensive output, and his pressure defense was only effective when used against point guards – which frequently forced Paul to play much bigger 2 guards. I have a hard time imagining the trio of Peterson, Julian Wright and Devin Brown not improving that position.

Like every team in the West, health will be key. While the Hornets have improved their depth, they cannot handle many injuries, and certainly not any lightly ones to CP3.

At the end of the season, when (knocking on wood) the Lakers are fighting for a top seed, and they will be fighting the Hornets for those spots. There is a very good chance that in the second round or Western Conference Finals, the Lakers will face the Hornets in the playoffs. And if Wright and Posey add depth, if this team continues to mature, the outcomes of those games will will be anything but certain to Lakers fan.

Kurt

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35 responses to Know Your Enemy: The New Orleans Hornets

  1. Good analysis. Posey was a good pick up. He adds someone that can come in and guard players like Kobe or Ginobili something Stojakovic and Peterson can’t do.

  2. Given LA’s difficulty containing Rondo’s penetration in the Finals, I don’t know how the Lakers would have fared against the Hornets. Derek Fisher wouldn’t have been able to stay in front of CP3. Farmar couldn’t contain Paul either.

    And let’s not forget how Perkins and KG bullied the Lakers frontline. Tyson Chandler — who defended Duncan as well as anyone I’ve seen — would have given Gasol fits.

    Andrew Bynum poses an entirely different set of problems for the Hornets. But the Lakers don’t have anyone who can slow down Chris Paul.

    Posey is a big acquisition. But the Hornets are going to need a lot more from Posey than the Celtics or Heat did. Posey was backing up Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade, and Antoine Walker in Boston and Miami. He could pick and choose his times to shine. It will be different backing up the likes of Mo Pete and Peja in New Orleans.

    Good idea Kurt. Can’t wait to read the next installment.

  3. reading this post felt good. it felt as if the season was already underway and i was reading a game preview. AWESOME! can’t wait for the season to start!

  4. Check the first game the Lakers played in NOLA last season when they had a healthy Bynum. Drew was sending Chris Paul’s stuff back left and right and bullying Tyson Chandler in the paint. Drew is going to make a tremendous difference on the defensive side of the ball for the Lakers.

  5. Bynum Vs Chandler, January 9th 2008 @ NOH
    Lakers Win 109 – 80

    Bynum coming into his own just before the injury:
    17 Points (8-10 FG), 9 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 3 Blocks, 0 Turnovers.

    Chandler helpless against the 20 year old:
    11Points (4-8 FG), 7 Rebounds, 0 Assists, 0 Blocks, 2 Turnovers

    I can’t wait to see Bynum play again.

  6. 5. I think this ties somewhat into what Ryan said, they leave Chandler on an island against all centers, so good ones hurt them. If Bynum comes back at his previous level, that is a huge matchup advantage for the Lakers.

  7. New Orleans presents a good opportunity for revindication of two maligned players in Luke Walton and Lamar Odom. In the Lakers second game (?) vs. the Hornets they got on top early and didn’t let them in the game thanks to great defense by Luke on Peja and LO on David West in the second half. Both showed toughness and determination with Luke bringing back Rick Fox memories vs. Sactown and LO taking West’s physicality square in the chest without backing down. That’s why although Chris Paul had great numbers the Hornets were never in the game.

  8. Game 7 of the WCF last year and I found myself disgustingly cheering for the defending Champs. Here’s why?:

    1. The Spurs were the bigger name. If the Lakers were to claim the Western title, its only fitting that we took it from who owned it last.

    2. The Spurs were old but wise. LA was the younger but more talented bunch. So I wanted LA to overcome the odds of beating the best on its way to being the best.

    3. The Spurs were a nemesis to the Lakers over the last decade or so. Ever since, the Spurs have managed to stay on top despite the obvious increase in age.

    4. The Spurs had a formidable bunch – consisting of champs and former champs. So, its only fitting that if we were to do it, we do it by beating the best.

    5. Ok #4 is basically the same as #1, but I hate to admit the fact that I was, to be real honest, scared of the Hornets.

    Here’s another 5 reasons:

    a. The Hornets were simply the best team in the West ALL SEASON long. They never had a low gear nor a high gear, they were at it all season long and I considered them, surprisingly the best team since Day 1. (I would like to support this claim by sending in a month-to-month record of their performance)

    October 1-0
    November 10-6
    December 9-5
    January 12-2 0.0
    February 7-5
    March 11-4
    April 6-4

    b. The Lakers CLEARLY had no answer for CP3 without its best interior defender in Drew and its best perimeter player outside Kobe in Ariza not being in full strength.

    c. I still have nightmares about CP3 lambasting the Lakers with 21 dimes in 1 game with Peja bombing 10 threes in that same game. Both season records.

    http://www.nba.com/games/20071106/NOHLAL/boxscore.html

    d. NOH had nothing to lose. Every giant they beat is a tooth added to its necklace. Losing to any of them is but a gallant stand.

    e. It simply was more pressure to win against a nobody team than the possibility of losing to the defending champs.

    So, those 10 reasons make me agree that New Orleans IS a legit team.

  9. Yes I think Bynum takes care of business and continues to outplay Tyson Chandler. Chandler’s normal advantages with his athleticism and rebounding are all matched by Bynum, plus Bynum offers all the same qualities offensively (plus a lot more) … and Tyson can’t help off of him because Bynum will go right to the rim and get an easy two. I expect Bynum to limit Chandler and outplay Chandler consistently.

    I also think Chris Paul lights the Lakers up about as badly as Kobe lights up Mo Peterson. I think those two will be tremendous and put huge individual numbers – Paul had 23/15/4 against LA last season … Kobe went for 28/8/6.5 – and also will by and large cancel each other out. It will be beautiful attacking basketball that cuts apart the opposition’s defense because of their immense talents and also that they’re going against a defender they’re both very comfortable attacking.

    The guy I’m most worried about is Peja Stojakovic. The Hornets are very tough to beat when they get three scorers scoring at a high level … because they have the defense/rebounding/role players beyond that. Extremely tough to beat when Peja scores, a truly incredible Championship caliber side when Peja is scoring.

    In the playoffs last year, the Spurs didn’t take control of that series until they switched Bruce Bowen onto Peja and took him out of the series. If they didn’t make that move I think New Orleans beats them in five games. They were all over San Antonio until Peja quietened down.

    Against the Lakers last season Peja scored 21ppg on 47% shooting and 60% shooting from three on almost 10 three point attempts per game. Remember all those times Radmanovic left him open? It was horrible. I remember one quarter he did it 4 or 5 times in the space of about 6 minutes. Very annoying. Radmanovic wasn’t the only one either. The lack of defensive discipline to just stay at home on Peja when Paul drives was killing the Lakers defense and made New Orleans an incredible threat. This isn’t Peja getting hot four times, this is a structural weakness LA had last season against small forwards and elite shooters. He got some of the most open looks he received all season in those matchups and it has to stop.

    Again I’d like to see how both Odom/Ariza fare in a matchup against someone like Peja Stojakovic because that upgrade defensively will make a big difference.

    I think Peja is the key to New Orleans because the swing factor between a productive Peja and quiet Peja changes so much for this New Orleans squad. I regard him as the difference between the Hornets contending for a title and not. And as guys like Rick Fox and Bowen have shown, you can limit Peja in a massive way. Huge swing factor.

  10. First.

    Much R.E.S.P.C.T. to Jeff Bower and Byron Scott for what they’ve built, thus far, with the Hornets.

    Second.

    With the additions of James Posey and Devin Harris, plus the loss of Jannero Pargo … this is now a legit title contenda in the WC.

    Third.

    It isn’t close between the Hornets and the Lakers … as long as the Lakeshow’s roster is completely healthy.

    [NOTE: Take KG off the Celtics and drop him into New Orleans … then it’s a different story altogether … but, short of this … the two rosters just do not compare with one another. LA will win the playoff series in either 5 (or 6, max) games.]

  11. The Hornets are the team that scares me the most. Their combination of the best play making PG in the game, young front court talent, and shooting makes them a tremendous team that will continue to grow and get better.

    However, if I was going to play devil’s advocate against their chances to defeat us in a series (which is what matters to me, not necessarily the regular season) it would come down to 2 factors:

    1). Their lack of front court depth and size. While Chandler and West are formidable, after those two guys they don’t have one guy that worries me. And when talking about West and Chandler, they are not physical forces on offense nor do they have the combination of bulk AND/OR length that could bother us. If Bynum is healthy and Gasol is our PF, we have both size and length advantages over both of them. Even Odom is a strong match-up against West as they are roughly the same size and build (and Gasol is a good enough offensive player to take it to Chandler). Over the course of a series, I think our inside presence would wear them down.

    2). Their wing players are unreliable. I understand that Peja is dangerous and that his skill set is exactly what the Hornets need to complement Paul, West, and Chandler. However, he’s not a reliable player. He’s injury prone and I question his mental strength to be a big game performer when other’s aren’t playing as well and they need his contributions to win. Also, Peterson is not a difference maker. Posey is a great role player, but I think if he ends up playing 30 mins. a night consistently, the law of diminishing returns will hold true and he will not be as effective over long minutes over multiple games. And while I share the optimism that Ryan at Hornets 24/7 has for Julian Wright, I wonder where he’ll fit in (with Posey, Peja, Brown, and Peterson also playing the wing) and if he’s ready to make the leap that would be needed to propel their team to the level it will need to win a long series against us.

    Overall, like I said, they scare me. But if it’s our full compliment of players against their full compliment of players, I really like our chances.

  12. oops …

    Should read as,

    “Devin Brown” instead of Devin Harris. :-)

  13. Last year I was scared of the hornets, particularly in the playoffs, they were the one team I didn’t want LA to meet. In the new season I’m not really scared of them, couldn’t tell you why, part of me thinks it’s due to bynum being back and if he’s improved in the offseason (which he seems to believe and he’s reported to be working hard) and the other is the sheer experience all the young talent on our roster got last year by going to the finals.
    Good article, though I should point out and I don’t think I’m at all alone in this, that I simply cannot read anything at all about the lakers and not get excited for Bynum’s return.

  14. I may be too optimistic about this, but I don’t think the Hornets are capable of beating the Lakers. The two teams I’m worried about in the West are the Jazz and the Hornets, maybe you can throw in the Spurs and the Rockets in there (though I doubt it). I think a healthy Lakers roster kills the opposition every time, except for maybe the Cavs and the Celtics. Those two teams are just too good defensively.

  15. I love my Lakers but one area of GREAT CONCERN, in my opinion, is the PG spot. Fish is great and Farmer is progressing nicely as a backup, however, we have no answer for CPaul, Williams, Rondo, Barbosa or any other young PG that comes along. Farmar is not fast enough and does not have the defensive skills to handlge these guys. Fish does well, but I’m worried about his stamina and potential injuries as he is much older than these young guns. I really think the Lakers need to find a young and fast PG-guarding option. I thought Livingston would be a good gamble, but I’m sure the numbers did not work out.

  16. 15. The thing is, with the no-touch on the perimeter rules, nobody has a defender who by themselves can stop a speedy PG. Guys were able to do it a decade ago by being more physical, but that is a foul now. We get the benefits of that with Kobe (and others).

    The way you slow those guys now is more team defense — have a plan to funnel said guard one direction to help, ideally from a shot blocker. The Lakers can do that. But if they leave any PG defender on an island he will be toast.

  17. Great report. I wondered myself why opposing C’s avg’d an above average PER, given Chandler’s defensive reputation. I’m grateful that issue was settled.

  18. i don’t think NOH can handle the Lakers because their bigs can’t check ours. I don’t think Chandler can play Pau or Bynum. Pau outclasses most people he plays against, and Chandler isn’t strong enough, nor tough enough to stop Pau from what he like to do.

  19. I forgot to add….

    With Bynum back, they will now have no one to check wither of our bigs, who both are elite. I’m not worried about Posey signing because he can’t be as effective , without the same defensive strategy, intensity he had with the Celtics and KG and Perk.

  20. -16 Kurt is dead-on. The NBA has made it impossible to defend smaller, quick guards by calling the ticky-tack hand-check fouls (and never, ever thinking of calling a carry or travel, which guys like Nash and Iverson get away with one every possesion). As the rules no stand, a guy like Paul can get into the lane at will — the way you stop that is by having a shot blocker there when he arrives, and staying disciplined on the wings.

    If players know they’ve got a doughnut defense, such as when a non-shot blocker like Gasol is at the 5, I think they’re natural tendancy is to sag into the lane when a guard penetrates: the “help” mentality. Sometimes it works, but a good passer (Paul, Parker, Manu, Nash,) feeding a good outside shooter (Peja, Bowen, etc.) spells trouble.

    But if Bynum can hold down the middle and the wings can learn not to sag off the gunners, the Lakers D should be much improved.

  21. I love the Gasol/West matchup. West is a good player, but Gasol should eat him alive. If Chandler doubles we get to see the Spaniards sweet passing skills. The sooner the season starts the better.

  22. Great interview with Andrew Bynum at SLAM Online:

    http://slamonline.com/online/2008/09/a-trains-back-on-track/

    AB: “I can do everything. Basically, this off-season I’ve been focusing on dribbling skills and developing a 15-20 foot shot, which should be able to free me up a bit more so I’ll be able to face up against defenders and be able to make moves against them. cause it kind of got to a point where people were trying to take the middle away from me. So now if I open up, and I see that they’re sagging off, I can pop a little J and they’ll have to play me honestly. And it’s just easier.”

  23. I have to agree with Kurt and Chris J. I don’t think there is anyone in the league that can guard CP3 as long as the rules stay as they are. The way you defend CP3 is trying to funnel him into a shot blocker then staying home on the wings forcing him to be a scorere and daring him to take outside shots (though he has and I’m assuming will continue to improve in that aspect). Bottom line use solid team defense to make Paul a scorer. You will be hard pressed to beat the Hornets if you let Paul get 25-15. You’re much better of letting him get 35-6.

  24. sorry for the double post.

    22. If Bynum truly developed a reliable 15-20ft jumper the Lakers will be scary, even more scary than they already are. I’m still waiting for the sky hook though.

  25. If you read what Phil and Kareem have said about Bynum from day one, a consistent point is that he has wanted to do more face up than back-to-the-basket. Bynum has admired a more KG-style game. I have no problem at all with him developing a little jumper, but he can’t fall in love with it. His job is to pound it inside, and he needs to remember that.

  26. It’s official. Lakers are the 08′-09′ champs!! Wooo, M M M M BBEEENGGGAWWWAAYYY…..sort of kidding but hey, not bad for the 6th or 7th big man on a team.

    At least he will get a block a game and posterized once every game or two. Works out well for everyone.

    http://www.nba.com/lakers/news/080924lakerssigndjmbenga.html

  27. I think the DJ signing could be subtitled: Chris Mihm insurance.

    If Mihm looks good in camp and preseason, I would expect that DJ may be cut. If not, he rides a lot of pine this season and plays a few minutes a game.

  28. Kurt ,

    KG may be the best shooting big man of all-time. I hope Bynum develops a jumper as smooth as Garnett’s. But I’d hate to see him “fall in love” with the jumper like Patrick Ewing did.

  29. I’d be very suprised if NO’s roster is the same come the Play-Offs. Mainly because Mike James is Paul’s only back-up,and James is a horrible PG. They have 7 wings,so I woud expect a trade.

    The big advantage the Lakers woud have in a series is their bigs. Lamar is far superior to anything the Hornets can bring off the bench,and he can match-up w/West,just as Gasol can do w/Chandler. So any foul trouble for Hornets starting bigs puts them in a huge hole,while the reverse is not true for LA.

    In a series,I imagine Kobe has more of an impact than Paul. If Posey is playing extended minutes,it messes w/their rotation and the Spurs and the Jazz have had success defending Paul,so I imagine the Lakers scouting Dept would come up w/some ideas for Phil.

  30. I’d love for Bynum to develop a good enough face up game that he’s a threat from 15 feet out. We all consider Duncan one of the best post players in the game, but he still flexes out to 15-18 feet and can shoot the j. Being a well rounded offensive force is in Bynum’s best interest. Besides the quote about him wanting to face up more, though, I found this quote to be just as, if not more relevant to how Bynum sees himself on offense:

    “I think the strongest part (of my game) is probably sprinting down the court early and getting deep post position. I think if I get deep post position, there’s really nothing anybody can do. I can finish right, left, and just have a variety of different moves I make thanks to Brian Shaw, Gerald Wilkins, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also Kurt Rambis, just teaching me every day, working out.”

    To me, that quote shows that Bynum still realizes how his bread gets buttered. Bury players on his back and finish. In the end, developing a more multi-faceted game will only benefit him in the short and long term. I mean, not every big man (in fact only a handfull all time) can be a Shaq or a Wilt that can dominate for a decade with a strict back to the basket game.

  31. And if Bynum pulls his defender out 15 feet, that opens up the inside for everybody else. Make the other team react to you – that almost always works to your advantage.

  32. James Posey brings toughness to the Hornets which is something they did not have last season. But i still dont think they match up very well with us. The Lakers have the makings of the best frontline since McHale and Parish back in the 1980s with the best player in the game in the backcourt. I think our frontline is to much for them.

  33. That face up jumper could be Drew’s best friend and his worst enemy. One thing good about Dwight Howard not having this jumper is that there is no temptation to “slack” by facing up and shooting instead of pounding the defense. Yes, enroll me as a fan of that skyhook as well.

  34. New Post Up.

    After following this debate, with the next “Know Your Enemy” piece I’ll try to do a little more matchup stuff. I was saving that for the season, but we should do some.

  35. Kurt,

    re: Know your enemy

    Allow me to leave you with these two quotes:

    1. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

    2. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

    Each is from the master military commander and strategist, Sun Tzu, who authored the famous text, The Art of War.

    Highly recommended to all. :-)