The New Orleans Hornets have been one of the most pleasant surprises in basketball. In their first full season at New Orleans Arena, the team boosted its regular season wins by 17. This increase happened during one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory.
Heck, New Orleans' improving is one of the reasons that the West is been so brutal this year. But what has been the engine behind the Big Easy Bulldozer? Model number CP3.
Chris Paul is undoubtedly one of the premier players in the league, and the NBA's best point guard. Sorry Steve Nash. There's a reason why he's in the discussion for league MVP: ranked 18th in scoring (2nd among PG's), leads the league in assists with 11.6 a game, and is the top thief in the NBA with 2.7 steals per.
Numbers are fantastic, but there's more to Paul's game. He's able to vary his style of play to fit the opponent. Need to speed up the tempo versus Duncan and the bruising Spurs? Check. Need to slow down B-Diddy and rest of Golden State's speedsters? Paul can run the half-court offense efficiently and find David West and Tyson Chandler inside.
In fact, it's this balance that allows the Hornets to adapt to their opponents and strike at their weaknesses. West and Chandler combine for over 30 points and 15 rebounds a game. Although Chris Paul can do it all, there's no one in league who hit more three-pointers this year than "The Bearded Bomber" Peja Stojakovic.
The defense isn't half bad, and defense is important. For references, please see the team's postseason series against the Dallas Mavericks. They held the Mavs to 40 percent shooting for the series, and were able to shoot almost 50 percent from the floor. Is it any wonder that the defensive-minded Avery Johnson was fired?
By the same token, Byron Scott's rep as a great builder of teams continues to grow.
A sharpshooting swingman, a rebounding machine, and a post player that can command double-teams, are all being guided by a MVP-caliber point guard.A defense that can handle a variety of threats and a coach who gets maximum effort out of his men. Sounds like a recipe for a championship.
So what roadblocks do the Hornets have on their way to the Finals?
The immediate problem is the Spurs. Tim Duncan is solid (not amazing), and Tony Parker is one of the fastest men in the league. What sets these guys apart is their legendary defense.
Chris Paul, lucky man, can run with Tony Parker and the West/Chandler combo can wear down Duncan. Whichever one of those two is not guarding Timmy gets to draw charges from Manu Ginobilli. The difference is Peja: his shooting ability is superior to everyone on the Spurs.
More than likely, the Hornets will also have to deal with Showtime. I concede Kobe is a stud (and primary MVP opponent) and Gasol was a steal, but the rest of that lineup is average at best. Chris Paul is a better PG than Derek Fisher ever was, and Chandler has averaged a double-double against the Lakers this year. Paul will abuse Fisher until the double team arrives, then find the open man (he always seems to) for another assist.
Will the Hornets win the west? I don't know. I'm not about to call results of any series this year. Look at Boston/Atlanta. I believe that they have the players, coach, and mindset to represent the conference in the Finals.
And possibly, a MVP in CP3.