Performing well in Summer League does not guarantee success when the real season starts, but it certainly gives the hope that their may be some promise.
And the performances given by the three players from the New Orleans Hornets’ Summer League team that will undoubtedly make the regular season roster—rookies Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton, and two-year veteran Julian Wright—should give all Hornets fans some sense of joy heading into next season.
We all know that is something that couldn’t be said at any other point this offseason.
With the Hornets nearly $9 million over the luxury tax threshold, they have been very limited in the moves they were able to make via free-agency or trades. So players such as Brandon Bass, Rasheed Wallace, Chris “Birdman” Anderson, Zaza Pachulia, and Antonio McDyess, who Hornets fans thought would be instant difference-makers if added to the roster, have gone elsewhere for money that the Hornets simply could not afford to give them with their current financial situation.
So then, Hornets fans hopes went to trading starting center Tyson Chandler’s massive contract (two years, $24.6 million) in order to free up some cap space.
The scenario that had been widely speculated was sending Chandler to the Phoenix Suns for the contract of Ben Wallace, who was said to be on his way to retirement very soon. If Wallace indeed retired, whatever team owned his rights would have his entire $14 million contract removed from their payroll.
This was the one break Hornets fans were waiting for, right?
Then, news of the Suns buying out Wallace’s contract came out and all of that hope went out of the window.
But then once the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League started up, all those Hornets fans that had been hearing nothing but bad news coming from the Hornets all summer-long finally had something to smile about.
The Hornets put their two rookies on the Summer League roster and gave them the freedom to lead the team because they knew those Collison and Thornton will have to play big roles off the bench for New Orleans next year if the team plans on putting up any kind of fight in the Western Conference.
The team probably expected Collison and Thornton to use their combined seven years of knowledge gained on the collegiate level to succeed in the Summer League, but they did more than just succeed.
They gave every team they faced a ton of problems trying to guard them with Collison’s ability to push the ball in transition and Thornton’s ability to beat any defender who guarded him and either finish at the rim or get to the free throw line.
They turned out to be one of the highest scoring backcourts in Las Vegas, averaging a combined 39.2 points per game. They hounded their counterparts on the defensive end nabbing 11 steals and combined to shoot 50 free throws, showing how much trouble defenders had guarding them.
Wright also showed that he is starting to show the improvement that Hornets fans have been waiting for since he was taken 13th overall in the2007 NBA Draft.
He only averaged 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, not the dominating numbers that are expected from veterans when they participate in Summer League, but the numbers do not tell the whole story.
In the first three games of the Summer League, Collison and Thornton dominated the ball for the most part and Wright was the third option, combining to score only 31 points in those three games. But Thornton and Collison missed the majority, if not all, of the next two games, and with those two gone Wright scored a combined 43 in the last two games.
But it wasn’t only Wright’s offense that was on display in Las Vegas, he showed the ability to be a defensive stopper, also. In the five games he played, only one small forward scored over 20 points on his watch (the Nuggets’ Sonny Weems scored 28), and it took 23 shots to even get to that plateau. He also swiped eight steals, blocked five shots and showed exactly what those who hope he can replace Peja Stojakovic in the Hornets’ starting lineup just what they were looking for from him.
Some might argue that none of these numbers matter because it’s Summer League and a lot of the players on the court in some of these games won’t even be on NBA teams by the time the regular season starts.
This is not completely true, but a legitimate argument can be made for it.
But there is no arguing that their performances do show promise for the upcoming season, and that’s something Hornets fans didn’t have at all a few weeks ago.