One week into the 2009 season, the Hornets have won one and lost two. In their opening night loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Hornets looked like they were going to pick up where they ended last season—miserably.
In their home opener, the Hornets looked like a substantially improved work in progress by beating a much improved Sacramento Kings squad. In their most recent game, New Orleans looked solid until the final two minutes in an away loss to the Boston Celtics.
In a recent article looking at the 2009 version of the Hornets compared to last year's team (Okafor, Diogu, Collison, and the Roster Re-Do: Are the Hornets Improved? ) this writer came to the conclusion that the Hornets are indeed improved. The next question is—why?
In this article you will find a player-position by player-position evaluation of the starting five through the first week of the season. The first player listed is the 2009 starter at that position. The second player is the player who was listed as the starter at the end of last season.
In the cases of Chris Paul and David West, the player is being compared to himself, as the player at that position has not changed.
Point Guard Chris Paul versus Chris Paul
Based on an eyeball examination, Paul hit the weight room this off-season. He looks bigger and stronger. He also appears to have been working on his outside jumper, as it appears to be improved.
It may me hard to believe, but I project Paul to have a better season this year than last.
Shooting Guard Morris Peterson versus Rasual Butler
Butler was a small forward doing his best to play shooting guard. To his credit, he was cool under pressure, sinking buzzer-beating game winners on more than one occasion last season.
Peterson is a true guard, a better ball handler, but has not shown much yet this season as a shooter. So far, Butler is the better player.
Evaluation: A Step Backward
Center Emeka Okafor versus Tyson Chandler
Chandler was a fan favorite. He ran the floor well. His sky high rejections and spectacular alley-oop dunks brought the crowd in the Hive to its feet with resounding cheers.
That was about all the positive that can be said about Chandler. He did not show that he could play outside the paint, he was prone to foul trouble, he rarely created his own shot, and he was often injured.
In just three games, Okafor has shown that he can do as well inside on defense as Chandler. He can create his own shot and can play all over the court. He played a huge part in the Hornets win over the Kings by running out to block a long three-pointer as the clock was winding down.
Okafor missed the entire preseason with an injured toe. Expect to see improvement as he gets time in with the starting five.
Also, recall that Chandler was a journeyman center who had not done much in five seasons with the Bulls. Paul's play at the point guard made Chandler look good. I anticipate that Paul will help make Okafor look even better.
Evaluation: Big Step Forward
Small Forward Julian Wright versus Peja Stojakovic
Coach Byron Scott has decided to commit to Julian "Ju-Ju" Wright this season by giving him a chance to start. Peja is now the seventh man.
When Peja is hot, there is no better three-point shooter in the NBA. He still has the quickest release in the league.
However, there is serious concern about the long-term prognosis of his oft-injured back. He missed twenty-one games last season and has not played a full slate of games since the 2003-2004 season.
Even in the games that Stojakovic played last season, I noticed him wincing as if in pain quite a number of times. Defense has never been his strong point, and Coach Scott is looking for players who excel at both ends of the court.
Wright is an enigma. He has phenomenal athletic ability and plays with tremendous energy. His shooting and decision making has been erratic in the past.
In the first week of this season, Wright has played well and Peja is doing an excellent job coming off the bench. Although it is very early, it looks like Coach Scott may have made a good decision with the swap at the three spot.
Evaluation: A Very Small Step Forward
Power Forward David West versus David West
West seems to have reached his potential. He is an excellent power forward. Unless he all of a sudden develops a consistent three-pointer, I think what you see is what you get with West.
On the plus side, Okafor is going to attract more attention as a scoring threat, giving West more opportunities. Additionally, expect the front court bench to be substantially improved this year.
This should provide Scott an opportunity to give West the rest he is going to need to have fresh legs at the end of the season.
Evaluation: No Change
Keep in mind that these opinions are based on three games. The NBA plays a long season. Things can and will change, including the roster.
In a future article, I am going to take a player-by-player look at the Hornets new front court bench.
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