New Orleans Hornets: Why You Shouldn't Overlook the New Lineup
The national media and experts alike may not want to acknowledge it, but the Hornets are preparing themselves for a run at the postseason.
Last week, the Hornets acquired forward Trevor Ariza in a four-team trade that sent second-year guard Darren Collison and forward James Posey to Indiana.
Though it's not quite a blockbuster deal, New Orleans now adds another big piece to a young team with plenty of potential.
Pencil Ariza in the starting lineup along with David West, Marcus Thornton and MVP-contender Chris Paul, and this could be a dangerous team for opponents to face all season long.
Forget all the other factors and potential moves leading up to opening night right now.
If each of the five projected starters can exceed expectations individually, that makes five reasons not to overlook the Hornets in 2010-2011.
Let's examine each of them.
C: Emeka Okafor
Okafor was far from outstanding last season. After averaging at least 13.2 points and 10 rebounds per game in each of his first five seasons in Charlotte, Okafor managed a measly 10.4 points and nine rebounds per contest in his first season with the Hornets.
But there are factors that might have played into his sub-par season. After missing the entire 2009 preseason and training camp due to injury, he struggled to find consistency throughout most of the year.
To make matters worse, injuries cost point guard Chris Paul 37 games, which stunted any type of developing chemistry between the two.
With a healthy point guard and an improved supporting cast, Okafor should be much more productive at center, but he will also need to improve vastly on defense.
The 6-foot-10 big man rarely saw minutes during the fourth quarter all throughout last season, mainly due to his poor defense against the pick-and-roll, as well as his inferior size to most opposing centers.
Okafor has the offensive capabilities to score points in the paint, but he must find a way to make stops on defense and improve his lowly 28.9 minutes per game from a year ago.
PF: David West
David West continues to be the league's most underrated player year in and year out.
Despite having a career year in scoring two seasons ago, West might have had arguably his most impressive season in 2009-2010 considering all the disappointments.
West missed all but one game last season, a career-high, and became the team's only proven play-maker throughout the entire year as Paul missed games and other veterans underperformed.
Though frustration was evident at times as the team slowly fell out of playoff contention, West pushed through and finished the season strong, averaging a season-high 21.3 points per game during the month of March.
Durability is not a concern as West turns 30 years old later this month. He's never missed more than six games in each of the past three seasons.
However, he has been involved in trade talk rumors throughout the summer, but it is highly unlikely he will be moved unless the Hornets were to receive a too-good-to-pass-up offer.
Also, the team will look to avoid making major moves without Chris Paul's approval, and trading West midseason could be a dangerous move if they have any hope to keep Paul content in New Orleans for the entire season.
West should have another strong season in New Orleans and should continue to put up big numbers despite the lack of recognition from critics.
SF: Trevor Ariza
Ariza is coming off a disappointing one-year tenure with the Rockets. After signing with Houston as a free agent last summer, Ariza got off to a hot start to the season.
But as the team continued to rely on him as the No. 1 option, his performance ultimately declined and his numbers dwindled.
Ariza averaged 18.2 points in his first 17 games as a Rocket, but ended up averaging only 14.9 points per game by the end of the season.
On a Hornets team with two offensive weapons in Chris Paul and David West, Ariza will not be relied on as a primary scorer, which should bode well for him with relieved pressure.
Playing with the league's best distributor in Paul should also improve Ariza's production both in the half-court offense and in transition.
Defensively, Ariza has the size and agility to keep up with some of the league's premiere swingman.
The Hornets have never had a small forward of his defensive caliber and athleticism starting alongside Paul, which will be a huge upgrade over Peja Stojakovic, who has been a liability on defense as a starter in the last three seasons.
With playoff experience, not to mention a championship ring, and the ability to make big plays on offense and defense, Ariza should be a big-time player for the Hornets this season.
SG: Marcus Thornton
The Hornets made the right move trading for Thornton in the second round of last year's draft.
Thornton not only shattered expectations as a rookie, but became the team's most explosive offensive player by the end of the season.
Now, Thornton will look to progress as he heads into his second season as the projected starter at shooting guard.
The most impressive thing about him last season was that he continued to put up big points despite coming off the bench in all but 17 games.
Thornton scored 18.8 points per night during the month of February, followed by a 19.9-point average in March. He then capped off the season by putting up 21.7 points per contest in April.
Thornton also developed into a solid defender along the perimeter.
The Hornets offense has never looked so exciting with Thornton becoming yet another big-time scoring threat, while being able to finish plays at the rim.
Brace yourself for a potential breakout season from the second-year guard.
PG: Chris Paul
If you have a short-memory, you may have forgotten about Chris Paul as being the league's best point guard.
An injury-plagued season, as well as the strong postseason performances of Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo, have brought down Paul's stock as the premiere point guard in the NBA.
Paul's impact on the Hornets is evident. The team only managed to go 13-24 without him last season.
If he stays healthy, Paul will once again be a potential MVP candidate if he can lead the team back to the postseason with a strong year.
Just look at his numbers last season before he tore a meniscus in his knee in late January.
In his first 38 games before the injury, Paul was averaging 20.3 points and 11.1 assists per game, while the team was 25-20 and tied for sixth place in the West on the night of his injury.
Going back to the start of the season, Paul was averaging 23.8 points through his first 10 games before injuring his ankle on Nov. 13, which forced him to miss eight games.
The knee should be completely healed with a full summer of rest, and a healthy Chris Paul will make the Hornets that much better.
The Hornets may not have built a title-contending roster just yet, but this lineup has far more potential than any other we've seen over the past few seasons in New Orleans, including the '07-08 team.
This team still has two All-Star caliber players leading the way, and a group of young determined players who have either been written off by critics as complete disappointments, or have yet to prove themselves on the court.
Outside expectations are low, but this team is hungry for redemption. Every Hornet player has something to prove this season.
Paul, West, Ariza, Thornton and Okafor will ultimately look to answer those who doubt them in a big way this season.