The New Orleans Hornets have started the 2010-2011 season with a startling 7-0 record. This is even more surprising considering how poorly the team looked in the preseason.
Granted, some of these victories have been against sub-par teams. The Hornets have beaten the Bucks twice and the hapless Clippers once. However, they have also beaten the NBA’s newest “dream team” in the Miami Heat, and perennial playoff contenders such as the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets.
So what is the reason for the Hornets remarkable turnaround? The starters? The bench? The front office? The coach? Something else?
Many are attributing the Bees fast start to a revamped starting roster, but that is simply not the case.
Newcomer Trevor Ariza is undoubtedly an improvement over Peja Stojakovic, although Ariza gives up a little to Stojakovic in shooting the long three-ball. However, Ariza plays at both ends of the court, while Peja rarely even made it back to his position on the defensive end.
The other new starter is Italian import Marco Bellinelli. Some would argue that Bellinelli is not an upgrade over last year’s rookie sensation Marcus Thornton, but statistically they are close. When looking at the Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Thornton is better. I like both Thornton and Bellinelli.
The bench has been completely revamped and is more a contributing factor to the Hornets success than the upgraded starting lineup. Of the fifteen players on the current roster, only six are carryovers from last season.
Gone are non-performers Julian Wright, Hilton Armstrong, Devin Brown and James Posey. Replacing them are contributors such as Willie Green, Jerryd Bayless and Jason Smith. In addition, Marcus Thornton has performed like the starter despite coming off the bench.
Last season, the Hornets starters would go to a bench with a moderate lead and fans would have to pray that the starters would return before the lead became a large deficit.
That has not been the case this season.
An incredible thirteen players are averaging ten or more minutes per game. In fact, the Hornets currently do not have one player in the top 50 of average minutes per game.
The bench has generally maintained leads, and in some cases—such as against the Clippers—increased the margin. In fact, the bench played so well against the Clippers that CP3 was able to rest the entire fourth period.
While on the subject of rest, it is important to note that the improved bench play has allowed David West to cut nearly six minutes per game off of his average playing time. Chris Paul has dropped nearly four minutes per game off of his time. Over the course of the season, this is the equivalent of getting ten games rest for West and seven for Paul.
Resting of the starters helps somewhat early in the season. Where this is going to make the most difference is late in the season and the playoffs when the Hornets have traditionally run out of gas.
Next, let’s look at coaching and front office.
Jeff Bower, last year’s head coach and general manager, had less basketball coaching basketball experience than I do. Many NBA followers believe Bower’s ascension to the head coaching throne was a money saving move for the Hornets after the firing of Byron Scott.
As general manager, Bower did some good things for the Hornets by dumping perpetual malcontent Baron Davis and bringing in Chris Paul. For the most part, however, over the past few seasons the Hornets had a team that was old, overpaid, and underperforming.
The new front office, headed by general manager Dell Demps, seems capable. Front offices need to be judged on how they perform in the long run.
The jury is still out on the Demps administration.
Head coach Monty Williams, a former Notre Dame star, NBA first-round draft pick and NBA assistant coach, seems to have the players reading from the same gospel that he is preaching. Williams stresses playing hard every minute that you are in the game and that defense, defense and more defense is what wins games.
So far this season the Hornets have been acting like their namesake in the way they swarm to the ball. They have been forcing turnovers, making steals and blocking shots.
In contrast to last season, it is unusual for opponents to have numerous open looks at the basket. There is always a Hornet defender rotating to the ball putting a hand in the shooters face. The swarming Bees have held every opponent to under 100 points so far.
In almost every game, the Hornets have dominated the paint and held a strong advantage in points off of turnovers. All of this is coming from a new coach and a new squad which really has not had a chance to completely develop its team chemistry.
If the team stays generally healthy, this team will get even better.
An improved bench and a coach that has his players in sync with his philosophy have the Hornets vastly improved from last season. While the NBA season is very long, starting off with a 7-0 record is something that cannot be ignored.
Look for the Hornets to make quite a stir in the league this season.