Is New Orleans a Legitimate Contender?

Mark BrownCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2008

During the 2007-08 season, one of the most surprising teams was the New Orleans Hornets. I knew they'd be good, but they were great. Chris Paul has quickly blossomed into the best point guard in the league today, and teammates such as David West, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic were playing fantastic ball.

Then they went into the offseason and made a big free agent deal by adding James Posey to the mix. Posey is the type of hard-nosed player that gave a fantastic hustle and defensive effort night in and night out. Even better, he brought a championship attitude to a team that desperately needed one. Winning championships with Miami and Boston gave him a swagger that New Orleans craved.

Once Posey was added to the team, many expected the Hornets to continue to grow and play even better ball, possibly challenging the Lakers for a trip to the NBA Finals and the status as the best team in the Western Conference. Everything looked perfect once Posey was signed: A hungry team had added a winning veteran. However, so far this season, the Hornets have disappointed and are only a few games over .500.

Though Paul has continued his out-of-this-world play, the Hornets just don't seem to mesh as well as they did last season. Perhaps this problem does stem from a lack of hunger, but they seemed so ready before the season started, I can't believe that's the answer. Guys are still getting their stats, so what is going on? Although I don't think there is a definite solution, I do think that there are a few things that need to be done.

For one, New Orleans needs to defer to Paul less.

While he is a fantastic player, I have seen games where he is the only one initiating the offense. On almost every possession, he would penetrate and finish, find a big man for an easy dunk or kick the ball out to guys like Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson. They need to start creating their own shot, or eventually teams will clamp down on Paul and the Hornets offense sputters to a halt.

David West needs to get the ball down low and operate on occasion even if it is only rarely. Morris Peterson is a capable offensive player and can post up or penetrate some times. And Peja can create his own shot sometimes, I've seen it before. They don't seem to fast break much, as too often they just give it to Paul and let him go to work. I think this directly relates from their defense.

There are problems defensively too, as their defense just doesn't seem as sharp lately.

Usually, this results from a lack of effort on the players' part. They're doing an okay job but because their defense can fuel their break, they need to dedicate themselves more or risk losing that part of their game.

With Chris Paul leading the way, Mo Pete running to finish at the rim, and Peja trailing for an open three, there is just too much talent for them to not break. It may be one of their best strengths, as Paul is so good in the open court. Tyson Chandler anchors their effort down low by grabbing boards: This year's eight a game aren't enough for a guy who's gotten 11 or 12 in years past. David West also needs to get in there, he doesn't even have seven.

It's still early in the season, and the Hornets have gotten some quality wins. But, it doesn't really seem like New Orleans has the potential to really challenge the Lakers for the Western Conference title. Unless they pick things up, and soon, they may fall too far behind to make it up.