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Winning hand

Hornets' Paul makes lasting impression in Las Vegas

Posted: Friday July 15, 2005 12:44PM; Updated: Friday July 15, 2005 3:14PM
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Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard proved his impressive rookie campaign was no fluke with an even more impressive summer league performance.
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LAS VEGAS -- As the highest-drafted rookie playing at this year's Las Vegas Summer League, Hornets point guard Chris Paul figured to be a man in the spotlight. He didn't disappoint.

The 6-foot playmaker from Wake Forest, drafted No. 4 overall by New Orleans in last month's draft, lived up to his billing in his pro debut. Despite a sprained wrist that forced him to sit out a game, he averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 assists in his four games while committing just nine turnovers.

Paul had probably his best performance Thursday in his team's finale against the Pistons. Not only did the jet-quick former All-American rack up 13 points, five rebounds and five assists but he teamed up with high-flying teammate J.R. Smith for one of the highlight plays of this year's LVSL. In the second quarter he spotted Smith on a breakaway and tossed up a perfect lob that Smith caught for a monster alley-oop jam that sent an audible shriek through the small Cox Pavilion crowd.

"We're young. We like to run," Paul said. "J.R. and those guys, they want to dunk and I want to see 'em dunk. So it works out great."

From his seat behind the basket, Hornets coach Byron Scott was visibly pleased with his new point guard's play. Last year New Orleans struggled to find a leader after Baron Davis was traded to Golden State. Dan Dickau did a solid job as a fill-in, but the Hornets knew they needed an upgrade.

Paul could be the answer. His lack of size is a concern on defense, but he showed in Las Vegas that he at least has the all-around offensive game to thrive. He got in the paint at will. He handled the ball like a magician. He forced a few shots, but made several spectacular plays as well.

One sequence, which occurred not long after his alley-oop hookup with Smith, illustrated Paul's versatility. It began at the offensive end, when Paul found himself alone on the wing against Pistons forward Jason Maxiell. Paul crossed over Maxiell, leaving him on his heels, then stepped back and swished a 17-foot jumper.

Moments later, Paul reached back to swipe a pass then took off downcourt and dropped a bounce pass back to streaking teammate for a layup.