Extra MustardSI On CampusFantasyPhoto GalleriesSwimsuitVideoFanNationSI KidsTNT
New Orleans Hornets
MORE hornets
Other Enemy Lines: 
SI's Scouting Reports:
ADVERTISEMENT

An opposing team's scout sizes up the Hornets

This is an intriguing team -- if they stay healthy, in which case they'll be tough to beat. They've got a great point guard and some guys who can shoot. But when your top three players miss 117 games as they did last year, even though the team still finished close to .500, it's impossible to compete ...

Chris Paul is such a dynamic player. He gets any place on the floor he wants, and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. As much as he behaves as a gentleman off the court, he has some punk in him when he's playing -- and I mean that as a compliment. He'll go across the lane and kick his feet out or throw an elbow at you, and it's no different from the behavior of John Stockton, who didn't have a choirboy image among players either. To be a tough point guard, you've got to have some of that. I rate Paul among the top 10 point guards in the league when everybody's playing to the best of their ability. He had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.6-1 last year, and he has strength to finish around the basket in addition to his quickness ...

There's a lot of talk now that Deron Williams -- who is bigger and stronger -- has surpassed Paul as the top point guard from the 2005 draft, and I'm guessing that will give Paul some more motivation. He'll feel like he has a lot to prove, even though there aren't too many guys as good as Paul at running a team and finding that balance of when to shoot and when to pass, which Oscar Robertson used to call the hardest thing in basketball to understand. As a shooter, Paul could improve his range because he doesn't shoot a whole lot of threes. I think he should be aiming high and using Steve Nash as his model to become a deadly three-point shooter, a great free throw shooter and the best decision-maker in the pick-and-roll. Think about how long it took Nash to reach his current level. I think Paul is quicker than Nash and a better defender than Nash right now. He has a chance to be a dominant player at both ends ...

Tyson Chandler made big strides last year when he elevated to being one of the top rebounders in the league. He was so good that Phil Jackson was telling his guys they should watch film of Chandler going after rebounds. The word in the preseason was that he was becoming more aggressive offensively with a more fluid, less mechanical shot, and if that's true, he would be adding another important component to his game as well as to the team. He already causes problems because the only way to deal with him is to match his energy level, which is very high. I think of him as an emotional player -- not like Rasheed Wallace with his highs and lows, but somebody who plays with passion. Even when he's been injured, you've seen him cheering for his teammates ...

He's long and athletic, and it's just so hard to contain him when he's continuously pursuing the ball. If you box him out, you'd better have your hands up high because he's so long. Sometimes you see guys hold arms down while boxing out in order to pin the other guy down, but they can't do that with Chandler. They've got to have their hands up and move their feet or else he's going to go over the top and tip it out. And now if he brings a bit of scoring to the post, he's going to be that much tougher to contend with ...

David West isn't the biggest power forward, but he's successful because he has a good post-up game despite his size, and he can knock down shots from mid-range out to the college three. There is versatility to his game and he plays hard and runs the floor. The result is that he plays bigger than he looks. He's not far from being a 20 and 10 guy, and his importance to them shows in the bottom line: They were 28-24 with him in the lineup and 11-19 without him [last season] ...

But here's a big problem for them: Second-year center Hilton Armstrong is their only real backup at either of the front-line spots, apart from the spot minutes they'll get from Melvin Ely. Armstrong is coming into this year aiming to use his left hand a little bit more, but even if he improves enough to give them reliable backup minutes, they're still going to be very thin up front. This was already a team with injury problems, and to win in this league you need that depth to bang with the bigger teams. Sometime this season this is going to hurt them ...

Another key is the return to health of Peja Stojakovic, who got off to a poor start in the preseason. Stojakovic went home to Greece to continue rehabbing from his back surgery, though I'm always leery of guys who go away from the team's facility for long periods because I wonder how hard they're rehabbing when they're at home. But I've always loved him as a player with his unorthodox form and that great rotation and arc so the shot lands soft as a feather. What a big thing if they can get him back and close to what he was. They've already got the great penetrator, and Stojakovic can give them the shooter -- though, of course, he used to be much more than that. With Sacramento, he used to cut backdoor to the basket and shoot that running floater. But now with his health issues, I see him as more of a stationary shooter ...

Morris Peterson should be inspired to provide leadership after not getting as much time as he wanted or thought he deserved last year with Toronto. I wonder if he can provide the numbers they used to get from Desmond Mason, but Peterson should be a hungry guy who gives them some scoring and competitiveness ...

Bobby Jackson is 34, and last year he finally began to slow down a bit while missing 26 games, and his overall shooting percentages have been down the past couple of seasons. He isn't going to be the dynamo off the bench that he used to be, but I can see him using his experience to get by, like a pitcher who loses his fastball but still keeps people off balance. He can use that knowledge to split the pick-and-rolls, and he can get low enough to the floor that he's hard to guard. He was more of a scorer in his prime, but now I think that experience will help him to become more of a true point guard, which will help them. Last year Devin Brown cut into his minutes, but this year they'll need more of a contribution from Jackson just because they're so thin ...

Rookie Julian Wright was a former point guard in high school and he might be able to give the Hornets some minutes there because he's such a good ball-handler. He's the kind of guy who would be a good wide receiver because he can make those catches going up the court. He's well coordinated, with good hands and great vision. His shooting lacks depth, but he's solid from mid-range. I have doubts that he'll be an instant producer, but as the season wears on he might be able to contribute at the three small positions ...

Rasual Butler is a good three-point shooter, but his shot selection is questionable ...

It will be interesting to see how the move back to New Orleans affects them. In Oklahoma City, they were sold out every night and the fans there gave them a lift. I don't think they'll find the same support in New Orleans.

Other Enemy Lines: 

Search