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SINCE THE 2007--08 season no duo has run the pick-and-roll more effectively than Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler. Two years ago they connected on 107 alley-oop dunks, 70 more than their closest competitors. And despite missing 37 games with an ankle injury last season, Chandler still threw down 65 of Paul's passes; the next-highest total in the NBA was 41. "We were good," says Paul with a smile. "We had great chemistry. But anything can happen in this league."
Indeed. In the off-season the Hornets shipped Chandler to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor. On paper they got more than fair value: Okafor's a better scorer (14.0 points per game in his career, to Chandler's 8.2), rebounder (10.7 to 9.0) and shot blocker (1.88 to 1.41). Over the last five seasons Okafor, 27, is one of three players—the others are Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard—to average double figures in points and rebounds. "On the post he can go with his left shoulder or right shoulder, and he can shoot it from 15 feet," says New Orleans coach Byron Scott. "Those are things we might have missed with Tyson."
Still, a big part of what made the Hornets a 56-win team in 2007--08 was the compatibility of Paul, Chandler and David West. When the athletic Chandler wasn't catching lobs from Paul, he was crashing the glass and cleaning up West's misses. The 6'10", 255-pound Okafor expects to be fed in the low post—where West also likes to operate. The new trio hasn't had much time to jell, either: Okafor missed training camp and the Hornets' early preseason games with a sprained toe. "It's definitely going to be an adjustment," says West. "We have to mesh quickly and make sure he's comfortable with what we do."
But sometimes change is needed; last year the Hornets' win total dipped to 49. Says Paul, "We're the underdog again. We should be hungrier than ever. It's exciting. I don't know what to expect."
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F-G Peja Stojakovic, 13.3 PPG; G Darren Collison (R), 14.4 PPG; C Hilton Armstrong, 2.8 RPG; F James Posey, 8.9 PPG • New acquisition • (R) Rookie, college stats
COACH: Byron Scott (sixth season with Hornets) • 2008--09 RECORD: 49--33 (fourth in Southwest) POINTS SCORED: 95.8 (26th in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 94.3 (fifth in NBA)