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2010 New Orleans Hornets: Better Times Ahead?

Despite what new Coach Monty Williams’ has to say, Chris Paul infused a mundane Hornets’ off season with a little bit of excitement by hiring LeBron James as his Consigliari and then demanding to be traded. Instead of folding to his demands, the Hornets did him right by trading away their young and talented backup point guard, Darren Collison, for the slightly less young although still talented small forward Trevor Ariza. The trade shores up the teams weakest position from last season, but leaves them with a severe lack of depth at PG if Paul were to get hurt again. It’s a risky move, but I guess so is losing your franchise all-star player.

Here is what the Hornets’ depth chart currently looks like.

Depth Chart

PG: Chris Paul, [PG to be named later]
SG: Marcus Thornton, Marco Belinelli
SF: Trevor Ariza, Peja Stojakovic, Quincy Pondexter
PF: David West, Darius Songaila, Craig Brackins, [possibly Louis Amundson]
C: Emeka Okafor, Aaron Gray


In case you missed it, Chris Paul is good. Really good. (GMTR hits you with all the tough analysis…). Yes, Paul only played in 45 games last season due to a sprained ankle, torn meniscus in his knee and torn ligament in his finger. There was no doubt that his injuries and missed games killed nearly every fantasy team that drafted him last year. But despite being injured for most of the year, Paul still put up per game numbers nearly on par with his career averages: 18.7 points, 10.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 49% shooting from the field. Given that the Hornets made a commitment to Paul by shipping Darren Collison off to the Pacers, CP3 is geared up to remain in New Orleans and put up 20 point, 11 assist numbers once again. He’s a clear top 3 pick this season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him end the season as the number 1 player overall.

As the depth chart demonstrates, the team is still on the hunt for a point guard to back up Paul. The list of guys still available (including Earl Boykins, Rafer Alston and Jannero Pargo) is a murder’s row of mediocrity. No matter who they sign or trade for, this guy’s primary fantasy role will be to make CP3 look that much better by comparison.

Speaking of hot motors, Marcus Thornton had the highest scoring rookie year from a second-round pick since Dino Radja in 1993-94. Comparing someone to Dino Radja is typically an insult, but Hornets247 breaks down Thornton’s game in vivid detail and finds that he does a few things very well and – get this – plays to those strengths. His strengths include finishing around the rim, shooting the three, and taking care of the ball (he had a ridiculously low turnover rate for a rookie). Provided he can win the starting job out of camp, expect a nice bump in Thornton’s scoring and three numbers this year, with a low turnover rate and subpar defensive numbers.

Despite all those good things about Thornton, Monty Williams has said that the starting SG position is “wide open” between Thornton, new addition Marco Belinelli and possibly even Trevor Arzia. Now Belinelli – who is a career 39% three point shooter – makes a nice kick out option in a Chris Paul offense, yet he’s nowhere near the type of player that Thornton is. Belinelli will definitely have some fantasy value as a shooter off the bench and knock down plenty of threes this year, but Monty Williams would be off to a bad start with the city of New Orleans if he hands the starting gig to Belinelli.

Unless you’re a Hornets fan, David West has to be on the short list of least exciting players to take in the top half of a fantasy draft. But other than a horrible start to last season, West has consistently put up numbers in the 20 point, 8 rebound a game range with great percentages. He’s one of the safest bets you can make in the 3rd or 4th round in a draft. In fact, the only thing to be concerned about with West is that he turned 30 this year and could experience a small decline due to age.

Last year with the Rockets, Trevor Ariza was simultaneously a breakout player and an underachiever, if that’s even possible. Anyone who expected him to pick up where he left off during the Lakers’ 2009 championship run (where he shot 48% from behind the arc) got a harsh dose of Trevor Ariza shot-selection reality. On a Rockets team in desperate need of scoring, Ariza tried like hell to take over the role of primary scorer. His usage rate increased to a career high 21.2% and as a result his field goal percentage decreased to a career low 39%. That’s because Ariza works best on the break and as a spot-up shooter and is fairly horrible when he has to create his own shot off the dribble, in the post, in traffic, or as Red94 showed us, just about anywhere else.

The good news is that Ariza is now surrounded by good-to-great offensive players in Paul, West and Thornton and should be able to settle into the role he was built for: a solid, aggressive defender and a third option on offense. His scoring numbers are likely to remain steady or even go down this year, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it’s offset by an increase in percentages.

On the bright side, Emeka Okafor has played in 82 games each of the last three years. And… err… yeah… he’s been really, really healthy. Other than that, his transition to New Orleans went about as well as Antoine Walker’s money management skills. Okafor set career lows in points (10.4), rebounds (9.1), and blocks (1.6) in his first year with the Hornets. Coach Williams insists he’s going to light a fire under Okafor’s ass (not his exact words) and a second year with the team should make him more comfortable on both offense and defense.

But if the Hornets were a team of superheros, then Chris Paul is Batman, David West is Robin, and Okafor is something akin to Power Man. Basically, it ain’t his team to lead and he’s way down on the list of supporting characters. So, as a result of being the last option on offense among the team’s starters, I don’t think his offensive stats (especially his PPG) will improve that much from his disappointing 2009-10 numbers.

Swarm and Sting really mans up by writing an entire post about Peja Stojakovic. Peja is clearly playing out the stretch in a Hornets uniform. He’s in the last year of a contract set to pay him $14 million this season and he’ll be moved as an expiring contract by the trade deadline. With Ariza and fresh-meat Quincy Pondexter joining the team, Peja’s role will likely be reduced to three point specialist off the bench (if he’s lucky) or completely phased out of the lineup entirely. If you’re really jonesing for a Hornets’ shooter at the end of a draft, do yourself a huge favor and draft Marco Belinelli instead of Peja.

Quincy Pondexter’s comparison player on is Bobby Simmons (a nice player when healthy, but not exactly fantasy gold in even his prime); the big story about Aaron Gray this summer is if he can get himself to camp under three bills; and Darius Songaila makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

So, for the guys we want to draft… Here’s your official GMTR Guidance (for a 12 team league):

Chris Paul – Top 3 pick
David West – 3rd
Trevor Ariza – 5th/6th
Marcus Thornton – 8th/9th
Emeka Okafor – 9th/10th
Marco Belinelli – 12+
Peja Stojakovic – Dead on arrival


Erik on Trevor Ariza and his new home

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