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. . . A Look Back at January
Posted Feb 1 2008 1:30PM
A LOOK BACK AT JANUARY
February 1, 2008 –With all this talk about Boston’s Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, it is an Underappreciated Four of Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic that has led a surprising team to the top of the heap in the West.
The All-Star Game is headed to New Orleans later this month so there is a lot of excitement in the Crescent City and most of it has to do with the Hornets rising to unprecedented heights.
The team came within one of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins when it had a nine-game run ended on Jan. 30, and New Orleans has won 17 of its last 20 games to put itself atop the Western Conference heading into February.
Led by Paul - a third-year point guard who was named an All-Star on Thursday and is garnering strong consideration for the MVP - there is a buzz around the Hornets that hasn’t been there since Larry Johnson was better known as Grandma-ma, Alonzo Mourning was manning the pivot, Muggsy Bogues was running the point and Dell Curry was burying treys way back in the mid-90s.
Paul has his own stellar supporting cast. In fact, it is three Hornets, not Celtics, that can accomplish something that hasn’t been done in the league in almost 40 years.
Stojakovic is one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters in the game and is starting to resemble the two-time Three-Point Shootout winner they hoped they had when the Hornets signed him to a five-year contract in the summer of 2006. After an injury-plagued 2006-07 season that limited him to 13 games, Stojakovic is averaging more than 15 points a game and is leading the league in 3-pointers made per game (2.8) – giving the Hornets one of their best long-range threats since Curry hovered around the perimeter.
With Stojakovic lighting it up from outside, Chandler has been ruling the inside. He is fourth in the league in rebounding at over 12 a game, is third in field goal percentage, while leading the way in offensive rebounding. He has had at least 21 rebounds in a game three times and has 25 double-doubles.
West continues to be one of the league’s most underrated players, averaging career bests in points (19.5) a game and rebounds (9.4). If West , who was rewarded with an All-Star nod on Thursday, can get his rebounding average into double figures and Paul and Chandler can maintain their current pace, it will make the Hornets the first team since 1969-70 to have three players average a double-double for an entire season (minimum 40 games). The San Francisco Warriors were the last team to achieve the feat with Nate Thurmond, Clyde Lee and Jerry Lucas, according to STATS LLC.
Despite the strong supporting cast, it is clear that Paul is the heart and soul of the Hornets. The 2006 Rookie of the Year is the engine that drives New Orleans, averaging over 20 points and 10 assists a game. He has recorded at least 10 assists in 14 of his last 15 games, including a magnificent 23-point, 17-assist, nine-rebound effort against the Nuggets on Jan. 28.
But the offensive numbers are just part of Paul’s arsenal. He is a pest on the defensive end, leading the league with 2.56 steals a game. His all-around package have some people calling him in the best point guard in the game and others anointing him a viable MVP candidate.
"I am not ready to jump on their bandwagon, but they're pretty good and I'm not sure what weakness they have,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said after the Jan. 28 game. "Chris Paul is a great point guard. He can go anywhere he wants to go. They have size, they have shooters, they play as a team, they have a good bench ... . One can argue that they have an All-Star player at four positions.''
The Hornets made a late run last year, but didn’t reach the playoffs and finished with 39 wins. They are just seven victories away from matching that mark, and if January is any indication, the team record of 54 wins is in serious jeopardy.
Let's take a look back at some of the other teams and players making news in January.
Are the Hornets for real? Drop me a line and tell me what you think.
The Best of the Rest
Have your own thoughts on the month that was? Disagree with my picks? Send an e-mail and let me know.