Team Preview: New Orleans Hornets
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Other than the move home, health is a big story for the team. Injuries hit the Hornets hard in 2006-07 and turned a playoff contender into a lottery team. Stojakovic missed all but 13 games after undergoing back surgery; West missed time to an elbow injury and played through a bad ankle; and Paul had ankle and foot problems and is coming off surgery to his left foot. Are guys like Hilton Armstrong or Marcus Vinicius ready for their close ups? Can Bobby Jackson stay healthy? Rasual Butler and Jannero Pargo should get some run off the bench, but beyond the backcourt, there isn’t much depth. The health of the starting five will be the determining factor in the Hornets’ success this season. From a fantasy standpoint, that’s good news, because it means you can count on the starters logging heavy minutes.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The starters should get tons of minutes as this team’s talent drops off pretty quickly on the second unit. Chris Paul leads the team at point guard and will play 35-38 minutes a night. Bobby Jackson will be his primary backup with Jannero Pargo getting anything beyond that. Mo Peterson may join Paul in the backcourt as the shooting guard. Peterson’s not the best-conditioned athlete in the NBA, but he can still play 30-35 minutes a night. Jackson and Pargo will get some minutes there as will swingman Rasual Butler.
At the forward spots, Peja Stojakovic and David West will start at the three and four, respectively. Health is the biggest concern for Stojakovic, who is coming off back surgery. His days of 38 minutes a night are probably history, but Peja will be a 30-plus guy if healthy. Peterson and Butler will split backup minutes at small forward. Injuries to any of those three will mean big minutes for Pargo. West should get the bulk of the minutes at power forward, possibly 35 per game. The club signed Melvin Ely to be a veteran body in the frontcourt, and he could wind up being the primary backup to West as well as Tyson Chandler at center. Last year’s first-round draft pick Hilton Armstrong did little to earn a bigger role this year. Ely could get up to 20-25 minutes a night. Chandler will play until he drops. He played a career-high 34:36 minutes per game last season – the first time in his career he’s topped 30.
* Tyson Chandler – NOH [C]: The Bulls must regret the decision to let Chandler go and replace him with Ben Wallace. Chandler out-produced Wallace last season at two-thirds the cost. He posted career highs in rebounds (12.4 rpg), points (9.5 ppg), field goal percentage (62.4 percent) and minutes (34.5 mpg). The offensive output was due in part to injuries to Stojakovic, West and Paul. Given a season of good team health and the addition of Peterson, and Chandler probably won’t repeat his scoring numbers. But even with less scoring, Chandler contributes well defensively and on the glass at both ends (4.4 offensive rpg, 1.7 bpg). He’s awful from the free throw line, but that’s a weakness of most centers and, relatively speaking, he will not hurt you. One note of minor caution: Chandler did participate with Team USA this summer, so fatigue could be a concern later in the season.
Hilton Armstrong – NOH [PF,C]: Armstrong showed very little in his rookie season and doesn’t have the confidence of coach Byron Scott yet. The club signed veteran Melvin Ely to back up Chandler at center, so Armstrong will have another season of limited playing time. He’s got a decent offensive game and is a good shot-blocker, but Armstrong’s not a fantasy contributor just yet.
Melvin Ely – NOH [PF,C]: The Hornets will be Ely’s fourth team in a five-year NBA career. He’s a good scorer in the low post and can play defense while giving New Orleans a veteran backup in the paint. He’ll serve as the Hornets’ primary backup at center and power forward and could get 20 minutes a night.
* David West – NOH [PF]: Injuries derailed his 2006-07 season, but West was able to produce when healthy, averaging 18.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in 52 games. He has a nice mid-range game and led the Hornets in shots per game (15.2 FGA) while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor. He’ll have to share shots with the returning Peja Stojakovic, but he plays with a top point guard (Chris Paul) who knows how to get everyone involved. West is rising offensive star at the position.
* Peja Stojakovic – NOH [SG]: Stojakovic is a devastating offensive player, capable of scoring from anywhere on the court and doing so with excellent shooting percentages. What’s not to like? His back, for starters. Stojakovic is coming off back surgery that limited him to only 13 games last year. It’s an injury that flared up on him a couple of seasons ago, so health should be a slight concern when considering him. On the other hand, the injury could make him slip in drafts, where he could become a nice bargain. If healthy, he’ll get the most shots on the team and lead the Hornets in several offensive categories.
Julian Wright – NOH [SF,PF]: Wright is still a few years away from contributing for an NBA team, but he could get an opportunity because of the Hornets’ overall lack of depth. He needs to bulk up and improve his jump shot, but once he’s ready, Wright will fill stat sheets. He’s a good defender and rebounder and has the skill to initiate the offense from the forward position.
Marcus Vinicius – NOH [SF,PF]: Vinicius didn’t impress Hornets management during Summer League play; coach Byron Scott reportedly didn’t like Vinicius’ decision-making and defense. He’s a skilled offensive player, but that won’t be enough to merit a big role in the rotation. If injuries should strike at the small forward position again, expect Peterson and Butler to share the minutes before Vinicius gets significant run.
Morris Peterson – NOH [SG]: Peterson was marginalized in Toronto last season, as he didn’t quite fit the up-tempo game. In the right situation – in New Orleans, for example – Peterson can thrive as a perimeter scorer. And like all Hornets, he’ll benefit from playing with Paul. He’ll have to get his shots after Stojakovic, West and Paul have their fill, but he’ll get decent minutes and will produce in categories other than points. A return to his 16.8 ppg season in 2005-06 is too much to ask, but somewhere between that number and last year’s 8.9 ppg sounds about right.
* Chris Paul – NOH [PG]: Paul was one of several key Hornets to miss significant time due to injury last season, missing 18 games because of ankle and foot injuries that eventually required surgery. He’s been working out prior to training camp and fully expects to be healthy by the time training camp opens. If he can get a full season from Stojakovic and West, Paul could hit double-digit assists this season. He produces in just about every category and keeps his turnovers down despite handling the ball on every possession.
Jannero Pargo – NOH [PG]: Pargo is labeled a point guard, but he’s a shooter at heart. And not a very good one, with a career field goal percentage of 40.9 percent. He loves to shoot (8.4 FG/game in almost 21 mpg) and can hit it from three-point range (career 38.8 percent), so he’s not bereft of fantasy value. Most of his minutes will come at the two guard, but only when Peterson, Butler and Jackson get their run.
Adam Haluska – NOH [PG,SG]: Haluska was drafted 43rd overall out of Iowa where he led the Hawkeyes with 20.5 points per game. He’ll have to hit his jump shots with consistency to stick with the Hornets, but even then, playing time will be an issue. He did little (35.9 percent from the field, 21.1 percent from downtown) at the Vegas Summer League to prove he can give the Hornets an outside scoring threat.
David Wesley – NOH [SG]: Wesley was brought in to be a veteran presence. At age 37, he could see an already diminished role disappear entirely.