Hornets.com caught up with New Orleans starting shooting guard Morris Peterson in the locker room following the teams 97-92 loss on Monday to Toronto, the only NBA team Mo Pete had played for prior to this season. The 6-foot-7 Michigan State product provided his opinion on how the Hornets are progressing and how hes faring individually through 31 games.
Peterson is averaging 9.1 points and 3.2 rebounds, while starting all 29 games in which hes appeared this season.
What was it like for you to play against your former team for the first time? Was it a little strange after being a member of the Raptors for the previous seven years?
It was. It was definitely different, playing against old teammates and old friends. There were a couple times when one of my former teammates went to the line to shoot a free throw, and I almost went up to them to give them a little pat on the back. [laughs] I almost walked up to Chris (Bosh) to do that one time, but I had to catch myself.
After the jump ball went up, I just went out and played. Overall, a couple shots I normally make, I didnt hit, so I am a little disappointed with how I played.
When you signed with the Hornets this summer, we actually received about 10 e-mails from Raptors fans wanting to wish you luck in New Orleans, which is a pretty high number to field from another teams fans. What was the best part of playing in Toronto for you?
The fans and the environment. People in Toronto are very excited about basketball. They supported the team I was on through a lot of good and bad times. Thats what sticks out in my mind the most about Raptors fans and the people there. With me having the history I had there of being there for seven years, I met a lot of people and had a lot of fans following me. Its great to know that theyre continuing to follow me.
I imagine you had pretty high expectations for the Hornets when you decided to sign here, especially since 2007 Western Conference finalist Utah was one of the teams that heavily pursued you. Still, has this team come together quicker than you projected? Has the 30-plus games gone better than you imagined from a team standpoint?
Well, like Ive been saying, I think its a work in progress. Were not where we want to be. If we WERE where we want to be, wed be 31-0. [laughs] I think we understand that at times weve played great basketball, but at other times we havent played so great. But I think when we get everybody healthy I missed a couple games, Peja missed a couple games that will help.
I think weve started to get different guys to step up, and everyone is putting the team first, doing whatever they can to help us win. Thirty games into the season, it probably is going better than some expected.
Especially when you consider that quite a few people didnt project you guys as a playoff team. I think its surprising to many that the Hornets are in the top four in the West standings right now.
Yeah, but I think it would be a lot better if at the end of the season, after weve played our 82nd game, were still a top-three team in the West. Until then, weve still got work to do.
What is your assessment of the way youve played through the first two months of the season? Are there certain areas youve been happy with so far in your new uniform? Are there parts of the game you want to improve upon in the second half of the season?
I think Im learning the system more and learning where Im going to get my shots. I think Im understanding what my role is on this team. Coach Scott wants me to go out there and play hard defensively and let everything else take care of itself. For the most part, thats what Ive tried to do. And when I get wide-open shots, Coach wants you to be aggressive and take them.
You played against Chris Paul twice a season over the past two years when you were with Toronto. After getting paired with him in the same starting backcourt, is there anything that has surprised you about him as a player?
Yes. I was surprised at how hard he works. Heres a guy who has made the Olympic team, has gotten a lot of accolades, and is only 22 years old. Yet he got down here to New Orleans well before the season started. He was the first guy to get here. Hes also the last guy to want to leave the gym.
Hes always doing the right thing as a young man. Hes very mature for his age, at 22 years old. He handles things very well. Thats what surprised and impressed me, and that lets me know that basketball is (his focus). I know when I step on the court with him, Im always going to get 100 percent from him.
You played with some All-Star players in Toronto, including Chris Bosh and Vince Carter for four full seasons apiece, but did any of your teammates ever have the kind of start to a season that Chris Paul is experiencing right now?
Hes played as well as any point guard Ive seen in a while, or any point guard Ive played with. Chris is a rarity in this league. Guys like him dont come around too often.
I used to watch him when he was in college at Wake Forest, and I would say, You know what? That kids going to be a good pro, because the game comes so easy to him.
I was right. When he got to the NBA, he immediately played well. But hes also gotten a lot better this season compared to last year. Hes starting to grow, get that confidence and understand what he has to do to get this team going.
When should we start the CP for MVP campaign?
[grins] If he keeps putting up the numbers hes been getting and leading this team, I cant think of a guy who would be more valuable to his team than Chris. If he does that for 82 games, there is no reason why his name shouldnt be mentioned.
Another guy you went up against frequently in your days in the Eastern Conference is Hornets center Tyson Chandler, who was with Chicago for five years. After the way he struggled at times as a Bull, are you surprised at all by how he has transformed himself as a player here?
The thing about Tyson is that everything hes gotten, hes earned. Thats one thing I respect about him. Hes worked so hard. I remember when I played in Toronto, (former teammate) Jalen Rose always used to say, Man, Im telling you. My ideal big man that I would love to play with for the rest of my career is Tyson Chandler. He blocks shots, he rebounds, he brings that intensity and is a beast down low.
And what Tyson brings you, hes going to bring you night in and night out. Hes going to leave his last drop of sweat and last drop of blood on the court.
New Orleans (21-11) turned a halftime deadlock into a relatively comfortable victory, dominating Los Angeles (10-20) by a 30-17 margin in the third quarter. The big third period led to a 71-58 edge, after the game had been tied at 41 at intermission.
On a night when Byron Scott shuffled his bench rotation significantly, the starters came through again in a big way. David West turned in another monster individual performance, pouring in 29 points (12-for-21 shooting) and pulling down 10 rebounds. Im just trying to stay aggressive, West said. Im getting some good looks and knocking (shots) down.
Chris Paul took on more of a distributing role than usual Wednesday, compiling 16 points and 13 assists. He only took 10 shots from the floor, equaling his fewest FGAs in a game this season. Meanwhile, Tyson Chandler contributed a double-double, with 14 points and 15 rebounds. Peja Stojakovic experienced an ugly shooting first half, but sparked the Hornets 30-point third quarter by draining three successive three-pointers. Overall, he had 16 points and four treys, along with six rebounds.
Chandler did an excellent job defensively against 7-foot Clippers center Chris Kaman, who finished with just nine points on 1-for-10 shooting.
West: (Kaman) is a good ballplayer. Hes big. We knew Tyson was going to have his hands full. We just wanted to make sure that everything he got was tough, that his catches were tough. And that every time he looked at the basket, he saw a few (defenders). We were able to limit him some.
Talk about the Hornets struggling reserve unit has dominated discussion about the team recently. Before Wednesdays game, Scott told the media that some major changes would be in store and he backed up his vow with a drastic change in the roles for several second-unit guys.
Here are five observations resulting from Wednesdays 14-point win at Staples Center and Scotts altered plan for his substitutes:
1) The buzz on
a reconfigured bench.
When Scott said he would do things differently with his backups, he wasnt kidding. After using 10 Hornets in nearly every game this season, Scott cut the rotation down to just eight Wednesday. Not only did Marcus Vinicius make his first meaningful appearance of the season (i.e. not in fourth-quarter mop-up time), but the alterations meant did not play-coachs decisions for both Rasual Butler and Jannero Pargo. Butler and Pargo had both appeared in 30 of the teams 31 games prior to Wednesday, averaging 21.1 and 15.5 minutes, respectively, so it wasnt like Scott was benching a couple bit players. Rookie forward Julian Wright also did not get on the floor Wednesday, his first DNP since the Nov. 26 loss vs. Minnesota.
Bobby Jacksons minutes werent affected by the new look; he logged 22 minutes and gave the team a nice boost with eight points and two assists. The Hornets were also plus-14 with him on the floor. Hilton Armstrong was the only other reserve aside from Vinicius and Jackson to get onto the Staples Center hardwood. Armstrong was OK in 13 minutes, supplying four points and two rebounds.
2) The buzz on
The biggest surprise in the new Scott rotation was that the second-year forward from Brazil was moved up to being the second reserve subbed into the game Wednesday. Since being selected as a second-round pick by the Hornets in 2006, Vinicius has shown signs of promise in practice, but hes always been buried on the depth chart behind multiple veterans at the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Vinicius alternated between aggressive and indecisive during Wednesdays game, making a few poor decisions on fast breaks that led to him committing three turnovers. It was good to see him get a chance to play, though. Scott said after the game that the poor production of other reserves, combined with Vinicius strong play in practice lately, prompted Scott to give the 23-year-old a shot.
I thought number one, Rasual and Julian hadnt played well at all, Scott explained of his decision to go to the 6-foot-8 Vinicius. I thought Marcus had done enough in practice to warrant an opportunity.
And I thought the way (the bench) had been playing, it couldnt get worse. I said before the game that I was going to cut down my rotation, because I didnt like the way the bench was playing. Im a man of word, and Im going to keep my word. When I tell guys that theyre not doing their job, theyre not going to play, and other guys are going to get an opportunity to take advantage of it.
3) The buzz on
Over his two-plus seasons with the Hornets, the 6-foot-7 swingman from La Salle has fought through periods of inconsistency. For example, after a stretch where he had been forced into the starting lineup due to multiple Hornets injuries early in the 2006-07 season, upon his return to the bench he went into a slump, causing him to get his PT sliced considerably. Scott criticized Butler for not adjusting quickly enough to his altered role.
This season, the 28-year-old started the regular season very well, with several excellent shooting games. Over the past few weeks, however, his percentages from the outside have fallen. For the season, his three-point percentage of 34.7 is slightly below average for a shooter with his reputation, but not that bad. But overall, his field-goal rate of 37.0 is his lowest since his rookie season of 2002-03 and needs to improve significantly for him to make a bigger contribution.
4) The buzz on
Throughout his six-year NBA career, the 6-foot-1 guards biggest strength has been his ability to make jump shots from 18 feet and beyond. Although he will occasionally penetrate to the hoop, his bread-and-butter is his knack for getting hot from the perimeter and racking up points in quick bursts. In a 2004 game as a member of the Chicago Bulls, for example, Pargo produced an NBA rarity when he tallied 34 points despite coming off the bench.
With Pargo struggling for the bulk of this season to find his shooting touch, its become increasingly difficult for Scott to justify using him for extended minutes. His field-goal percentage is down to 35.0 percent, while his three-point accuracy has dipped to 26.2. As a result, Pargo hasnt played more than 19 minutes in a game since Dec. 12 at Denver.
5) The buzz on
the three injured Hornets.
There appears to be some good news to report on the injury front. Cox Sports TVs Jordy Hultberg said Wednesday that New Orleans energy guy Ryan Bowen could return to action as soon as Fridays game at Golden State. The Hornets can definitely use Bowen's hyperactive defense and rebounding in the frontcourt, particularly with Armstrong trying to regain his preseason form and Melvin Ely (fractured eye socket) still out of action.
Speaking of Ely, he will likely be cleared for normal physical activity when the Hornets return from their current three-game road trip, which concludes Saturday at Phoenix. Elys low-post scoring is much-needed by a bench that scores most of his points on jumpers.
Lastly, 2007 second-round pick Adam Haluska said during a halftime interview that hes approximately a week away from being cleared to return to practice. Haluska has not appeared in a regular season game yet. It seems like he would be up against a numbers game in his bid to be a factor this season, with several guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Then again, Vinicius got on the floor Wednesday, so you never know...