By the numbers: Collison, Thornton impress as starters

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

The Western Conference standings are so tightly-congested at the moment, one loss can drop a team multiple rungs on the ladder. That’s what happened to New Orleans (26-22) on Monday, when a home defeat against Phoenix, combined with the Grizzlies’ upset win over the Lakers, pushed the Hornets from eighth place in the West to 10th.

The Hornets have another key head-to-head matchup Wednesday, hosting Oklahoma City (26-21) at 7 p.m. OKC is tied with Memphis (26-21) for eighth place at the moment, but both the Thunder and Grizzlies are in action tonight against quality Eastern Conference opponents, Atlanta and Cleveland, respectively. That means that the Hornets could again move two spots in the West, this time up to eighth place by the end of Tuesday’s action – without actually playing.

As the team awaits word on how long Chris Paul will be sidelined, the Hornets held practice this morning at the Alario Center, making preparations for the Thunder and high-scoring All-Star forward Kevin Durant. Here’s a look at a few telling numbers related to the team’s current rotation.

STARTERS
Darren Collison
: 8.3
The UCLA product’s assists per game during 10 starts in place of Paul. The Hornets are 5-5 in those games. Among all rookies, the leader in assists per game is Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, who averages 6.3 but has played more than twice as many minutes as Collison (Jennings has logged 1,578; Collison is at 747). Collison currently ranks fifth among all rookies in assists per game at 3.5, but all of the individuals ahead of him have received substantially more playing time, including Jennings, Tyreke Evans (1,549 minutes), Stephen Curry (1,583) and Jonny Flynn (1,449).
Marcus Thornton: 19.2
The Louisiana State alum’s scoring average in five games since taking over at starting shooting guard. New Orleans is 3-2 in those games. Only one rookie is averaging more than 19.2 points per game overall this season (Evans of Sacramento, at 20.5). If you take all of his games into consideration, Thornton is still in sixth place among NBA rookies, with an average of 10.6 that obviously is rapidly climbing. The five first-year pros ranked ahead of Thornton in points per game are Evans, Jennings (17.5), Curry (14.2), Flynn (14.0) and Omri Casspi (12.2).
Peja Stojakovic: 2
Games missed by the small forward out of 48 contests. Stojakovic has continued his every-other-season trend of durability in 2009-10, after being sidelined for 21 games last season. He played in 77 games during the Hornets’ excellent 2007-08 campaign, but just 13 during his debut 2006-07 season with the franchise. As a result, discussion and concerns about Stojakovic’s back have been nonexistent.
David West: 49.4
The seventh-year power forward’s field-goal percentage, which is actually higher than what he produced during his two previous All-Star seasons. The field-goal accuracy is the second-highest rate of his career, behind only his 2005-06 campaign, when he finished as a runner-up in the NBA’s Most Improved Player vote to then-Phoenix forward Boris Diaw.
Emeka Okafor: 0.4
Rebounds per game the center is currently shy of averaging a double-double, for what would be the sixth consecutive season of his NBA career. Part of the dip is due to his average minutes, which at 30.3 per game are his fewest as a pro. The UConn product is averaging slightly more rebounds per minute this season than he did in his final 2008-09 campaign with the Bobcats.

RESERVES
Darius Songaila
: 3
Full seasons – out of six – during the Wake Forest product’s NBA career in which he’s shot over 50 percent from the field and over 80 percent from the foul line. The highly-efficient Lithuanian is on pace to do so again, at 51.2 and 80.4 in those categories. As a testament to his free-throw consistency, the 80.4 percent is actually a career-low for him in that department.
James Posey: 54
Consecutive games he had played, including the 2009 playoff series vs. Denver, prior to sitting out the back-to-back weekend set against Chicago and Memphis. One of the more durable players in the league, Posey has appeared in 90.3 percent of his possible regular season games over his 11-year NBA career. Over his 10 full seasons, he’s played at least 70 games eight times.
Julian Wright: 21
Offensive rebounds for the Kansas product over a total of 164 minutes he’s played since Jan. 1. If it seems like the 6-foot-8 forward has been more active on the glass lately, it’s because he has. By comparison, over the 265 minutes he played in October, November and December, Wright grabbed 13 offensive boards.
Morris Peterson: 21
Minutes he logged during Saturday’s game at Memphis, the most playing time the Michigan State product had received in a single contest since Nov. 4 vs. Dallas, when he was still a starter.
Sean Marks: 6
Rank among all NBA players (including non-qualifiers such as him, obviously) in rebounds per 48 minutes. He had been No. 1 for several weeks, prior to his recent return to action. In limited playing time, the New Zealand native’s stats project to 17.9 rebounds per 48 minutes, putting him just behind fifth-place Dwight Howard of Orlando and just ahead of Chicago’s Joakim Noah.

INJURED
Chris Paul
: 8-8
The Hornets’ combined record in the 16 games the three-time All-Star has missed due to injury since the beginning of 2007-08, his first All-Star season and when the Hornets made their full-time return to the city of New Orleans. The team playing at exactly .500 without CP3 has been an uncanny trend: The Hornets are 5-5 this season without Paul, went 2-2 last season and were 1-1 in 2007-08.