Athlon predicts fourth place in Southwest

Tuesday, September 7, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

When the calendar flips to September, many sports fans are focused on the opening weeks of college football and the NFL, as well as the pennant races in Major League Baseball. For avid NBA fans, one of the best aspects of this month comes when numerous national media entities begin publishing their season preview magazines. As part of Hornets.com’s look ahead to the 2010-11 season, I’ll be taking a closer look at what several major publications are writing about the team. The first preview magazine I’ve seen so far this fall, Athlon Sports, just hit newsstands ($6.99).

Athlon projects New Orleans to finish in fourth place in the Southwest Division and miss the playoffs. The publication predicts that the Hornets will finish behind Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, but ahead of Memphis. Interestingly, Athlon also picks Denver to miss the Western Conference postseason, with the Rockets taking the Nuggets’ place in the eight-team field.

PRAISING MONTY
Though the assessment of Monty Williams in his debut as head coach realistically cannot take place until the regular season begins, there is no doubt he’s made an outstanding initial impression. Athlon’s description of Williams was full of optimism and praise: “On the bright side, there is the presence of a new coach in Williams, an exuberant rising star who likes to get on the practice floor and mix it up with his players.”

ROOKIE ADJUSTMENTS
The magazine included several interesting comments about first-round picks Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter and what they’re working on to be NBA-ready, including getting stronger and more focused defensively. “A lot of times, he’ll play great one-on-one defense and his guy will pass the ball and then he’ll stop,” Williams is quoted saying about Pondexter. “Then the play is still happening. I’m trying to get him to play not just 24 seconds on defense, but until we get the ball. Craig, he’s got to establish himself physically. One thing I told them, once you get a label in this league, you can forget about losing it. If they label you one thing, it’ll be hard to get rid of it. I’m talking to him about establishing who he is defensively: a physical presence, athletic, energetic and a guy who can rebound.”

ONE KEY
As New Orleans continues to try to build its roster long-term over the next several years, the success of its draftees will be a crucial element, something Athlon notes: “The Hornets didn’t merely hit a home run last year in the draft; they hit a grand slam. Point guard Darren Collison and shooting guard Marcus Thornton were almost instant sensations… New Orleans is hopeful for similar contributions from this year’s rookie pairing of forward Craig Brackins of Iowa State and Quincy Pondexter of Washington.

BOTTOM LINE
Athlon’s projection leaves the Hornets out of the West playoffs for a second straight year, but the magazine also hedges on a bit on that forecast. “The Hornets’ primary hope is that everyone stays healthy this season, especially Paul,” Athlon notes. “If that happens, and if the team gets some solid contributions from rookies, a return to the playoffs is not out of the question.”