Hornets Q&A with Trail Blazers official site

Friday, November 13, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

One of the most interesting aspects of this job is the ability to frequently interact with the other 29 NBA websites over the course of the season. Many Hornets.com visitors are probably at least somewhat familiar with our Rival Report – which we’ve conducted with all 29 other NBA teams since the start of the 2007-08 season – and occasionally I also get invited to be a guest on other sites.

On Thursday morning, Portland’s fan site, iamatrailblazersfan.com, checked in with me for an update on the Hornets. Thanks to Max Mandel of the Trail Blazers for the invitation, as well as to Portland’s TV play-by-play broadcaster Mike Barrett, who consistently does an outstanding job for us on the Blazers’ Rival Report. Here is the entire Q&A I did with iamatrailblazersfan.com:

With the Trail Blazers getting ready to take on the Hornets for the first time this season, we reached out to the official website of the Hornets to try and find out more about this team. Obviously the Hornets have not had the start to the season that they were expecting, and with the recent firing of Byron Scott, (Editor Note: This Q&A was conducted prior to the firing of Scott) it should be interesting to see what mindset New Orleans will be in when the Trail Blazers come to town on Friday night. We would like to thank Jim Eichenhofer of Hornets.com for taking the time to provide this information on the Hornets.

I Am a Trail Blazers Fan: One of the key players during the Hornets’ success these past couple of years was Tyson Chandler. How has Emeka Okafor fit with the style of play that this team runs, and has he been able to develop a chemistry with Chris Paul yet?
Jim Eichenhofer: Unfortunately for Okafor and the Hornets, he missed all of training camp and the eight preseason games due to a toe injury. That delayed him from developing on-floor chemistry with Paul and the rest of the team. However, Okafor was in the starting lineup for the regular season opener at San Antonio and immediately put up a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, in just 29 minutes.
One thing I’ve noticed is that many national analysts are already saying that the Hornets’ 3-6 start shows that the Chandler-Okafor trade was a poor deal for New Orleans. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. While several of the Hornets’ key wing players have struggled so far, Okafor has been solid (11.1 points, 9.8 rebounds per game in 30.2 minutes). I think Okafor will continue to improve those stats as he familiarizes himself with the Hornets’ offense and his new teammates.

I am a Trail Blazers Fan: Speaking of Chris Paul, it seems that he has started off this season at an extraordinarily high level. What has Paul done to take his game to an even higher level than he has played in the past?
Jim Eichenhofer: The 2009 offseason was the first time since his rookie year that he did not have a commitment to USA Basketball, so he was able to get more rest than in previous summers. Given how many minutes he’s played over his first four NBA seasons, more downtime probably allowed him to enter 2009-10 a bit fresher physically. In terms of his game, he spent an extensive amount of time working on his perimeter shot this summer – and the results have been phenomenal. Through nine games, Paul is shooting a staggering 65.5 percent from three-point range. He began his NBA career as a relatively poor three-point shooter, but had improved to roughly the league average of 36 percent from that distance prior to this season. If he can continue to make treys at a high level, it’s going to be extremely difficult for teams to figure out how to defend him. In the past, opponents have gone under screens and “dared” him to fire that 22-foot shot, but obviously that strategy won’t work when he’s making two-thirds of his three-pointers.

I am a Trail Blazers Fan: Byron Scott has done seemingly everything to develop a consistency with this team. What do you think has been the cause of the slow start and inconsistent play for the Hornets this season?
Jim Eichenhofer: I think there are at least three prominent causes behind the 3-6 start. For one, the Hornets initially tried to integrate three new players into the starting lineup. Okafor came here in a July trade from Charlotte, while Morris Peterson and Julian Wright primarily came off the bench in 2008-09. Peterson and Wright have subsequently been replaced in the starting five by Devin Brown and Peja Stojakovic, respectively, so the Hornets are still trying to determine their rotation and develop chemistry.
Secondly, from a very basic standpoint, multiple players are performing below what they’ve produced throughout their NBA careers. If you look at the Hornets’ individual field-goal percentages, for example, you will see that well over half of the roster is below what they’ve done in the past.
Lastly, the schedule has been brutal at times, including road games against the past three NBA champions (San Antonio, Boston, L.A. Lakers) and red-hot Phoenix. On the other hand, New Orleans is also the only team to have lost to New York so far, and during some of the Hornets’ other one-sided losses, they have not played at a high enough level to beat many opponents.

I am a Trail Blazers Fan: With Chris Paul, David West, and Emeka Okafor, the Hornets clearly have a nice trio to build around. Aside from those three guys, who should Trail Blazers fans keep an eye on when these teams meet on Friday night?
Jim Eichenhofer: Stojakovic is off to a slow start (36 percent on field goals, 37 percent on three-pointers), but as the coaches here always say, opposing teams will never willingly leave him open – even if he’s missed 10 shots in a row – because he’s been one of the NBA’s best from three-point range for a decade. Brown has played with visible confidence since joining the starting five, including sinking a career-high five three-pointers Monday at the Clippers.
Off the bench, the Hornets are excited about the potential of rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. Both 2009 draft picks cracked the rotation earlier this week for the first time. Collison and Thornton are still learning the NBA game but have shown a lot of promise. Watch Collison’s relentless on-the-ball defense, as well as Thornton’s attacking approach on offense.

I am a Trail Blazers Fan: Darren Collison seemed like an excellent pick in this past NBA draft. What role has Collison had with the team so far, and what are the early impressions you have of him?
Jim Eichenhofer: The former UCLA standout played sparingly through the first seven games, but was moved into the rotation Monday at the Clippers. As Paul’s new backup, he’s averaged 16 minutes over the past two games. Prior to the season, the scouting staff here raved about many of Collison’s intangibles. He’s been known as a “gym rat” due to his dedication to improving his game. He’s been working on his perimeter and mid-range shooting game, areas where a 6-foot player needs to be proficient in order to thrive in the NBA.

Same starting five expected in Bower's debut

Since arriving back in New Orleans at about 6 a.m. Thursday morning from their West Coast trip, the Hornets haven’t held a team practice yet, with the news that Jeff Bower is taking over as head coach still less than 24 hours old. So even though Bower anticipates several changes to take place with him on the bench, it’s going to be very difficult to implement major alterations as quickly as tonight’s game vs. Portland (7 p.m.) and Saturday’s trip to Atlanta.

Bower said this morning at shootaround that the recent starting five of Chris Paul, Devin Brown, Peja Stojakovic, David West and Emeka Okafor is “probably going to remain the same” against the Trail Blazers. Bower said decisions on potentially changing or keeping the same inactive list – which has included Morris Peterson, Sean Marks and Ike Diogu – will be made at some point this afternoon.

“I think we’re going to emphasize certain things in these first two games,” Bower said. “We’re somewhat limited to make bigger changes (short-term). We’re going to operate with what the players are comfortable with tonight and tomorrow night. We’re going to tweak different things. But we need a little bit of practice time, to put anything in new.”

Due to the back-to-back against the Blazers and Hawks, the Hornets’ next scheduled practice isn't until Monday. They would also likely practice Wednesday and Friday, but they have home games Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, followed by a road game in Miami on Sunday.

The next stretch in which the Hornets will be able to hold multiple practices in a short timeframe will probably be Nov. 23-28, when they only have one game (home vs. Milwaukee on Nov. 25).

Hornets.com postgame: Trail Blazers 86, Hornets 78

No matter who’s at the helm as head coach of the Hornets this season, New Orleans won’t win many games by shooting 36.7 percent from the field, or by getting outrebounded by a 60-40 margin. Those Hornets stats – along with a Chris Paul ankle injury that forced his exit from the game in the third quarter – resulted in a frustrating defeat during Jeff Bower’s debut.

After a relatively tight first half, Portland (7-3) dominated the backboards and the scoreboard following intermission, handing New Orleans (3-7) its first loss with the Hornets' general manager now directing the team from the sideline.

CP3 has already been ruled out of Saturday’s game at Atlanta due to an ankle sprain when he landed on the back of Joel Przybilla’s foot. His status will be evaluated further on Saturday. Darren Collison is expected to start against the Hawks.

Paul was reported to have been wearing a knee-to-foot brace on his left leg after the game that helped immobilize the ankle.

Given that Bower took over less than 36 hours before tonight’s tip-off, it was uncertain how many changes he would be able to implement in such a short timeframe. Although New Orleans didn’t make drastic alterations to its strategy, a few things were immediately implemented, including:

• Marcus Thornton entered the game off the bench in the first quarter, which I believe was the first time that’s happened since his recent move into the rotation. Thornton was the biggest bright spot for the Hornets, racking up a career-high 20 points. He scored 11 points in the first four minutes he was on the floor, displaying his much-needed attacking offensive mentality.

• Collison played together with Paul for stretches of both halves. The team’s other point guard, Bobby Brown, was on the inactive list for the first time this season after going from CP3’s backup to 11th/12th man earlier this week. Collison had a very solid second half, scoring 14 of his 18 points. Thornton and Collison combined to produce 15 baskets, more than half of New Orleans’ 29-field goal output.

• Sean Marks, after being on the inactive list the entire season, was the first sub off the bench when Emeka Okafor picked up two fouls in the first quarter. As a result of that change, Hilton Armstrong was not the backup center for the first time in 2009-10. Marks capitalized on his opportunity to play, grabbing six rebounds in his initial seven minutes in the game. Armstrong received his first playing time tonight late in the third quarter after Marks picked up his fourth foul.

• From an overall team standpoint, the best sign from the loss was holding a very good Portland team to just 37.9 percent shooting. The Hornets seemed to improve their on-ball defense significantly, not allowing the penetration that was leading to breakdowns in help D. “I was really pleased with the way we guarded and defended against them,” Bower said. “The things that we spent time on today in shootaround we actually did very well. We were good in defensive transition (and) I thought we were much better in our pick-and-roll coverages. That’s very encouraging for us as a staff to see the translation from practice to the game. We struggled scoring the ball obviously but we didn’t let our offense affect defense and I think that’s another sign of a step forward.”

Jeff Bower

On Chris Paul's ankle and the next game: “We’ll have Darren Collison, Bobby Brown and Devin Brown available who can fully handle the position and we’ll assess the situation as needed and move on. It’s an opportunity for each one of those men to grow and step forward ”

Hornets Guard Marcus Thornton
On if he will be counted on more now that Chris Paul is injured: “Who knows? I’m just taking it game by game. Whatever is being asked of me, I’m just going to get out there and do it.”
On getting into a shooting rhythm tonight: “I got into a rhythm early. Every player in the NBA, you get into a rhythm and you start feeling it and creating (shots) for my teammates and finding them getting open. It doesn’t matter now because we lost the game. We just will try to carry things over into the next game.”

Hornets Forward David West
On the game tonight: “We’re trying to change some of the schemes that we have been used to. We were just going over them today in the shootaround and trying to execute them in the game today, I thought we did a good job of that. We still have to shore some things up defensively and getting used to playing a different style of defense. We just have to learn on the fly.”