The Hornets 2009 draft class is looking better and better with every game. Tonights win over Atlanta was the most concrete proof to date that New Orleans may have made some very wise decisions on draft night in June.
Hornets rookies Darren Collison (22 points) and Marcus Thornton (21 points) both tallied career-highs in scoring, sparking the Hornets (6-8) to a second straight win over a conference-leading opponent. It was New Orleans third consecutive victory, all without the injured Chris Paul (ankle).
Just a week ago, the combination of a coaching change, Pauls injury and a daunting upcoming schedule had some basketball analysts wondering aloud if the Hornets realistic playoff hopes might be over by Christmas. Instead, New Orleans has been playing inspired basketball over the past week, providing evidence that it can not only compete with, but also beat, quality teams without its two-time All-Star point guard.
"Theyve got a lot of confidence, assessed the Hornets other two-time All-Star, David West, of the first-year pros. Theyre good basketball players. The thing that Jeff (Bower) is doing is playing to their strengths and putting them in position to be successful.
Theyre willing to listen and they want to be successful, and thats what you want from guys, especially when theyre thrust into a role where theyre called on to produce.
Several of the Hornets veterans have said that they didnt pay attention to the rampant skepticism about the teams ability to survive without Paul. The three-game homestand demonstrated that New Orleans may have a bit more talent than it showed during the first two weeks of the season.
Weve got guys on this team who can play, West said. With Darren especially, hes a legitimate point guard and is used to leading basketball teams. He came in here from Day 1, and personally Ive had the utmost confidence in him. Hes been in Final Fours. He was ready to play.
Me and Darren, from Day 1, came in (to the season) and knew we could play this game, Thornton said. We just stuck together through the trials and tribulations, and prevailed today.
I think it was just that some guys just need the opportunity to play, Collison said. We worked so hard on our game. When the opportunity presents itself, you just have to be ready.
Collison said that the rookies readiness to produce was something the Hornets expected from he and Thornton, partly because each player spent four years in college, as opposed to many one-year-and-done draftees who enter the NBA.
Thats why they drafted us, Collison said. There really is no excuse not to come in and perform. It shouldnt be (that difficult). As a senior (in college), youve seen it all, at the second-highest level (of basketball). Now its just about watching it (and improving). We watched for the first four or five games; now were going to go ahead and take over (during games).
HORNETS POSTGAME QUOTES
Hornets Head Coach Jeff Bower:
On Atlantas athleticism and the teams resiliency: Atlanta is an extremely talented team. They came in here with the best record in the league. Their ability to score in bunches was a huge concern and their ability to convert misses into second chance points was a huge concern. Getting the game closed up was always something we were fearful of.
On not letting Atlanta get to the offensive glass in key moments: We really battled to close out the game. We really played the fourth quarter with an outstanding mindset of attacking four minute spurts. We wanted to get off to a good start to start the quarter and we wanted to maintain our momentum in the middle. The guys were talking about it in the huddle about having to end the play; we have to end the possession from a defensive rebounding standpoint. I couldnt be more pleased with their effort and their conversion of effort into results. Its hard to hold Atlanta off the boards. They finished with 20 offensive rebounds tonight and I think they earned the majority of them and thats part of who they are.
On improving in many aspects of the game: They are key performance indicators and they give you a measure of how you are doing and if it is important enough to your team or your situation then you have to be able to measure it and see how you are doing on a nightly basis and a daily basis and over the course of time. Weve climbed in all of our late rankings. Weve climbed in the percentage numbers and everything. That doesnt mean anything if the results arent there, but generally that process will get you the results you are looking for.
Hornets Guard Darren Collison:
On his play tonight: This is a game Ive been playing for a long time. Just because you get to the NBA doesnt mean you should freeze up. Im just taking what the defense gives me every possession. Im able to use my quickness and get off my jump shot. Today my shots were falling. The most important thing out of all of this is that we got the win.
Hornets Guard Marcus Thornton:
On the game: We knew they (Atlanta) were a hot team coming in. They had all the excitement after last nights win over Houston. We knew we had to go out aggressive and get the win. It was a big win. Atlantas a hot team right now. Everybody stuck together and we pulled it off.
On the team: Our confidence is rising every game. The players believe in each other, and when we have that chemistry with each other, everything is good.
Hornets Forward Peja Stojakovic:
On the play of the rookies, Thornton and Collison: They just play like theyve been in the league for so many years. Theyve really stepped up and show a lot of responsibility.