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Revamped Roster Makes 2009 Preseason Intriguing for Hornets
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

September 28, 2009

During a one-sided, first-round ouster against the Denver Nuggets in the 2009 Western Conference playoffs, it became readily apparent that the New Orleans Hornets needed to upgrade their roster. While rolling to their first postseason series victory in over a decade, the talented and deep Nuggets exposed several of the Hornets weaknesses. Perhaps the most glaring shortcoming for New Orleans (49-33 in 2008-09) was its bench production. Excluding sixth man James Posey, none of the Hornets substitutes averaged more than 3.8 points in the Denver series.

In the five months that have passed since New Orleans 2008-09 season came to an end in the Mile High City, Hornets general manager Jeff Bower completed a handful of moves, with an emphasis on improving the clubs offensive firepower and depth. Two starters from last season were dealt in separate trades, including center Tyson Chandler being replaced by Emeka Okafor in the pivot. In addition to Okafors arrival, five players who are most likely to be among New Orleans reserves in 2009-10 were acquired. Accomplished four-year college backcourt players Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton became Hornets during the 2009 NBA Draft. Ike Diogu signed as a free agent in late July, while Darius Songaila and Bobby Brown were obtained in a September trade.

Add it all up, and six of the 15 players under contract entering 09 training camp are brand-new Hornets. While New Orleans fans try to familiarize themselves with some of the new faces prior to the regular season opener on Oct. 28 at San Antonio, the influx of talent should make the next 30 days more intriguing for the Hornets than for most NBA teams. During the weeklong training camp in Lafayette, followed by an eight-game preseason schedule, several roles will be determined. In the case of a few players, October could make the difference between being a contributing member of Byron Scotts rotation or on the outside looking in when the games begin counting in the standings.

With training camp on the horizon, lets take a brief look at the roster, split into the major positional groupings:




POINT GUARDS
Scott spent part of the 08 offseason detailing his plan to curtail Pauls minutes. For a variety of reasons, it never happened. The Hornets drop-off in effectiveness was so severe when CP3 was taken out of games last season that it got to the point where they almost couldnt afford to rest him at all. Consider this statistic: Paul ranked eighth in the NBA at 38.5 minutes per game during the regular season, but he actually averaged more than that in the Denver series. The two-time All-Star was on the floor for 40.2 minutes per game against the Nuggets despite the fact that all four of the Hornets defeats were routs by the middle portion of the fourth quarter. In other words, Paul was on the court for virtually every second that mattered in the series.

In a 09 draft class flush with promising point guards, Collison was selected by New Orleans with the No. 21 pick. During camp and preseason, his ability to show whether or not he can immediately handle about 15 minutes a game as CP3s backup will be interesting to watch.

Brown projects as the third point guard. The Hornets front office has had Brown on its radar dating back to his stellar NCAA career at Cal State-Fullerton. Brown worked out for the Hornets in June 2007, and was so impressive during 2008 summer league with New Orleans that he ended up drawing significant interest from several other NBA clubs. He eventually signed a two-year contract with Sacramento. While splitting his rookie NBA season between the Kings and Timberwolves, Brown had a decent campaign. His shooting stats were below average (39.2 field goal percentage, 34.6 three-point percentage), but over the final two months he upped those stats to 41.6 and 38.9.




WINGS
For a second straight season, there are a multitude of potential scenarios that could take place at the shooting guard and small forward positions. Will Julian Wright be moved into the starting lineup? Will Peja Stojakovic subsequently be moved to the bench, where he might be better utilized as an instant-offense, perimeter sniper? In several interviews this summer, Scott has mentioned that both are possibilities. Other questions: Will Morris Peterson regain the starting shooting guard spot that he held during the teams division-winning 2007-08 season? Will second-round pick Thornton be able to crack the rotation as a rookie?

Among the few certainties at the 2 and 3 spots, its likely that Posey wont see much of a change in his role in 2009-10. He averaged 28.5 minutes last season; its possible that number could drop slightly, but probably not much.

The group is rounded out by Devin Brown, who looks to bounce back after struggling mightily to find his perimeter touch last season (35.5 field goal percentage, 28.9 three-point percentage). Brown played significantly better during his first stint with the Hornets, during the 2006-07 campaign when the club was devastated by injuries.

Rasual Butlers unexpected emergence last season partly led to a decrease in minutes for Peterson and Wright. From a simple mathematical standpoint, there are only 96 minutes available at the wing spots per game (48 minutes a game multiplied by two positions). Which means that its virtually impossible for more than three or four wing players to receive substantial minutes.

Last season, Stojakovic (34.2), Butler (31.9) and Posey (28.5) combined to average 94.6 minutes in the games they played at the wing spots. Obviously with Butler gone to the Clippers in a trade, his chunk of playing time is there for the taking. During preseason, well start to find out who may earn most of those minutes.




BIGS
Okafor figures to spend a portion of training camp and preseason games getting acquainted with CP3 on the offensive end. The former Bobcat is not a high-flying, athletic player like Chandler, but hes much more versatile offensively based on his ability to make mid-range jumpers and score on low-post moves. The latter area has been a rarity in the Hornets offensive attack over the past several seasons, so if the Hornets can establish Okafor as a consistent option in the paint during preseason, it will be a major plus.

For as much discussion as there has been that CP3 needs to be given more rest, David West actually averaged more minutes (39.2) than his fellow All-Star during the 2008-09 regular season. That should be rectified by the additions of Songaila and Diogu, whove both primarily played power forward in the NBA.

Although the Diogu acquisition probably received more media attention than Songailas addition, Songaila is a much more proven NBA player, partly because hes had many more opportunities to contribute. In his six NBA seasons, Songaila has been in the rotation for four different playoff teams.

Behind Okafor, Sean Marks and Hilton Armstrong will likely vie for minutes. The last time we saw them, Marks had moved ahead of Armstrong in the playoff rotation. The New Zealand native made several key contributions during New Orleans narrow Game 3 victory over Denver.







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