Jonah also sent over a handful of Hornets-related questions for me to answer. The responses appear below:
1) How are the players reacting to the change on the sidelines with Jeff Bower taking over as head coach?
The coaching change seemed to immediately lead to improved play by the Hornets, who were 3-6 when Bower took over. When Chris Paul was injured in Bowers first game and the Hornets dropped to 3-7, many people were somewhat understandably projecting doomsday scenarios for this team. Instead, despite playing without the two-time All-Star, the Hornets defeated two of the leagues best teams, Phoenix and Atlanta, in Bowers fourth and fifth game on the sideline. The Hornets have been noticeably more competitive across the board over this three-week span, including avoiding the one-sided defeats that were common early in the regular season.
2) Chris Paul recently said he will not return until he feels 100 percent. Is there a target date for his return? How does this team adjust without Paul in the lineup?
There is no set target date for Pauls return, but lately hes sounded more and more optimistic that he may be able to return soon. In fact, after Thursdays practice, he said he had not completely ruled out the possibility of playing Friday against the Timberwolves.
The biggest key to the adjustment without CP3 has been the stellar play of Darren Collison. While most rookies might be overwhelmed by being thrust into a starting role, Collison has played like a multi-year veteran at times. He was one of college basketballs most accomplished players in four years at UCLA, part of three Final Four teams, so he may be a bit more battle-tested than virtually any player picked in the 2009 NBA Draft. Another impressive aspect of Collisons first month as a pro is that hes had a knack for coming up with big baskets and defensive plays in crunch time. During a memorable Nov. 25 win over Milwaukee, Collison sent the game into overtime with a three-pointer, just his third trey of the season. In OT, he came up with a steal of Brandon Jennings in the backcourt and later drew a foul on a drive through the lane with the game tied and only a few seconds remaining.
3) Is the team surprised by the production from rookies Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison?
I dont think the front office is surprised, because they had confidence both players would be able to make contributions immediately. Part of the belief they expressed in Thornton and Collison came from the fact that unlike many draftees both of them played four years in college. Although there is on-the-job training involved for all rookies regardless of their background, the learning curve for the pair of 22-year-olds may be a bit less steep. I will say this, though: the Hornets have to be thrilled about getting contributions like this from a late first-round pick (Collison was chosen No. 21) and a second-rounder (Thornton was No. 43).
4) Discuss the impact of Emeka Okafor on the roster this year.
Okafor has performed as advertised after arriving from the Bobcats in a trade, regularly contributing double-doubles. One of the reasons the Hornets made the deal was to get increased scoring from the center position, which Okafor has provided by averaging 10.5 points. Hes also responsible for nearly half of the teams total blocked shots (33 of 69) and is pulling down 10.0 boards a game. After Okafor missed all of the preseason due to a toe injury, the Hornets are optimistic that the former UConn star will be even more productive as he adjusts to his new team and teammates.
5) Do you see the Hornets as a half-court oriented squad or do they want to push the pace for fastbreak opportunities?
One of the primary objectives the Hornets had entering this season was to play at a faster pace. Although most people who dont watch this team regularly think that New Orleans is an up-tempo, fast-breaking team largely due to the presence of Chris Paul that hasnt been the case. The Hornets have ranked in the bottom five in pace in recent seasons. So far in 2009-10, New Orleans has accomplished the goal of playing faster, currently ranking 15th in the NBA in possessions per game. So to answer your question, they want to push the pace more than in the past, but they still have to be considered a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of tempo.