NEW ORLEANS HORNETS PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
In 2011, the Hornets had an interesting offseason, to say the least. The league-owned franchise saw Commissioner David Stern veto two blockbuster trades involving the Hornets, engulfing the franchise in a week-long, collusion-filled, media hailstorm before he finally allowed a trade to happen. Under first-year coach Monty Williams, the team improved by nine games in the win column last season, finishing with the West’s seventh seed and a 46-36 record. However, after a first round playoff exit, the Hornets went through drastic player changes. All-Star Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a first-round pick. David West departed for Indianapolis, and Aaron Gray left for Toronto. The Hornets were able to re-sign Marco Belinelli, Jason Smith and Carl Landry in the offseason, which brings some familiarity back to the team. In addition, the signing of Brian Butch should give the Hornets good front-court depth for the season. With their offseason marred by David Stern’s ironclad grip on the Hornets, coach Monty Williams will have his work cut out for him in bringing this young squad together to compete for a playoff spot.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
With five big men under contract, the Hornets should have a deep frontcourt for 2011-12. Emeka Okafor will be the starter at center and is expected to see around 30 minutes a game. Chris Kaman will be Okafor’s backup, and the two big men will share the frontcourt at times. Seven-footer Jason Smith, fresh off inking a new contract, should backup the two centers. The power forward role should be split between Carl Landry and Okafor. Landry should be the primary power forward, with Okafor backing him up when Kaman is at center and Landry is on the bench. However, with all the size and capable players at his disposal, do not be surprised if Monty Williams becomes creative with his frontcourt and supplies many different combinations of these players together. Trevor Ariza will return as the starting small forward this season. He should look to receive a solid 30-35 minutes per game, but if he continues to display the inconsistencies that marred his 2010-2011 campaign, Coach Williams will have young players chomping at the bit for his minutes. Second-year forwards Quincy Pondexter and Al-Farouq Aminu will be battling for the backup small forward role. Pondexter should have the edge on Aminu due to familiarity with the system and a vigorous off-season shooting program. Look for the winner to receive around 12 minutes per game and the loser to be used as more of a utility player. Eric Gordon will be the starting shooting guard and possibly the focal point of the Hornet’s offense. Marco Belinelli will be coming off the bench to spell Gordon for about 12-15 minutes a game. Former backup Jarrett Jack will take over the role of starting point guard. With no real backup on the roster, the Hornets will look to either a free agent or possibly Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson to fill the backup role and contribute a solid 10-15 minutes a game.
Emeka Okafor: Okafor had a productive 2010-2011 campaign, averaging nearly a double-double with 10.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. However, for all his aggressiveness and productivity, Okafor has been known in New Orleans for his subpar defense and lack of size. With the acquisition of seven-footers Chris Kaman and Jason Smith, Okafor will have to play well to keep his starting spot all year. There’s also the possibility he could see a lot of time at power forward. At 6-10 and playing alongside someone of Kaman’s stature, Okafor could thrive at the power forward position or at whatever frontcourt combination set Coach Williams puts him in.
Chris Kaman: Kaman followed a career year in 2009-2010 with an injury-plagued campaign in 2010-2011. He only was able to play in 32 games, but managed to average 12.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Assuming Kaman remains with New Orleans for the season, he should get plenty of minutes off the bench and could push for the starting spot. With the re-signing of Jason Smith and the vast amount of depth in the frontcourt, Kaman should be put into more of a timeshare situation, which could serve him best. If Kaman is able to preserve his body and not suffer through injuries, he could be back up to production levels seen in his career-best 2008-2009 season.
Jason Smith: Smith re-signed with the Hornets in the offseason as a direct result of his loyalty to the coaching staff. He should see that loyalty pay off with an increase in production. Smith averaged 4.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last year and made a nice name for himself as a pick-and-pop shooter. With a versatile frontcourt and a point guard familiar with his style of play, look for Smith to improve on his numbers and become a solid role player for the Hornets.
Carl Landry: Landry, who was acquired via trade midseason, was immensely productive for the Hornets in 2010-2011. Landry averaged 11.8 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game after David West was put on injured reserve last season. He’ll look to build off his past production with the team and play an important role in the Hornets’ frontcourt rotation. Landry should be starting at power forward to start off the year, but could be moved to the bench if Kaman and Okafor prove productive together. Regardless, Landry proved to be valuable and loyal to the team and should benefit from whatever creative frontcourt sets Coach Williams installs.
Trevor Ariza: Ariza returns as the starting small forward in New Orleans after averaging 11.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 2010-2011. Although Ariza put up solid numbers, last season’s campaign left the Hornets with a distinctly bitter aftertaste. Ariza shot the second-worst field goal percentage of his career and found it a daunting task to string together stretches of good games. With the possible emergence of two second-year small forwards (Pondexter and Aminu) on the wing, Ariza needs to find some consistency in his play to maintain his status as a starter and keep his minutes.
Quincy Pondexter: Pondexter looks to be in a position battle with fellow second-year forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Pondexter is coming off a rookie year where he shot over 40 percent from the field while averaging 2.8 points and 1.3 rebounds in 11 minutes. He spent the offseason in an intense shooting program, and if the preseason is any indication, is looking to make more of an offensive impact. Though Pondexter isn’t as tall as Aminu, his familiarity with the other returning Hornets and coach Williams, along with a 30-pound size advantage, should give Pondexter the edge for the primary backup role.
Al-Farouq Aminu: The newly-acquired Aminu enters New Orleans in a position battle with Quincy Pondexter for the backup small forward role. Aminu is coming off a productive rookie year where he averaged 5.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and over 17 minutes a game – all higher numbers in respect to Pondexter’s. Aminu also comes in more highly touted, being a top-10 pick a year ago. What Aminu has working against him is that he plays the same role as a fellow “young gun” and will be coming in without much of an offseason program with the Hornets. The likely situation will have Aminu being cycled into more athletic and smaller lineups.
Eric Gordon: The prized acquisition in the offseason for the Hornets, Gordon comes in looking to be the focal point of the offense. Gordon is coming off a season averaging 22.3 points, 4.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. He’ll be an offensive spark in New Orleans. Gordon comes in with a cloud of promise around him, as he is the most highly-touted shooting guard to arrive in New Orleans since the Hornets relocated. If Gordon becomes content and decides to sign with New Orleans long-term, look for him to become the new face of the franchise moving forward.
Marco Belinelli: Belinelli enters 2011-2012 as one of the Hornets’ best shooters, coming off a career-best in shooting percentage (43.7 percent), three point shooting (41.4 percent), points (10.4) and rebounds (1.9). Belinelli started much of the season, and although he was not the scorer most would want as their starting shooting guard, he quietly put up a solid campaign. With the acquisition of a high profile shooting guard, Belinelli should face significantly less pressure and less talented defenders coming off the bench.
Jarrett Jack: As the new starting point guard for the Hornets, Jack should contribute and improve solidly in points and assists from last season, in which he averaged 8.9 points and 2.9 assists per game. If Jack can find a consistent shooting stroke and improve on his 40.9 percent shooting, he should be a suitable starting guard. Jack has long been considered more of a backup than a true starting point guard, so if the Hornets do not make a move on another point guard, the pressure on Jack to succeed will increase exponentially.
Carldlell Johnson: Affectionately known as Squeaky, Johnson comes into the league as a 28-year-old rookie from the NBDL. In a short stint in the NBDL this season, Johnson emerged as a viable offensive weapon, averaging 14.8 points, 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game for the Austin Toros. It is still unknown whether or not Johnson will receive a contract to be the Hornets’ regular backup, but if preseason is any indication, the Hornets could be ready to start the season with Johnson.
Jarrett Jack: This could be the storybook ending you hear about in movies: Lifelong journeyman, backup and never really impressive player gets the chance to take the reins for a potential playoff team. Jack has the potential to put his size and speed to use to mesh with an athletic lineup. He has the ability to be a capable starter for fantasy teams if he plays up to what coach Williams is going to expect.
Emeka Okafor: With the addition of Chris Kaman, Carl Landry and Jason Smith, it may be Okafor who sees a slip in production. While the depth is a godsend for the team, the fantasy consequence of the newly crowded Hornets frontcourt is that Okafor’s workload will likely be reduced. Factor in the loss of Paul, who was adept at getting Okafor -- not the most natural scorer -- the ball in the right spots, and Okafor will face an up-hill battle repeating his production from 2010-2011.