As the New Orleans begin the 2010 season this week with training camp, I decided to make my predictions for the Hornets this season. First things first though. The big news besides starting training camp this week for New Orleans was the signing of former Hornets player and fan favorite PG Jannero Pargo. Pargo as I hope you remember was a key bench player during the 2007-08 Hornets season where the team won a franchise high 56 games. Pargo was Chris Paul’s backup and was a spark off the bench for the Hornets. I must say I am excited to see Pargo back in the white and teal. Along with the signing of big man Pops Mensah-Bonsu, the Hornets training camp roster stands at 17 players currently. The league limit is 15 players on the roster, so the Hornets will need to cut a couple players before the season begins. Now onto the preview.
First lets take a look at the potential starting lineup: Chris Paul, Marcus Thornton, Trevor Ariza, David West, and Emeka Okafor. That is a pretty damn good starting 5. When you look around the NBA you will be hard to find more than 5 starting fives that are as good as the Hornets. Paul is the best PG in the NBA, or at least arguably the best for you Deron Williams and Steve Nash fans. Marcus Thornton is a young efficient shooting guard who should improve his overall game in his second year in the league. Trevor Ariza gives the Hornets a very solid 4th scorer and a top of the line one on one defender. David West and Emeka Okafor may not be the tallest frontcourt in the league, but they are a formidable frontline that can combine score around 30 ppg and 18 rpg. That’s pretty good. And with Thornton at the 2 spot, this is the first year where CP3 has a legitimate shooting guard in the starting lineup (apologies to Morris Peterson, Devin Brown, and Rasual Butler). If the Hornets can stay healthy they have a shot at a top 6 seed in the West.
But there in lies the problem. If one of those players goes down with a significant injury, the Hornets as a whole take a major step backwards. While the Hornets starting 5 may be a top 5 or 10 lineup, the Hornets bench is the opposite, a bottom 5 or 10 bench. The projected bench has Pargo, Willie Green, Peja, rookie Quincy Pondexter, Jason Smith, Aaron Gray, and Marco Belinelli. Of course this could change, but if that is the bench the Hornets may be trouble. Pargo is a nice pickup, but he has been plagued with injuries in the seasons since he was a Hornet. Green is a below average player who gets too much credit. Peja can still shoot the 3, but not much else. And who knows how long he may be a Hornet as he has a hefty expiring contract. Pondexterhas promise, but you can not expect him to contribute too much to the team this season. Smith has potential, but is not a solid backup big man in this league, or at least he has not proven it yet. Belinelli is a solid role player and will have the opportunity to make a difference on this team, but will he? No one knows.
With that bench it seems below average to say the least, but for me the key player off the bench this season will be Aaron Gray. Gray is very big body at 7 feet tall and 270 lbs., or so it says on the Hornets web site. Base on last season Gray was heavier than that and out of shape. He did show more promise than I expected after being traded from the Bulls mid season, but he will have to be slimmer in order to contribute to the team this season. Reports are that he looks thinner and in shape, so let’s hope that equates to a better performance on the court. If Gray does play well, Peja hits his 3′s consistently, Pargo provides a spark, and Belinelli simply gives quality minutes maybe just maybe this bench could be a top 20 bench. I know that is not saying much, but a top 20 bench is a lot better than a bottom 5. And with that starting 5, this team could surprise the rest of the West.
Now all of this hinges on new head coach Monty Williams. This is Williams’ first head coaching gig so no one knows too much on whether his system works in the NBA, at least not on a long term basis. If the players get grasp his coaching style and system then I see the Hornets as a playoff team as long as they stay relatively healthy. At best this Hornets team is a 55 win team, yes that is optimistic. At worst New Orleans is a 37 win team. So let’s split the difference and say the Hornets end up with a 48-36 record. Given the Western Conference last year’s 8 seed had 50 wins that is not a given that the Hornets would make the playoffs, but I see the West slightly worse this year overall. I predict the Hornets to finish as the #7 seed in the West. While that may not be a championship contender status, it is improvement and that is all we can ask for as Hornets fans.
Thoughts? What are your predictions for the Hornets this year? Or any team in the NBA for that matter.
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Written by Andrew Tressler