Monday, July 14, 2008

Leaps and Bounds

With nothing to report in the realm of free agent signings, we'll take a look at our two biggest potential internal improvements: Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright. Both "veteran" Hornets are participating on the summer league team in Las Vegas. Two games into the offseason scrimmages, Hilt is averaging 13.5 ppg and 7 rpg. As usual, JuJu is filling up the stat sheet with some impressive numbers: 11.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3 apg, 3 spg, and 1 bpg. Granted, that's a sample size of only two games. And it's not exactly against the world's greatest competition. But it's nice to see the team's two most recent draft picks (Hilton was 12th overall in 2006 and Julian was 13th overall in 2007) have a solid showing.

It's really no surprise for either player. Armstrong did very well last offseason; unfortunately, that never translated into any significant improvements during the regular season or playoffs. His averages in scoring and rebounding actually dropped from his rookie season to his sophomore year. One writer over at Hoops World thinks that Hilton is a bright spot in the team's future. He certainly could be. But he hasn't proven anything yet. If he can get his on-court game to match what he's shown during the summer, this team will have one thing fewer to worry about.

With JuJu, we've seen more immediate progress. And plenty of long term promise. In his first season as a pro, Julian "Flight 32" Wright averaged 3.9 ppg and 2.1 rpg, all while shooting a very respectable percentage from behind the arc (41.7%) and from the floor in general (53.3%). The per game stats are a little deceptive, because his turning point didn't come until after the All-Star break. His breakout stretch came during two back-to-back home games: March 5 against the Hawks and March 8 versus the Nets. In those two games, JuJu had a combined 33 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. His field goal percentage during those two outings was an out-of-this-world 70% including 2/3 on three pointers.

Coach Scott himself has said he'll be keeping an eye on Julian this summer. A midrange jumpshot should be JuJu's main concern during the offseason. He has no problem driving the lane or getting to the rim. But if he could become a shooting threat, Julian would have a good chance to be the league's Sixth Man of the Year. And I wouldn't be surprised to see him crack the starting lineup soon enough. Although he saw limited time on the court (a little over 11 minutes per game), he should be a major part of the rotation next season. Weighing in his favor is the fact that he's an extremely versatile player. At 6'8" he could arguably play either forward spot. And his explosiveness and athleticism make him a good fit for both wing positions. With an improved shot, he could increase his role as a backup shooting guard. And he has a good enough handle to give the team an oversized playmaker on the floor at all times.

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