Tuesday, December 30, 2008

David West: Self-Made Star

The other day, my friend and I were discussing NBA stardom. The conversation naturally moved to the Hornets, and he argued that David West would be nothing without Chris Paul. Having watched D-West closely since his rookie year in 2003-04 (the first year I lived in New Orleans... and second year the team was here), I felt the need to defend a man that I've witnessed develop into an NBA star. Not a superstar. Not widely regarded outside of sports circles. But a legitimate star, nonetheless.

I can vividly remember a Hornets game I attended in 2003. It was Friday, November 21. My girlfriend (at the time) was in town for her birthday. And, bless her heart, she was kind enough to spend that evening at the New Orleans Arena. The Hornets were playing the Pacers. The winner of that game would go on to have the best record in the Eastern Conference. This was one season before the brawl at The Palace... this was when Jermaine O'Neal still mattered, before Ron Artest went psycho on the world, and while Reggie Miller was heading toward retirement. The game was close throughout -- especially the 4th quarter. With fewer than 30 seconds to go, the Hornets were leading by one point (75-74) when Reggie Miller was fouled and (obviously) hit both free throws. At the other end, Tim Floyd ran a play to get Baron Davis (who was shooting out of his mind that game... 7/10 on threes) an open shot. It didn't go in, and the Hornets were forced to foul. Luckily, O'Neal missed both free throws and gave the team one last chance with a little over a second left. With a timeout, the Hornets advanced the ball to halfcourt and drew up a play to get the ball beneath the basket for a quick layup. David West got the ball right under the basket. He tossed it up and missed as time expired. I was in the lower bowl on the opposite end of the court and remember watching him try to bat in the offensive rebound, but the clock had already run out. That is one of my most lasting memories of David West's rookie season.

And it's amazing to see how far he's come since that game. He had a solid showing in the Hornets' first-round playoff series against the Heat that year. But he was injured for 52 games the next season, so I still considered him the young backup to PJ Brown in 05-06 when it was announced that our starting center -- an All Star two seasons before -- was traded away, forcing PJ to shift over to that role and bringing West into the starting lineup. At the time, I thought the move was crazy (Jamaal Magloire for Desmond Mason leaving us with a starting frontcourt of out-of-position PJ and inexperienced West). But that was the year that D-West started to come into his own. True, the beginning of West's rise to stardom corresponded with Chris Paul's first year in the league. But don't think that West is nothing without Paul. West has an array of post moves and can nail baseline jumpers in his sleep. He is a midrange magician. In that 05-06 season, West hit three last-second game-winning jumpers (vs Hou, vs Mil, vs Was). Only one of them was assisted by CP. Obviously, his game benefits greatly from playing with Chris Paul. But 1) whose wouldn't? and 2) he's much more than just a catch-and-shoot forward.

West has always been a smart on-the-ball defender, averaging only 2.5 fouls per game over his career. He's become a solid off-the-ball defender, averaging 1.2 blocks per game over this season and last. And you can't ignore his rebounding. It's taken a dip this season, but looking at 06-07 and 07-08, you can see he was corralling 2.4 offensive boards per game (8.1 and 8.9 overall, respectively, in those seasons). Getting back to that "catch and shoot" notion, he's making 47.8% of his shots this season (which is incredibly good when you consider how many of those shots have been more than 15 feet away from the basket. And his free throw percentage this season (89.6%) ranks second among all power forwards in the league.

As admitted earlier, CP has made West ... and Chandler and Peja and Mo-Pete and Posey and Rasual Butler and everyone around him better. That's to be expected when playing with a kid on the path to being one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. Chris Paul will be mentioned alongside Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson. He's not just a superstar; he's a legend in the making. And right now that superstar is playing with a star. A star who, two nights ago, hit another game winner. Against the Indiana Pacers. Not too bad for a kid who botched a crucial lay up when he first came into the league. He might've taken a while to reach this status, but David West is an NBA star. Make no mistake about it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Celebrating our 100th

Hometown Hornets is celebrating it's 100th post with a look back on all the great stuff we've done in the past 422 days.

That's right. I started this blog on a wonderful Friday evening in October of 2007, and in that first post I boldly predicted that we would finish the 07-08 season third in the Southwest division, giving us a 7 seed in the playoffs. Who knew that a short 99 posts later, we'd have our eye on the prize, accepting anything less than a 2 seed as a disappointment. That's some crazy progress. Blame it on our crazy(good) point guard.

At any rate, to commemorate HH's rise to mildly amusing and mostly irrelevant, I've put together a look back at some of our more memorable posts:

1. J.A. Freakin' Adande
Here's an angry email I wrote to J.A. Adande after he suggested that the Hornets should be moved before the OKC Kevin Durants. What a dummy.

2. And the Lord Said to Abraham, "Let them rule the Power Rankings"
This post was a long-winded reaction to the Hornets topping the Power Rankings for the first time ever (to my knowledge at least).

3. Holy Crap! All-Stars Everywhere, Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3
Part 1 recaps the Rookie/Sophomore game and the time I met the Big O, Part 2 recaps the actual All-Star game, and Part 3 just has a bunch of cool pics.

4. Trade Deadline and the Return of J. Kidd to the Wild West
Hey, remember that time that Mark Cuban traded for Jason Kidd like that was a solution to his team's woes? And remember when he made his debut? Against us? And then we made him look stupid? And CP almost got a triple double with points, assists, and steals? Yeah, that was awesome.

5. Highlights from the Atlanta Beatdown
The Atlanta game last year was full of hi jinx that would have really sucked had we lost. But we beat them into a pulp, so it was instead it was awesome. Check out this post for video highlights.

6. FANtastic FANale
Hey, remember that time I won Mike James' shoes?

7. Peace Dallas: Round 1 Recap
Hey, remember that time when people didn't take us too seriously in the playoffs?

8. The Recap: a Glorious Season comes to an End
I could re-read this one all day. Best post I ever did.

9. The Live Draft Blog
Have we ever looked like we knew less about basketball?

10. Sonic Doom
Hey, remember that sad day when the Sonics pulled out of Seattle? We were there. And we feel you Seattle fans. We feel you.

11. Hornets and Lots of Other Bugs
Curry had the brilliant idea for the Hornets to partner with the new Audubon Insectarium in town... and then he made it happen.

12. World Domination (a la Chris Paul)
Hey, remember that time CP was a gold medal?

Can't wait for the day I can say, "Hey remember that time CP won a ring?" Get ready. It's coming.

Happy 100th everyone! Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chris Paul Named Player of the Week (Dec 15 - 21)

Not surprisingly, the NBA has named Chris Paul the Western Conference Player of the Week for games played from December 15 through December 21. The Chef (I'm saying it until it catches on) has averaged 23.7 ppg, 10.0 apg, 5.3 spg, and 4.3 rpg. And he threw in two blocks during the stretch, just because he could.

During the week, he set his sights on a decades-old NBA record: consecutive games with at least one steal. A record he managed to tie (@ MEM), break (vs SAS), and break anew (vs SAC) over the three games the team played. If he keeps it up over the next five games, don't be surprised to see him capture Player of the Month (an honor he received for November). A few more months like these, and he'll deserve Player of the Year. Oh wait, the kids call that "MVP" nowadays.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dear Marc Stein...

I read Stein's article in this weekend's dime in which he handed out awards for the first trimester of the current season.

For the most part his arguments are fairly reasonable, but I had a few qualms with his Western Conference MVP selection (I bet you can't guess where this is going). Marc donned this distinguished honor to none other than Chauncy Billups. Let that sink in. Chauncy. Billups. Granted, he's been great in Denver, but... really?

So, being the good fan that I am, I wrote Marc a very nice letter of dissent. But since he's probably not going to respond to me (so far, no ESPN columnist has), I thought I would share my thoughts before they melt into the ether. Enjoy:

Dear Marc Stein,

Chauncy Billups? Really?

Ok so Billups, who is a very good point guard no doubt, transitions from a team with an identity crisis to an under-achieving team that's 1- 3. Under Billups, the 1-3 teams improves to 17-7 (which means they're 16-4 during his tenure). While that record is indeed Impressive, I think there's a bit of fallacy to your logic that the addition of Billups is the sole reason for the under-achievers' newfound success (and therefore deserving of the title "Western Conference MVP for the first trimester). I actually believe that their winning has more to do with the player who is no longer with them rather than his replacement.

Allow me to elaborate. With the exception of a few seasons, Allen Iverson has been one of the least efficient "stars" in a league that typically over values points. So Denver, under the impression that Iverson is a star/franchise player, adds him to their roster only to find out that two players who are very good at creating shots for themselves (but not their teammates) does not make for a championship bound team. It'll get you to the playoffs, but that's about it.

So after Denver traded an inefficient play-maker for an efficient one, how can we be so shocked that they are doing so much better in their current configuration? Billups is a player who is above average in efficiency and wins produced whereas Iverson is not (see Dave Berri for more). If you replace incompetence with competence on any sports team, a change for the better is likely. Sure, the 16-4 record with Billups at the helm is pretty impressive, but he certainly did not accomplish that feat on his own.

In terms of Tim Duncan... well, I'm a little dumbfounded by your logic:

Duncan merely hoisted the Spurs to a 2-5 start and prevented the rest of the West's contenders from gaining some real distance when they had the chance.

Right. So without any help from Tony and Manu, good old Timmy kept the Spurs alive by scraping 2 wins together. There's your MVP, folks. Two Win Timmy. Even Garnett managed better than that when he was surrounded by trash in Minny.

So who should be the first Trimester's MVP? Why, Chris Paul of course.

Consider this: Though the team's roster is mostly the same from last year's season, the production from the team's role players has decreased significantly. Paul has had to pick up the slack for Peja and Tyson, both of whom are under-performing given last year's statistics, not to mention the team really has no 2 guard worth starting. Also, due to Mike Jame's complete incompetence at all things basketball, Paul has been forced (though he would never use that word) to play an obscene amount of minutes just to keep the Hornets in contention. And he's done a hell of a job as the Hornet's current record is 15-7 which is good for the second lowest loss total in the West (behind Kobe and company).

But let's get a little more specific and bust out some numbers. For starters, Chris began the season by breaking the big O's record for most consecutive games with 20-10 (7). Since then, he's added 6 more 20-10 performances along with a night 15-15 while going perfect from the field and the stripe. Need more proof? Check out his season per game averages:

PTS: 19.7
REB: 5.4
AST: 11.9
STL: 2.8
TS%: 62.0
AST%: 57.4
STL%: 4.1
PER: 30.56

And here are Billups' numbers:

PTS: 17.7
REB: 2.5
AST: 6.9
STL: 1.4
TS%: 59.0
AST%: 32.7
STL%: 2.0
PER: 21.20

Do the math, Mark. It's painfully obvious that Chris has meant more to the success of his franchise than any other player in the Western Conference and is a much more deserving candidate than a competent point who's now playing for a team that hasn't had one for at least 2 solid seasons.

Thank you for your time.

My brilliant research was made possible by the geniuses at Basketball Reference in case anyone wants to pursue their own course of debunking ESPN analysts.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Man Crush: Steve Nash pt. 2

Now he's really going after my heart, what with the Spurs joke and all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stealing the Spotlight

David Gladow, with the Times-Picayune, posted a great article today about the value of Chris Paul's defense. Of course, the article focuses on CP3's steals. But, instead of simply mentioning the NBA record that CP tied last night against the Grizzlies, Gladow actually analyzes that aspect of his defense. And does a damn good job of it.

Turnovers (both for and against a team) are a really interesting stat to study. Because you can never isolate them. A player is either giving his team an extra possession or forfeiting a chance to score. In Friday night's loss to the Celtics, for instance, Sean Marks lost the ball at the end of the 3rd quarter. When he committed his turnover, the Hornets were down 62-68. Let's say Paul Pierce doesn't intercept that pass; instead, let's imagine Marks gets the ball to James Posey. And -- since this is all hypothetical -- let's say Posey nails a 3-pointer. The Hornets would then be within one possession of the Celtics (65-68) going into the 4th quarter.

Unfortunately, what really happened was a turnover that should've led to a Paul Pierce breakaway dunk, putting the Celtics up by eight. Luckily, Posey had the presence of mind to foul Pierce, preventing the fast break and leading to free throws. Pierce still managed to knock down one of two and extend the Celtics lead to seven. To be clear, the Hornets had a chance to draw within three points of the defending champs. Instead, thanks to an untimely turnover, they saw themselves down by seven*. And that's the value of a turnover. Extremely costly to the team committing it. Very valuable to the team forcing it.

So, as Gladow mentions in the article linked above, it's easy to overlook the importance of Paul's league-leading 2.81 steals per game. However, that facet of his game is not something we should take for granted.

* For those of you keeping track, Chris Paul sank two free throws to cut the lead to five... but that happened about 15 seconds later, and it's unrelated to the immediate repercussions of the sequence I'm discussing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Value of an NBA Franchise

... or why winning championships helps.

So, I'm a little late to the party on this one (ticktock6 published her reaction a while back). But let's do this all the same.

ESPN recently published a article about Forbes Magazine annual fiscal rankings of NBA's 30 franchises, and Henry Abbott of TrueHoop followed up with his take on the matter.

At $613 mil, the Knicks are the most valuable franchise roaming the hardwood. Meanwhile, our beloved Hornets are pulling up the rear: 28 out of 30 at $285 mil. I mean, sure Memphis is ranked 27, but we're still ahead of Charlotte and Milwaukee.

Apparently, Portland saw the biggest gain from last year and the Nets saw the biggest loss. Remarkably, San Antonio is in the top 10. Hmmmm, looks like a few championships will do wonders for the value of your team... who knew.

So, it looks like the Hornets have some ground to make up financially if they want to cement their status as a New Orleans franchise. The death of the Sonics has bought some time for the next unfortunate fan base, but it won't be long before Stern and company start evaluating teams for the next major move.

Side note: I shouldn't really demonize Stern here. It's his job to run the NBA and see that it remains profitable. It's easy to lash out at him when franchises move, but at the end of the day, it's probably better for the longevity of the sport to have someone in charge who won't be afraid to pull the trigger on deals like that. Granted, that doesn't make anyone in the Seattle area feel any better (and it really shouldn't since there were many other oft-discussed factors that made the move somewhat shady), but they should take solace in the fact that franchises move all the time. One day, the Sonics may return. Until then, you guys should really be rooting against the Clippers, Bobcats, and Grizzlies.

But back to the Hornets. Despite our lack of "value", the team has earned their stripes as a legit playoff threat and has done a lot with a little. Give credit to Jeff Bower for building a stellar team (and give credit to Chris and D.West for being stellar). And give credit to George Shinn for (somewhat reluctantly) believing in this city's ability to bounce back. Finally, give credit to the franchise as a whole selling enough season tickets this year to avoid the "opt out" clause in their lease.

Sure, we may not worth much compared to other, more storied franchises, but at least our fans can relax for the next few seasons and enjoy basketball, knowing that "losing" doesn't equal "leaving." Not that CP3 plans on losing... because he eats losers for breakfast. Now, we've just got to pray for another stellar season and hope the bottom of the economy doesn't fall out... oh, wait...


While on the subject of money, here's an even older post from Henry Abbott about a alternate approach for discussing NBA salaries.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Making a Point

The Hornets have traded Mike James to the Wizards in exchange for Antonio Daniels. And I am extremely excited about the move.

It's been painfully obvious this entire season that the Bees need a legitimate back up point guard -- someone who will run the offense and orchestrate shots for the other players on the floor. Mike "Shoes" James just hasn't been that player. By his own admission, he is a shoot-first point guard, and that isn't what our team wants or needs for the second unit.

The deal hasn't been finalized (Washington is still in talks with Memphis to swap a draft pick for Javaris Crittenton), but it looks like the Hornets are on their way to improving the bench significantly. In eight games, we've seen James post averages of 2.5 ppg and 1.0 apg. In 13 games this season, Daniels has averaged 5.1 ppg and 3.6 apg. It's those second numbers that really make me giddy. After watching our bench give up runs of 10-0 and 9-0 against the Suns and Grizzlies, respectively... I've been hoping we could find someone to distribute the ball and run the offense when Chef Paul is on the bench. Let's hope Daniels is that someone.

UPDATE: ESPN.com just posted a story about the trade. Congratulations, Chris Paul... you can now rest more than 5 minutes a game.
UPDATE TWO: The Hornets have added an official press release to their website.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Chris Paul: Player of the Month

The NBA announced its Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Month today. And who should be at the top of the Wild, Wild West? None other than New Orleans' own Chris Paul who averaged 20.3 ppg, 11.6 apg, 5.7 rpg, and 2.8 spg. The Chef has pretty much willed his team to victory in nine of 15 contests. And, more often than not, he's been the bright spot in each of those six losses. He shares the honor with Eastern Conference counterpart LeBron James. Certainly not bad company to keep.

Congratulations, CP3. Now, players 2-10 in Byron Scott's rotation, take note. Please don't waste such an amazing season from one of the greatest point guards to play the game. He can't do it alone. Not over 82 games, anyway.