N'Awlins Gets A Burst At the Two

A Daily Babble Production

The New Orleans Hornets' starting lineup boasts two current All-Stars, one three-time former All-Star and one of the game's best young rebounders and interior defenders.  As a result, if there was expected to be any weak link in that starting five, said link would be shooting guard Morris Peterson. 

But you wouldn't have known it from watching the Hornets Thursday night.

Peterson enters his second year in New Orleans and ninth overall in the league as a long-tenured veteran with a reputation as a fan favorite and good guy from the seven seasons he spent in Toronto.  He has played solid but thoroughly unspectacular basketball throughout his time in the league, averaging double-figure scoring four times and posting a true shooting of 53.1 percent (42.1 from the field, 37.4 from deep) for his career.  The 6-7 guard plays hard team ball, and on a Hornets team with plenty of firepower, there aren't always going to be a ton of shots for him, which is no fault of his.  So he tends to be the least impressive of their starters, and there was even some (misguided) offseason buzz about the Hornets possibly starting new acquisition James Posey at the two this year (a mistake waiting to happen).

It was a very different Mo Pete on display in Phoenix on Thursday.

The 21 points Peterson scored aren't going to be a part of the program every night.  Neither is the 70 percent shooting from the field (and 67 percent from deep).  But the way in which he earned those points bodes well for Hornets fans.

Peterson looked particularly at ease in spacing the floor for Chris Paul and the rest of the New Orleans offense.  All night, he did as good a job as I've ever seen from him of simply drifting.  He seemed to glide to open spots on the perimeter all night, sliding away from the ball in a manner both to force Suns defenders to make a decision about covering him and to leave a passing lane open for the ball-handler. 

Often enough, the Suns committed to stopping the MVP candidate point guard, which left Mo Pete shooting uncontested jumpers with his sweet lefty stroke from the outside.  Those sorts of looks are only going to help his three-point accuracy, and Peterson went 4-of-6 on Thursday.  Granted, spreading the floor for Chris Paul is likely an easier task than most, but Hornets blogger atthehive informs us that Peterson wasn't always that adept in his first season in New Orleans.  ATH suggests that acclimating to the presence of sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic as well as CP3 required an adjustment period for Peterson, but he got the hang of clearing for both of them and improved markedly in last season's second half.  More of that same drifting was on display Thursday evening in Phoenix.

But in addition to the job Peterson did on the perimeter, equally important was his work in attacking the basket as well.  He drew two and-ones, including a beautiful play to begin the second half on which he drove into the lane, pulled up inside the elbow, drew contact and then banged a floater off one foot.  ATH made a cogent argument this offseason detailing the need for Peterson to get himself to the line more often, and that sort of thing starts with going to the basket aggressively.  While the majority of Peterson's shots and made baskets were three-pointers once more last night, the Hornets did get him the ball in a couple of situations to attack the hoop, and he made the most of those.  Coming off one of his most accurate seasons from the perimeter (39.4 percent from deep), Peterson can make himself a far greater threat by keeping defenses honest and forcing them to either put him on the foul line or to respect his driving enough that they give him more room to shoot. 

Morris Peterson isn't going to be scoring 21 points too regularly for the Hornets, and ATH tells us it would be nice just to have him up around eight or nine points per game, with double-figures being a pleasant surprise.  But he can provide at least the threat of another scorer for this team.  His movement away from the ball and willingness to be aggressive on Thursday looked like harbingers of better things to come for the veteran guard in the Big Easy.

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