As the Celtics are finishing up their road trip, we are finishing up our Q&A series with bloggers from the Celts' opposing teams. Ryan from Hornets247.com and I traded some thoughts about the respective teams.
Green17: Give us a feel for the Hornets season to date? What have been the top three themes/moments? How do you see the season finishing up?
The second theme is the amazing revival of basketball in New Orleans. This team was barely able to draw five-figure crowds early in the season, and only big name visitors like Kobe Bryant could come close to packing the house. This team, however, has a way of worming its way into the hearts of the people watching it. The players are eminently likeable. They obviously like each other, and they are led by the most humble of stars in Chris Paul.(Seriously) Since the new Year, there's been a slow change in the Crescent City. Owner George Shinn threw down the gauntlet by signing the lease with an attendance clause in it that could let them leave. Stories of doom abounded, but the Hornest kept winning against all expectations. The All-star game was an unmitigated success. The local papers, which had exactly zero front page news stories about the Hornets the first two months of the season, now have regular features on the team. Popular non-sports related columnists are writing lifestyle pieces glowing about the games and the team. The result? 7 sell outs in the last 12 games, a steadily climbing average attendance, and George Shinn beginning preliminary negotiations to sign a new lease with no out clauses in it at all. Simply amazing.
Byron has a lot of detractors. People have hammered his rotations, the way he deals with the young players, and there was some antipathy towards him in New Orleans because he said he liked playing in Oklahoma City. He's winning now, so suddenly those people are lot quieter - which is normal. Coaches are easy to blame. His good contributions are four-fold:
- The make up of the team, and the chemistry it plays with, is largely due to him. He doesn't tolerate knuckleheads or those who don't do what he asks of them. At all. JR Smith was a knucklehead. He's gone. Kirk Snyder didn't work on his game and played poor defense. He's gone. Linton Johnson shot too many three-pointers. He's gone. Brandon Bass wouldn't focus on rebounding and blocking shots. He's gone. The team is made up of players he likes. Sometimes that causes him to miss like with Bass(not a huge mistake), but the result is a cohesive, hard-working team that plays intelligent basketball.
- He knows how to build an intelligent and effective staff. Now that staff in New Jersey happily tried to take all the credit and supported Kidd's palace coup, (see Frank, Lawrence and Jordan, Eddie) but there is no denying that his assistants were very good. He's done it again in New Orleans - though this time he's been more careful to pick people less likely to screw him over. Darrell Walker and Kenny Gattison, in particular, are very very solid.
- He doesn't mince words. Some people have problems with that. Some players really have problems with that. He doesn't care. Some people, like his current players, appreciate that.
- His rotations are fair - though they can be unpopular. A lot of fans have gotten upset when Julian Wright and Armstrong didn't get a lot of play for long stretches. This year, Hilton Armstrong has shown he's got a lot of tools. He's also shown he loves turnovers and isn't physically strong enough yet to guard a lot of big men in the league. Byron's rotations last about 3-4 weeks. He'll play a player that long and see if they can do anything and try to straighten out their games. If they play poorly, he tries the next guy. Then the next guy. Then back to the original guy. The result? Hilton hasn't proven he could handle long minutes and now doesn't play. Julian Wright, however, has shown he can handle those minutes after his third stint getting real minutes. He's now the Hornets sixth man. I can't really argue with his methods. What else is the regular season for but figuring out what players can do what?
Ryan's questions for Celticsblog
G17: That's a great point. For any given game, the formula is basically: Garnett + Pierce + Player X. A number of guys have filled in that Player X role this year. Most nights it has been Ray. However I think just about every one on the roster has stepped up and been Player X at least once this season (with the exception of Scal and Pollard). The bottom line is that the Celtics are deep. Rondo has had some monster games, but in the past few games Perkins, Leon Powe and Sammy have all been that third guy for the Celtics.
Specifically to your question though, Rondo has had a tremendous year. While he's no Chris Paul (who is well on his way to being an all-time great point), Rajon has taken gigantic strides this year and has earned a spot in any discussion of great young point guards in the NBA. The major critiques we heard at the start of the year were about his jump shot and his ability to lead. While he's certainly not at a Nash level shooter, he's improved the jumper tremendously, to the point that teams have respected it more as the season has progressed and are no longer consistently leaving him wide open. Rondo isn't quite the floor general that Sam is, but he has been effective distributing the ball, picking his spots to drive (he can get by anyone in the league off the dribble) and most importantly has made a number of crucial plays down the stretch in games that were paramount to getting the win - the latest example coming in San Antonio where he ripped an offensive board from a flat-footed Tony Parker.
Ryan: Is the success of Leon Powe and Glen Davis a product of their great teammates or are they actually solid players.
Both guys have played big roles in big games, for example, Leon was huge in the win in San Antonio and Baby was big in both wins versus the Pistons. So, the answer to your question is Both. They are solid players, hustle guys that are crucial to any contending team. They're never going to be All-Stars, but they aren't glorified CBA guys either. All that said, both guys certainly benefit from the attention that defenses put on the Celtics big-name players. On a lousy team they're not worth much. On a contending team they're gold.
Ryan: How is good ol' PJ Brown fitting in? The man was well loved as a part of the Hornets. Is he having much of an impact?
Against the Spurs, Doc called P.J.'s number at a critical point early on in the fourth quarter after the Celts had come back, but San Antonio was starting to take back the momentum. At first I was glad to see P.J. come in and give some of the guys a chance to rest, but it quickly became apparent that P.J. just didn't have it. He was beaten to lose balls, was late on defensive rotations, just generally a step slow. On the plus side, he did hit a real nice turn around jumper as the shot-clock was winding down. But you could see he was very frustrated with his performance.
There is some rust that has yet to be knocked off. I'm hopeful that P.J. can figure it out and contribute 8 - 10 minutes on a given night (not even every game), play solid defense, rebound and knock down the occasional open 15 foot jumper.
That being said here is my argument for KG as the Most Valuable Player. With a strict emphasis on Valuable. KG doesn't have the statistics of LeBron, Kobe or Paul, and I think any statistics only view of this award is extremely short-sighted.
- He's the best player on the best team in the league (record wise and in my opinion on a match-up basis too).
- Defensive Player of the Year. If he's not it, that award is a sham, but he's easily 1st team All-NBA Defense as consolation.
- More importantly he's the quarterback and driving force for the best defense in the league (ask McGrady).
- Unquestioned leadership. He motivates everyone around him. The players, the coaches and the fans. Just writing about him makes me want to run through a wall.
- Without KG, the following players are not on the Celtics: Sam, Posey, House and PJ. All four of those guys either have been key contributors or are expected to be contributors to the team. People want to play with The Big Ticket. That's an intangible value that I don't think anyone puts into the MVP equation, but directly relates to the on-court performance of the Celtics. You may be able to argue that people want to play with LeBron and Chris Paul, but it hasn't actually happened this season in practice like it has with the Celtics.
- He makes everyone else on the team better. His work ethic alone rubs off on everyone else - the entire team showed up to training camp a full month early to play - just because of KG. But on the court KG demands so much attention that guys like Perk/Leon/Baby have been able to squeeze off a few cheap dunks or grab that extra rebound because the opposition is so focused on Kevin.
Thanks again to Ryan from Hornets247.com. Enjoy the game today