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Home-and-Home With At the Hive

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A Daily Babble Production: How the Other Side Thinks

Fans in New Orleans have experienced a bumpy road this far in the 2008-09 NBA season.  Though the Hornets sit fifth in the West at 30-19, they entered the year expected to compete with the Lakers atop the conference.  Among other factors (see below), injuries and inconsistency have prevented this team from playing quite at that level so far.  But Hornets fans still get to watch the league's best point guard in Chris Paul and the role-playing wonder that is James Posey, and there is plenty of time left in this season for the fellas from NOLA to prove themselves among the league's elite.  We check in today with another Babble favorite, ATH from At the Hive, who has plenty to tell us about the season in N'Awlins so far.  You can find my answers to his his questions on site over there.  Let's go home-and-home with At the Hive...

SW: There is no shame in playing .600-plus basketball.  But this Hornets team came off a 56-win 2007-08, which ended with a painful seven-game loss to the Spurs in the Western Conference semis, expecting to instill itself among the league's elite.  Though 30-19, they remain ten games off the pace in the Western Conference, sitting behind the Lakers, Spurs and Nuggets.  Why hasn't this team met its initial lofty expectations thus far?  How have expectations changed from season's start for Hornets fans?

ATH: Above all, I'd have to say lineup instability.  While injuries are easy to blame, they certainly aren't the only reason the Hornets have fielded so many different lineups.  There have been stupid transgressions (Chandler getting in a fight against Portland, David West randomly hammering Mike Miller) and inexplicable benchings of key players from last year (Mo Peterson, Julian Wright).  Of course, the injuries really don't help.  Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler, Mo-Pete, Peja Stojakovic, Hilton Armstrong, Devin Brown, and Melvin Ely have all missed time.  In fact, every single player on the 14-man roster has started this year, except for James Posey.

That said, I think most Hornets fans came to a sobering realization at the beginning of the season: This team is decidedly inferior to the Lakers' squad.  The Andrew Bynum injury offers some solace (though I do wish him well), but even at full strength, it's doubtful that the Hornets could take the Lakers in a seven-game series.  I think New Orleans is flying a little bit under the radar right now, and provided health, will be better than San Antonio and Denver come the playoffs.  But expectations are certainly a bit lower than they were in the offseason.

SW: How do you assess Byron Scott's coaching job this season?

ATH: There have been a plethora of head-scratchers, that's for sure.  Mo Peterson turning into a bench warmer overnight.  Julian Wright sitting out month-long intervals.  Devin Brown getting the green light to shoot at will. The acquisition of Anthony Tolliver from the D-League, just because "he played for the Spurs," in place of so many better options (Rod Benson, Richard Hendrix, etc.)....and then not playing Tolliver a single minute of a 10 day deal, during which Chandler and Armstrong were both injured.  More than anything, I'm disappointed by Byron's lack of creativity on offense.  Now that may sound kind of silly, given that New Orleans was a top-five team in offensive efficiency before the spate of injuries.  The overlooked factor is that every time we've played a top defensive team (BOS, CLE, LAL, HOU, ORL, etc.), we've gotten absolutely crushed.  Running the pick and roll 95 percent of the time is well and good when you're playing the Thunder or the Grizzlies.  But good defensive teams have consistently sniffed out the simplistic offense and stopped it dead.

To Byron's credit, he's still an excellent motivator of players and has done a good job defensively with the likes of Sean Marks and Devin Brown.  Still, more than anything, I feel a little disillusioned with him.

SW: As we've discussed several times via email, James Posey remains one of my favorite players across the league, and I still miss him.  How is the Pose experience treating the Hornets so far?

ATH: He's been ice cold, both on offense and defense, the last couple weeks.  Of course, ESPN et al. have already begun to blow it out of proportion (fabricating stories about the Hornets being "broke" with absolutely no evidence, and about New Orleans potentially trading James).  If Tyson/Chris/West were all fully healthy right now, this wouldn't be an issue at all.  Posey was leading the NBA in true shooting percentage by an absurd margin in early January, so it's only natural that there would be some regression to the mean.  That it's happening so suddenly is unfortunate, but no real cause for concern.  He's still just as useful as the beginning of the year; it's his environment that's changed a bit.

SW: Of all the wonders of watching Chris Paul on a nightly basis, what part of his game is the best?  What don't fans around the country know about CP3 that they should?

ATH: I would have to say watching him change speeds.  There are so many great moves in his game, but I don't think anybody stops and starts on a dime like he can.  There are certainly guys that are quicker with the ball (Aaron Brooks comes to mind), but that change of pace is so difficult to defend.

One thing CP isn't widely recognized for is his rebounding.  His board-work, honestly, might be more impressive to me than anything else.  He ranks third among point guards in rebound rate (8.9 percent to Rajon Rondo's 9.5 percent and J-Kidd's 10 percent)... but he has no physical traits that aid him on the boards at all.  Kidd is 6'4", and his rebound rate isn't too radically different from other guys that height.  Rondo probably has the longest wingspan for a guy his size in the entire league.  The fact that Chris Paul is barely 6 feet tall, weighs 170 pounds, and has a better rebound rate than Kobe Bryant is ridiculous.

SW: Bonus CP3 question, only because you're talking to a Mizzou guy: Did the Chris Paul-Miguel Paul fiasco get anywhere near the attention in New Orleans that it did in Columbia?

ATH: Heh, it appears this story didn't catch on anywhere for some reason.

SW: As Pounding the Rock's Matthew Powell pointed out over the summer, Jannero Pargo was one of the league's least efficient scorers a season ago and could safely be labeled a chucker.  But he also provided some punch off the bench and occasionally scored in bunches for the Hornets.  How has his departure affected this team?

ATH: Hehe, I remember leaving a snarky comment on that Powell post (agreeing with him).  Overall, I was super happy that the Hornets let him walk, if surprised that GM Jeff Bower had the guts to go through with it.  Ironically, I did a post at the end of November, concluding that the Hornets missed Jannero's passing ability, more an indictment of Mike James than anything.  Since then, New Orleans acquired Antonio Daniels, who has done a nice job.  Overall, his departure has been for the better.  To link the Hornets' "demise" this year to his departure is to conflate his absence with the various injuries we've had (and unfortunately, quite a few sports writers have been guilty of this).  But yeah... definitely a positive.

SW: Time for a Babble staple, word association - first word, phrase or thought that comes to mind, please:

Tyson Chandler - Can I do a picture? It'd have to be this.

Kevin Garnett - Anything is posssibbblee!!!!!!!!

P.J. Brown - More MVP votes than Kobe (that one year)!

Glen Davis - wrestling with Shaq

Hornets fans - giant Peja heads

Tim Duncan - How is he still so good?

Paul Silas - Charlotte

Dave Cowens - the best of times, the worst of times (...as Charlotte coach...I'm sure you all know him as a Celtic)

SW: Score prediction for tonight's game?

ATH: Boston 95, New Orleans 74.

Plenty of food for thought there, particularly with regard to the still-beloved Posey and the much-balleyhooed departure of Pargo.  And that's the type of prognostication we like to see around here.  Much thanks to ATH for coming aboard, and good luck to the Hornets and their fans tonight.