New Orleans Hornets Season Preview & Predictions

A healthy Chris Paul still may not be enough to get the Hornets to the playoffs
The New Orleans Hornets (37-45) ended last season in last place in the Southwest Division and 11th in the Western Conference. They finished 13 games out of the postseason. Their major problem lay in the numerous contracts that they had to shed to ensure they were under the luxury tax threshold. That led to frustration on the team, which was expressed vocally by star point guard Chris Paul. But after a terrible season, things are starting to look up for this team.

At center, Emeka Okafor (.530 FG%, .000 3PT%, .562 FT%, 9.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 10.4 PPG), who has played for a half-dozen years in the NBA, offers good shot blocking, some fine defense and a decent inside shot. But he possesses a weak basketball intellect and plays with little passion. He also has no outside game at all.

At the power forward spot, David West (.505 FG%, .259 3PT%, .866 FT%, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 19.0 PPG) may not have very good defensive skills but he is a solid offensive force, who can hit from inside, outside and the foul line. West is an amazingly consistent player, which means you pretty much know what you’ll get from him each year. This is his eighth season all of which have been with the Hornets.

The good news for small forward Trevor Ariza (.394 FG%, .334 3PT%, .649 FT%, 5.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 14.9 PPG) is that he is back after putting up much better numbers in the final two months of last season than he had in the previous four. His inside game as a scorer, ball stealer and assist man are all better than average. Outside, he tends to have a tough time and his offensive rebounding is weak.

Last season, Chris Paul (.493 FG%, .409 3PT%, .847 FT%, 4.2 RPG, 10.7 APG, 18.7 PPG) had the best Pure Point Rating of any point guard in the NBA. Dealing with a torn meniscus last year, the number of shots he took was down. Still, Paul was stellar from downtown, hitting over 40% of his threes.  He is the consummate pick-and-roll player who handles the ball deftly and shows amazing quickness. Paul is an agile passer and avid ball stealer. Standing just six-feet tall, he’s a weak shot blocker. Still, despite his lack of height, he is a massive player.

For shooting guard Marcus Thornton (.451 FG%, .374 3PT%, .814 FT%, 2.9 RPG, 1,6 APG, 14.5 PPG), who is now in his second year, the game of basketball is about taking no prisoners. Thornton loves to go to the basket with verve and he knows his way to and around the rim. His hands are some of the best in the game, but he has an average jumper and his defensive skills are primarily okay. Although he rarely turned the ball over last season, he also rarely passed it, making him very predictable.

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By far Chris Paul was the top player on the Hornets with a PER of 23.74. That helped what was an overall sluggish offense, which sported an efficiency mark of 105.1 (16th). The team’s Pace Factor was also 16th in the league as it came in at 94.8. One thing that hurt the Hornets was their inability to draw the foul as they ranked second last at .243.  Only Milwaukee was worse at .239.

The starting five for this team is very strong, but the Hornets have a very weak and thin bench. That means a lot of wear and tear on the starters and in a long NBA season that will prove to be debilitating. The bad news is that Darren Collison, who had a fine rookie season last year, is now with the Pacers due to salary cap issues. They could certainly use him.

Two positive moves were made in the hiring of new head coach Monty Williams and new GM Dell Demps. However, the order in which the two were chosen was reversed from what it should have been. The Hornets first hired their new coach, who earned his assistant coaching stripes with Portland, and then GM Demps. There is good news here—Demps and Williams have worked together before and respect one another.

The New Orleans Hornets will be very close to getting into the postseason this year. How close? They may sneak in with an eighth place Western Conference finish or they could end up ninth. Chances are they will win more than they lose, end up fourth in the Southwest Division and ninth in the conference. It’s a near miss for this team.

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