Take your pick. When it comes to the New Orleans Hornets, almost every criticism has been leveled at our team this year. They don’t score, they don’t play defense, they don’t rebound, they have no bench, they shoot 3s too much, no rotation on D, no ball movement on O, etc. So what changed from a year ago, the #2 seed, and being one game from the Western Conference finals?
No one knows. But I’ll tell you what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to pull stats. Plenty of blogs do that. Plus, after a year of comparisons, I’m not convinced the answer can be found in numbers. Instead, I”m going to work through a logical progression of what has changed.
First of all, and perhaps most understatedly, we lost assistant coach Darrell Walker to Detroit. Yet one more thing Dumars fucked up for us. The strange thing is, we didn’t replace him. Was that a cost saving move? I have to think the loss is significant, but I don’t have enough of an in to know what. Any comments on that are welcome.
With that out of the way, let me say that one of the biggest problems I’ve noticed with the Hornets this year is the propensity to give up large runs. 14-0 here, 22-5 there. They’re brutal. Especially when you consider the 16-0 run we gave up in the second quarter of a fifteen point loss pretty much explains the loss itself. Think about it, that blowout loss was really a tie-game with one bad stretch. So why does it happen? Ticktock6 said to me the other day that she thought we had much better offensive ball movement last year. I think she’s right. So what changed? Our roster is almost the same. Most of the coaches are the same. Shouldn’t our flow on both ends of the floor be the same? Well, here’s the breakdown of the difference, personnel-wise:
- Losses: Jannero Pargo, Bonzi Wells, Chris Anderson, Mike James
- Additions: Devin Brown, James Posey, Sean Marks, Antonio Daniels
You’ll note these are all bench players, despite Poseys significant minutes, but Bonzi got plenty of minutes last year, too. So how does that make our team worse, when the starters, who get most of the minutes are all still here? The only difference is that Rasual Butler is starting for Morris Peterson. Ironically, Butler, who was relegated to the end of the bench last year, has not only usurped Peterson’s spot, but banished Mo to the end of the bench, as well.
People like to turn to stats. They say Butler gets more blocks, plays better defense, and otherwise is similar statistically, so it’s a no brainer they say. He’s legitimately kept the starting spot. But if he’s the only difference, logic dictates that there is a difference caused by him. Whether it’s not knowing where everyone else is on the floor, a different level of trust that’s there, or his comparative knowledge of the game, I don’t know. But I can only come to one conclusion: Morris Peterson was a better starter last year than Rasual Butler is now. No doubt Rasual is playing well, but I still love Butler as the first guy off the bench, like Bonzi would have done for Mo last year. Peterson earned his minutes, and has Ws to show for it. Butler, despite his several dramatic game-winning shots this year, I’m not convinced makes us better.
Now the bench players above. All kinds of bloggers have run stats saying Daniels is more efficient than Pargo. I don’t believe it. Take your stats and shove them. Pargo was crazy. Good crazy. The man created chaos in the same way that Paul does, and that was a good thing. I earlier called this the Chaos Effect. It’s impossible to defend against, because there is no plan, just intuition. Byron, however, doesn’t like that. Whatever you called, it though, Pargo tore through defenses even when he wasn’t making shots, and was a constant threat to score off the bench. That’s something we’re lacking this year. Posey may yet prove his worth in the playoffs, but so far, I can’t say he’s won many more games for us than Bonzi. Sadly Bonzi wanted big money, and didn’t get it. People laugh at him because he ended up playing in China for peanuts, but he dominated there, and clearly still deserves to be in the League. Wells was a beast once we started playing him, and I’ll always appreciate the contributions he made to our 2007-08 team.
That brings us to Anderson for Marks. Okay, Birdman didn’t play much last year, and I like Marks, but can anyone say we didn’t make a horrible move by letting him go? And Devin Brown? I like his hustle. But the fact that he plays over a former starter, when the man has never had the talent to consistently start in this League is crazy. Oh, and one other thing. A key part of our stretch run last year was Julian Wright, who this year, barely plays because Byron is too stubborn to give him the minutes to learn how to be a better player. Huge mistake.
So yes, we are a worse team than last year. But here’s the funny thing. The ingredients are all still there. Insert Mo back into the starting line-up, and you have the same five starters from last year. Then, you roll out the back-up line-up of Daniels, Butler, Wright, Posey, and [insert big here]. It was the athletic mix of Wright, Bonzi, and Pargo that kept opposing teams off balance last year, and that was able to lock down effectively on defense. I don’t see how this line-up can’t do both those things. Instead, we’ll probably continue to see Butler start, with Devin Brown, Posey, and [insert big here] coming off the bench with Daniels, while Mo and Julian sit and wonder if there are teams out there they could actually be playing for.
If asked, I’d say, yes, I believe Byron has what it takes to be a championship coach when it comes to Xs and Os. But if he can’t figure out who his best players are, then maybe he needs to step away from the game to gain some perspective, and we need a coach who can recognize talent. After watching every Hornets game in the last two years in some way, shape, or form, as well as various games from around the League, I feel like I’m a pretty good judge of what we have. We can still win this. And by “this” I mean everything. But to start with, we need to take two in Nola and then make this Round 1 series start fresh, before going on to win in 6 or 7. But if the Hornets don’t do that, Byron should be looking over his shoulder; and, Bower, if he’s smart, should be the guy over that shoulder.
I’m not speaking quietly. I’m flat out saying it. If the Hornets don’t win this series, they need a new coach. So please, Byron, show the world the Hornets we don’t need that. I want to believe.