Lakers, Clippers: A Tale of One City

A 28 points win a night after a 16 point loss. It was a pretty interesting Staples double dip for New Orleans, and we learned quite a few things. In no particular order, a double recap:

Emeka Okafor

It's tough to say he was bad. But he definitely wasn't good. Versus the Lakers, he put up a stat line of 10 pts (5-12), 14 rebounds, and a blocked shot. Versus the Clippers, he went for 2 points (1-2) and 6 rebounds. He played 26 and 25 minutes respectively on Monday and Tuesday. I'd argue that the Lakers' game was the poorer showing. Against the LAC, the Hornets' offense didn't really require him. As a result, Byron Scott drew up very few plays for him, certainly a wise move with the perimeter showing.

But against the Lakers, we finally saw some of the bad side of Emeka, some of the things that Charlotte fans have been complaining about for years. He had a couple cases of brick hands and missed at least four wide open layups. If this is going to be the season that he puts it all together- in the ilk of his first 6 games- then he'll need to have a short memory and forget this one fast. Not the best Los Angeles trip for the big guy- a poor showing one night, and then denied a chance to redeem himself the next.

JuJu, the Starter?


As much as we've bashed Byron over the last year, he has given Julian Wright a very fair shake this season. He's started him, he's drawn up plays for him, he's even defended him in the media after horrible games. For a long while, I hid behind the "Byron killed Julian's career by not playing him properly as a rookie/sophomore" argument. Now? I renounce it. Julian Wright is simply not very good at basketball right now.

He's struggled defensively, missing easy rotations. More annoyingly, he's just as tentative with his dribble now as he was his rookie season. Simply put, JuJu has not grown much over the last 2+ years. And the blame has gradually shifted from Byron Scott to Julian himself. It's absolutely the right call to bring him off the bench; nothing he's done warrants a starting role.

Peja, the Starter?

Stojakovic is showing that he's still got it. Of course, that was never really the question. The real issue was if Peja could sustain his health and shooting over the course of a full season, and that question won't be answered until, well, a full season is up. I don't see Peja as the long term answer at SF for that reason. I think we can really save him and his minutes off the bench. At this point though, who else can we plug in at SF? Posey? Songaila?

We're going to see some interesting lineup combos over the next few games. When the dust settles, I wouldn't argue if this was the final setup: Paul/Thornton/Posey/West/Okafor with Collison/Brown/Peja/Songaila/Hilton doing the bench work.

Rookies!

Neither Darren Dimes Collison nor Marcus Buckets Thornton played particularly well against the Clippers. What matters is they finally got off the bench, and they provided exactly the energy we all thought they would.

Thornton clearly has a sweet stroke. I'm impressed at how quickly he can release it, and how consistent it looks over defenders. He's clearly not gun shy either. I would like to see Byron commit regular minutes to him, and more importantly, draw up cutting plays for him. Thornton has the skill set to allow cuts of different sizes; he doesn't need to get all the way to the hoop since he can stop in the midrange area and pull up. At the beginning of the season, I felt a lot of the Jason Terry comparisons were cliche'd and obvious. The more I see Thornton, the way he moves, and the quick release on his shot, the more I like the comparison a lot. Of course, if Thornton plays even half as well as Terry- one of my favorite guys in the league- this year, it'll be well worth it.

As for Collison? He gets into the paint at will, that's for sure. As nifty as a couple of his up and under moves were, I foresee close range finishing as his biggest issue of the near future. In that vein, his scoring development should be similar to Chris Paul's. In the two games, Collison also showed great on the ball defense (well except against Baron Davis, which is excusable). If Collison can evolve into the full court press man that Jannero Pargo was, the Hornets' defense will be that much better. For now, he clearly has defensive fundamentals down pat, and far better than the majority of rookies. He moves laterally extremely well, and it's refreshing to see.

The Defense

Well, there's plenty of work to be done here. New Orleans has attempted a hybrid zone/man at various junctures, especially prominent in this LA back-to-back. In my mind, it's not a good idea. Zone is a very difficult defense to play, even with very good personnel and coaching. Can the Hornets pull it off? I wouldn't put it past them, but it would be tough to use it consistently.

Thus far, the rotations have been very poor all around. With the red hot Phoenix Suns on tap, we're going to need to figure out something, fast.

Ike Diogu and Sean Marks

This one perplexes me. In the very negative news department, it appears Diogu will be out at least a couple more weeks, with Rotoworld claiming his season could be in jeopardy. As a huge Diogu proponent over the offseason, that would be devestating news for me.

As for Sean Marks? He's apparently had a "sore neck" for approximately the last month. So either something is up and the team simply likes Hilton Armstrong over him or his neck is in very poor condition. Armstrong did have a strong showing against the Clippers, so I'd expect Marks' neck to be "sore" for at least a couple more games.

The Pick and Roll

I'm probably going to devote an entire post to this at some point, but for now, it's clear out dependence on the pick and roll has diminished drastically. Some see this as a negative, pointing out how many easy dunks we got with Chandler and Paul. I see it as a positive for sure. The 2008-2009 offense just became ridiculously over reliant on the P&R. It got to the point where our offense literally could not run anything else (the Christmas day Magic game was a prime example of this). This year, the pick and roll hasn't been run because Emeka isn't as good at it. But as a direct result, the offense has become far more varied. We saw maybe a dozen successful back cuts all of last year. In the LA series, I already saw a couple well executed ones by Bobby Brown, Devin Brown, and Peja.

The pick and roll will be something Paul and Emeka work on behind the scenes, I'm sure. The West/Paul pick and roll will still be run at similar levels. But while the P&R sorts itself out, the offense is becoming more diversified than it's been in years, and that's a very good thing in the long run.

Chris Paul

The man is simply brilliant. Leads the league in three point percentage, PER, true shooting percentage, eFG%, Win Shares, and is second in assist percentage. He absolutely toyed with Baron Davis last night; if Okafor and others had done a more competent job on Monday, he could have kept his team in the game a while longer. There's absolutely nothing Paul can't do right now- stretch the defense, pass, rebound, man defend, help defend, knock down fadeaways to beat the shot clock, drill threes... let everyone talk about Kobe and LeBron and Carmelo. We're watching the best player in the league on a nightly basis. Enjoy it. 

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