Well, the season is officially halfway over. 41 games have been played and the Hornets are sitting at 25-16, on pace for 50 wins and the sixth seed in the playoffs. It's certainly been an interesting ride so far and with a large trade exception and several expiring contracts available to Dell Demps, it could definitely stay that way. After the summer of turmoil, if you had told me this team would be on pace for 50 wins at the halfway mark, I probably would have been pretty happy with that. The team's incredible 11-1 start may have artificially raised expectations for this team, and left many fans feeling somewhat disappointed. So instead of breaking down the first half of the season with super-advanced stats and careful analysis, I thought it would be fun to look back on some preseason predictions for this year. Join me after the jump to see who comes out looking like a psychic.
Obviously there is still a lot of basketball to be played so we can't praise or be too hard on any of the selected experts here. That being said, here let's get into it. Extra points for anyone who predicted the NBA takeover!
Let's start with our very own Rohan who used a couple of different statistical measures to come up with around 50 wins and a 5th seed in the playoffs. The full post is here, and here's and excerpt:
The SCHOENE projection system (found in Basketball Prospectus 2011) has New Orleans finishing 5th in the Western Conference with 49 wins (and with the 2nd best offense in the NBA). A Wages of Wins Model projects the Hornets to finish with 54 wins. Basketball Prospectus' alternate model, NBAPET, predicts an absurd 98.3% playoff probability for New Orleans (without Jerryd Bayless). And Basketball Reference's Statistical Plus/Minus Model projects 47 wins and a 5th place finish. Virtually every projection system sees an overall drop in quality in the teams competing for the final Western Conference playoff spots (ie, nobody thinks it'll take 50 wins no matter what).
Well, Rohan is looking pretty good right about now. Despite the trades that took Bayless and Peja out of the formula and some unforeseen rotation choices from Monty, he's dead on. It's interesting to note that Rohan predicted the team to be successful through an extremely efficient offense and just passable defense. Obviously, things are almost exactly the other way around. I don't think anyone predicted the way Monty would get these guys playing on the defensive end, and we shouldn't overlook his great work so far this season.
Joe Gerrity: 47-35. Seventh out West.
There are going to be a lot of teams above .500 out in the West this season, and if Chris Paul can stay healthy he should be able to navigate the Hornets to more than their fair share of close wins.
Ryan Schwan: 47-35, 9th place in the West.
If Paul can’t push this much more solid roster to at least 47 wins, it’ll be fairly shocking. Still, I think it will take 50 games to make the playoffs this year again, so the Hornets are still on the outside looking in.
Michael McNamara: 40-42, 11th in the West.
Best case scenario is 48 wins, worst case is an injured CP3 and 20 wins.
Some really great stuff in this one (Marco for MIP? DWest on the block?). Interesting that Mr. McNamara, the most pessimistic of the three, correctly predicted Thornon's rather dramatic decline and even predicted Monty's lack of patience with the young Mr. Buckets. The weaknesses section is also interesting as the three writers all picked out various aspects of the defensive side of things (rebounding, interior D, toughness). After the 09-10 performances of West and Okafor I think we all thought these were definite concerns. It really is remarkable how the bigs were able to turn it around this year.
This team has a very good starting five, and with Paul on board in a seven-game series anything can happen. I trust new GM Dell Demps based on his time spent with the San Antonio Spurs, but his initial offseason returns (as listed above) really leave a lot to be desired. At whatever cost, these aren't roster fillers to get excited about.
He also went into why things could go downhill in a hurry:
We should approach Monty Williams' first gig as head man with a glass half-full line of thinking, but we should also be wary of anyone who isn't completely smitten with the work that Marcus Thornton put in last season. On top of that, the team dumped one of this league's better young point guards for a middling player in Trevor Ariza that chucks like a superstar, the team's depth is nonexistent, and Paul reportedly wanted out of this mess even before the trade that swapped Darren Collison for Ariza.
So Mr. Dwyer was pretty pessimistic while stating his appreciation for the current Hornets team. He correctly diagnosed the teams lack of depth, and was not a big fan of the team's offseason moves. One interesting note is that he mentions to watch out for Emeka Okafor this year after being "humbled" in the previous season. That's the first mention I've seen of Okafor having a bounce-back year.
What has to go right: Chris Paul has to average (close to) a triple-double, David West needs to return to his All-Star form, Trevor Ariza needs to find a 3-point stroke, Peja Stojakovic needs to find a fountain of youth, Emeka Okafor needs to stay healthy for 82 games for the fourth year in a row, and guards Marcus Thornton and Jerryd Bayless need to expand their games past scoring. Other than that, it should be a walk in the park.
Ben didn't exactly paint a rosy picture there did he? Two of his requirements for success did go right (West and Okafor), while one of his things that could go wrong (ownership situation could remain in flux) was technically solved, but remains an even more looming issue than before.
Lastly, we'll take a look at the ESPN Preview which featured thoughts from a panel full of their NBA pundits. The people over at The Worldwide Leader weren't to optimistic on the Hornets prospects this year. The average of their predictions ended up being the 10th place in the West. Only Chris Broussard and Chad Ford had the Hornets making the playoffs, both of them having them squeak in as the 8th seed. The most pessimistic were Tim Legler and Chris Sheridan, who both picked our heroes to finish 12th in the West. Most of the quotes here center around praise for Chris Paul and subsequent disdain for all else in the Hornets universe.
As you can see, very few people thought that the Hornets would be in the position that they are in at this point in the season. Personally, I was hoping for second round appearance in the playoffs, but I tend to be more optimistic than most. Despite a tumultuous offseason, a big drop-off in play after an unbelievable start, and the unprecedented sale of the franchise to the NBA, the team is right in the middle of the playoff pack and could be poised to have their best season since 07-08. While there are a multitude of things that can derail a season in a heartbeat, there is reason to believe that this team could improve on its current pace. While I firmly believe this, you won't find me making any predictions for the rest of the season here. With wins over the best teams in the league and losses to the worst, this team has proven to be anything but predictable. I for one can't wait to see how the second half of the season plays out.