The playoffs are here! The playoffs are here!
And to celebrate the start of the playoffs we have a roundtable of the At the Hive staff and their thoughts on a variety of playoff-related subjects today. There's a lot of really great insight in here, so I highly recommend you be jumping.
From left to right: Paul, Andrew, Mason, Will, Caleb, and Justin.
Rohan: Let's start off by wrapping up the regular season real quick. And by real quick, I mean REAL quick. In three words or fewer, your take on the Hornets' 2010-2011 season:
Mason: One piece away.
Caleb: Can I use three animated gifs instead?
Will: Up. Down. Chaos.
Paul: Need more intensity.
Andrew: Out-of-control roller-coaster
Mason: No one Hornets player truly exceeded my expectations; Paul regressed a bit, Belinelli was terribly inconsistent, and West's improvement came in a contract year. That being said, the player whose play made me most satisfied has to be Emeka Okafor. Though he still hasn't returned to form since the oblique injury that he suffered against Phoenix at the end of January, Okafor's first half of the season is what I thought the Hornets were getting when they traded Chandler for him. In the 49 games before the injury, he was scoring 11.1 points per game, making 59.3% of his shots, and pulling in 10.1 rebounds per game. Those numbers were absolutely the most pleasant surprise this season.
Caleb: As far as individual players go.... it's hard to say. I'll say that for much of the season I was very happy with Emeka's defensive play, but I think most of us knew he could play that well in the right circumstances. The question was whether or not Emeka and and West could work together to form an above average defensive frontcourt. Thus their combined defensive chemistry exceeded my expectations. Oh, and speaking of West, I was expecting a small amount of decline from him, but he ended up turning in one of his best seasons ever on both ends of the floor.
Will: Marcus Thornton, as a King....kidding. I'll have to go with Emeka Okafor. His numberts don't look all that different from last year, but what he's brought to the defensive end was quite unexpected after last season. After 09-10 I did not think a West-Okafor frontline could play adequate defense. Clearly I underestimated Mekatron.
Paul: Marco Belinelli didn't get nearly as many minutes as he should have, but he was productive and at times lethal when he was on the court. I've liked the kid for a few years and I think he fits in very, very well with this team, more so than I was expecting.
Justin: David West exceeded my expectations. I thought for sure his production was going to continue to decrease this season.
Andrew: This is a weird choice, but Jason Smith. Seriously, did you really expect the guy to stay on the team past the fifteen game mark? Obviously, he's not great and I doubt he's a long term solution, but I'm still surprised by his hustle and grit on the court. Without him, I actually doubt the Hornets make the playoffs, as he was a key piece to the fast start and filled in ably when Oak/West missed significant time..
Rohan: What would reasonably comprise a "good" first round for the Hornets, in your mind?
Mason: If a David West-less Hornets team can earn a third home playoff game, I would consider their playoff trip a success. Every NBA analyst on ESPN picked the Lakers in either 4 or 5 games, so needless to say, it would surprise almost everyone if the Hornets can push it to a 6th game in the Hive.
Caleb: A "good" first round in my eyes would require at least one win and no more than one blowout loss, with the games in between being competitive.
Will: I'll be happy if they steal a game, but pushing the Lakers to 6 would be a huge acomplishment for this team, and hopefully something to build on.
Paul: A good series, for me, would simply be a competitive one. From a reasonable perspective, N'awlins is severely over-matched in this series. If our bigs can hold their own against the LA frontcourt, this series may see a sixth game.
Justin: Taking two games from the Lakers.
Andrew: Since I think the Lakers will likely blow us out (seriously, is Landry gonna be able to cover Bynum / Gasol????), I'd be thrilled if the Hornets could take it to five games. If the Hornets get swept but keep 2 of the games close and threaten in a third, I wouldn't be terribly disappointed.
Rohan: One of the big talking points for this Lakers series is how New Orleans doesn't match up well across the floor. Let's flip that - which Hornet do you feel matches up with his Lakers counterpart (or the Laker D in general) better than he may match up against the average team?
Mason: I don't see any possible answer to this question besides Chris Paul; however, since everyone else will likely address that, I'll take an alternative route - Trevor Ariza vs. Ron Artest. Obviously, both of these players are best known for their defense, so neither players' offense will likely be much of a factor. Ariza will probably spend a good bit of his minutes guarding Kobe as well. The part of the Ariza/Artest matchup that I will be watching is the battle on the boards. The Lakers' size will obviously be a big problem for the Hornets, but Ariza can provide a much needed boost in this area for New Orleans if he can take it to Artest on the glass. Artest is a historically solid rebounder, but numbers have dipped over the past two seasons (disclaimer - this is likely in part due to the Lakers' big men swallowing up his rebound opportunities). Nonetheless, Ariza's 16.4% defensive rebound rate this season demolishes Artest's 7.6% rate, and if he can make those numbers mean something in this series, it will be a huge help to this Hornets team.
Caleb: The Lakers have minor to major advantages up and down the roster. The only exception is the point guard spot. Chris Paul (assuming he asserts himself, and I think he will) ought to be able to go to work on Derek Fisher, while Jarrett Jack should be able to do the same to Steve Blake and vice versa.
Will: The obvious one is at the PG position. Both Paul and Jack should have an enormous advantage over Derek Fisher and Steve Blake (who may miss some time due to chicken pox), and the Hornets will need them to thoroughly dominate this matchup in order to have a chance.
Paul: The obvious answer to this one is Chris Paul, but I'm going to give a little more love to Belinelli here. With either Derek Fisher or Kobe Bryant guarding him, Belinelli will give the aging veterans fits as he runs past screen after screen.
Justin: Obviously Chris Paul should against Derek Fisher but he hasn't capitalized on that this season.
Andrew: Obviously, a fully healthy CP3 is the Lakers worst nightmare, given the corpse of Derek Fisher couldn't keep up with me at this point. Unfortuantely, CP3 still seems a bit slow to me, and with no real help from any other position, I don't think it will be anywhere near enough.
Rohan: Let's say you're Monty Williams. Name one staple of the Hornet offense during the regular season that you'd change for the playoffs, and one staple of the defense.
Caleb: Yikes. One staple? I don't know where to begin really. I guess if I was Monty I'd try to be more consistent in the series with Marco Belinelli's minutes, and not yank him just because he starts 0-3 or something. If Marco has a good series from beyond the arc that definitely helps the Hornets chances on the offensive end. Defensively, I really can't think of a single staple I would change, but I do think Monty should try to employ some zone defense at times since the Lakers are only a middling outside shooting team.
Will: Tough to gripe much on the defensive end, but I'd try to work on running the opponent off the 3pt line and preventing disadvantageous switches (like Chris Paul repeatedly ending up on Dirk in the finale). On offense, I would hire an assistant coach (offensive coordinator?) that has a solid system to install. Basically, I'd start from scratch. Besides some solid inbounds plays at the end of games, there was not much to build on. Also, show Chris Paul tape of 07-08 and 08-09 and inform him that he should be taking more shots than anyone else on this team.
Paul: For the offense, I would like to see more touches for 'Mek. He shoots a high-percentage on put-backs and tip-ins, but I believe that CP3 can find him in fortuitous spots if Monty tells him to keep his eyes open for Okafor. For the defense, I would tell my team to really focus on controlling the paint. This may sound crazy, but I would rather Kobe Bryant be the reason the Hornets lose this series rather than Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (if he plays) dominating the low-post.
Justin: Stop making Carl Landry shoot those 18 footers on offense and don't go small on defense.
Rohan: Let's say you're still Monty Williams. What is your facial hair of choice for this series?
Caleb: A Misfits-style. Sure, it's not technically facial hair, but it covers the face.The sheer psych-out factor alone would probably get the Hornets at least one win.
Will: Easy. Brian Skinner two-tone goatee.
Paul: I'm going with a velvety Mike Woodson-beard, if possible.
Justin: Clean shaven to represent his virginity as a coach to the playoffs.
Rohan: The Lakers have this year's likely 6th man of the year in Lamar Odom. What needs to happen for New Orleans' bench to outplay the Lakers' second unit?
Mason: A miracle? The Hornets just don't have an answer for Odom, as his numbers in the games this season have shown. If West weren't injured and Landry were still coming off the bench, I'd still be skeptical. But hey, as long as Willie Green can put up some more 30+ point performances, we should be good!
Caleb: Jarrett Jack and Willie Green need to b efficient and decently prolific scorers. That, and Aaron Gray needs to stay away from foul trouble, but that could be tough. However, the former is definitely a realistic goal.
Will: Um, an injury to Bynum? Seriously though, Jack and Green would have to be hitting their shots and pushing the ball. Smith will have to knock down his open looks at a high clip, as he is often the recipient of good looks with the second unit. Gray needs to not foul and to rebound like he is capable of. Outside of Odom, I'm not crazy about the Laker bench, but if Shannon Brown is hitting shots, this matchup favors the champs. All of the bench needs to play at the level they are capable of in order to swing this one to the Hornets.
Paul: To be frank, a lot needs to happen. Mainly, Jarrett Jack needs to be on top of his game, especially with Steve Blake out...with the chickenpox. If Jack is able to control the pace of the game and facilitate clean sets for the second unit, it will have a large impact on the outcomes of each game.
Justin: God needs to bless them all with consistent jump shots.
Rohan: Does this series have any implications for Chris Paul's future as a New Orleans Hornet?
Mason: I don't really think so. I'm sure he knows how different of a team this is without West, so he can't realistically expect to make too much noise with the team as currently constructed.
Caleb: As much as I hate the idea, I've already come to accept that Chris Paul is unlikely to be a Hornet past 2012. If the Hornets get embarrassed, whatever hope there is will probably fade, and the trade rumors and speculation will get a head start. A really strong performance by the Hornets and by Chris Paul could get fans excited and help form a stronger bond between the team and the community. Would that actually change Paul's future? I don't know.
Will: As he says that winning is the most important thing to him, you would be led to believe so. I would hope Chris doesn't make a decision on his future based on a playoff series without the second best player on the team, but only CHris could answer this question. Personally, I hope we give the Lakers all that they can handle and show Chris that this team is building something solid that is worth sticking around for.
Paul: If anything, it will give more ammunition to the argument that Paul doesn't have nearly the help he needs around him. This is obviously unfair with West out, but it's obvious that this team as it's currently built is lacking talent.
Justin: I think not. A series without David West isn't a true test to how this team honestly measures up. But it is a sign of how thin the team is.
Andrew: If DWest was playing and the Hornet's didn't make noise in the playoffs, I think it would have strong implications for CP3's future. However, with no DWest and against a Laker's team that clearly outmatches us, I don't think this particular series will have impact on CP3's future. CP3 wants to win, and I think he still wants to see what the team can do with him and DWest anchoring the first unit and Landry and JJ destroying the other team's second unit. If that doesn't happen next year (and the Hornet's don't add a competent shooting guard), THAT's what will affect CP3's future.