I really hoped it wouldn't start this way.
2008-2009 was defined, more than anything, by our tendency to lose big games by massive amounts. There was the Christmas Day Special, the Los Angeles Massacre, and the Denver Wait Are You Serious? among others.
It's not all gloom and doom after a double digit loss to the championship-contender Spurs. After all, Chris Paul was still awesome. Emeka Okafor was quite impressive, especially if you buy his line that he's still sort of injured. David West was actually aggressive on the boards again. Even Julian Wright made some nice contributions after a shaky start. There is a lot of room for this team to grow, as Ike Diogu and Sean Marks come back into the lineup.
But one thing remains the same from last year, and it certainly comes as no surprise: the coaching.
I'm not worried about the players after one game; I am worried about the overall strategy.
Let's start with the obvious, Bobby Brown. I was relatively stunned when I saw him enter the game in the first quarter. Coming into this summer, Brown had played one NBA season, establishing himself as (a) a chucker, (b) a very, very poor shooter from the floor with even poorer shot selection, and (c) a thoroughly mediocre passer. Brown is, and was, the definition of a 3rd string point guard, one you put into the game in blowouts.
When he entered the game (Paul stayed for a couple, then left), this was the lineup: Hilton, DX, Peja, and Posey. The offensive possibilities for this lineup are so unbelievably limited, it's ridiculous. Hilton, Peja, and Posey need their shots to be created. Bobby Brown is generally never in a giving mood. David West can create his own shots, but Byron Scott decided it would be a great idea to keep isolating him 20 feet from the basket with limited time on the shot clock. This resulted in a couple long clangs. Meanwhile, the mildly amused Spurs ended the quarter on a 9-0 run.
In a stunningly cunning move to open the second, Scott decided to replace West with Darius Songaila. 4 guys that need shots to be created, and a shoot first point guard. Yep, +7 run Spurs.
From that point forward, the Hornets' offense was pretty decent. But that -16 run doomed the Hornets to the 17 point loss.
The second thing that stunned me was Brown from a defensive standpoint. In the first quarter, the Spurs had a backcourt of Parker and Ginobili when Brown checked in. This left Paul and Brown (5'11 and 6'2) guarding Parker and a 6'5" off guard. Scott executed his only reasonable option and switched into a zone. Cue an absolute barrage of three point shooting. Had Scott been smart about it, and not forced the Paul-Brown backcourt into the game at a poor time, the zone would never have become necessary. Instead, the zone plunged New Orleans' defense into a complete funk. Those were among the most awful rotations I've seen in years, college basketball included. Scott's insistence on his favored double-PG backcourt- hearkening back to the Pargo days- rendered the defense helpless. Is there blame to be placed on individual players? For sure. But Scott's decision made their job a little tougher.
Overall, I'm done with Byron Scott. Is this way too early to be saying things like that? Sure, maybe, whatever. Last night was the last straw. He played Darren Collison 3 minutes, left Thornton inactive, and found his new favorite
Pargo chucker in Bobby Brown. He refuses to play anything but a slow, plodding, methodical style. I don't want him to be fired, but I will be happy when the Hornets fail to renew his contract at the end of this year. He's a good coach, he just hasn't adapted with the times.
And I'm really done complaining about Scott too. His style of coaching is what it is; there are so many other positives on the team I'd rather focus on. And after tonight, I don't have any great expectations for the team. I just want to watch the players play and have fun doing so; Byron can do whatever the hell he does on the sidelines.
So, in that spirit:
- Chris Paul had a great shooting night. The 5 turnovers is shabby, but a couple were caused by mishandled transfers by Brown and West. It's nice to have one thing that's always thoroughly awesome on your team, no matter what.
- Emeka Okafor was very, very impressive. Between the nice spin cycle he put Tim Duncan through, his active hands on the glass, and general athleticism getting up and down the court, he provided a lot more than I anticipated. It's hard not to be excited about him getting in rhythm with West and the rest of the offense. 18 pts, 10 rebs, 0 tos in 29 mins is a good start.
- Julian Wright started slowly, but the monster coast to coast dunk seemed to snap him out. That pull up jumper looked steady; more oddly, it went in despite very un-confident looking approaches by Wright. The day that JuJu makes up his mind and goes into each move forcefully is the day he gets to the next level as a player. There's so much talent, but just equal parts hesitation.
Anyways, Sacramento on Friday, before Boston on Sunday. Let's hope we can get Diogu in here somewhere.