The Hornets were mediocre in a lot of ways last year. Popcorn sales, in-game giveaways, and the front court, among other aspects, left much to be desired. And while I am adamantly opposed to mediocre exploding kernels and subpar swag, let's talk about that last subject today.
Keep in mind that over 82 games, there are, give or take, 4000 total minutes to be filled at each of the five positions on the floor. So in 2009-2010, the Hornets' front court minutes shook out thusly (positional data from 82games.com):
Center: Emeka Okafor (59%), Darius Songaila (20%), Hilton Armstrong (6%), Aaron Gray (6%), David West (5%)
Power Forward: David West (68%), Darius Songaila (15%), Julian Wright (7%), Peja Stojakovic (6%)
Obviously neither of those add up to a full 100%, so feel free to imagine a Sean Marks dunk here or a Hilton Armstrong block there (imagine being the key word obviously). I can't speak to exactly how accurate 82games' numbers are, but they seem fine. Songaila did play a ton of minutes as center, and Julian Wright and Peja Stojakovic did often play the 4 in Jeff Bower's small ball lineups. Surprisingly, James Posey doesn't make an appearance on the PF list. I'm assuming this has something to do with his propensity to match up as a small forward on offense but generally defend fours.
In any case, let your eyes wander to those numbers again. Look who's second on both minutes lists. Look who's third. Nothing against Darius Songaila, but he was our second most used C and PF?? I keep looking at that 20% of all center minutes in 09-10, thinking of ways to discredit it. But I can't. Between Bower's dedication to randomly benching Okafor, the half-season tenures of Hilton Armstrong and Aaron Gray, and Sean Marks' various injuries, the center position was decimated.
And it's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to the front court play this year. Improving a team is often associated with acquiring elite players (Anthony, Carmelo thing, see: )* but it can also mean replacing really bad players with average to slightly above average ones.
*I think my second biggest pet peeve of all time is the "see: Last Name, First Name" thing. My first biggest is that pet peeves are called pet peeves. Seriously, what is a peeve? And why is it my pet?
In his final two healthy years in Charlotte, Emeka Okafor played 68% of all available center minutes. If he can return to that average (which is right around the league average for decent, healthy centers) and replace 400 minutes from Darius Songaila at center? That's a sizeable rebounding differential, considering Okafor's TRB% almost doubles up Songaila's. If Pops can replace most of Songaila's, Wright's, and Stojakovic's minutes (almost 30% of all minutes at the 4) at power forward? Again, a big step forward. If Aaron Gray- reputedly in much, much better shape- can go even 50 games at 10 minutes a game? That could replace Hilton Armstrong's putrid 6% of center minutes in '09.
As terrifying as David West's plummeting rebounding totals are, many terrible rebounders are being replaced with good (to great) ones. Those poor rebounders received far too many minutes last year, so the effect on net rebounding should be even more profound.
It's weird to think that New Orleans could be one of the league's most improved rebounding teams this year without adding any great rebounders. But, again, as that minutes list indicates, this really is the definition of addition by subtraction.