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@tH Talks to Kevin Pelton (Part 2)

Happy Friday. Today, it's the second half of my interview with Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus.


R: SCHOENE really liked the Hornets' offense this year. Are you surprised that New Orleans hasn't exactly busted out of the gate on the offensive side, and do you think that'll change?

KP: I threw the Hornets' minutes totals so far into SCHOENE, and based on the current lineups it projects them to be ninth in the league in Offensive Rating--about where they are. The biggest reason for that difference, naturally, is replacing Marcus Thornton's minutes with Marco Belinelli and Willie Green. And while Belinelli has been very efficient thus far, Green is who we thought he was, a low-efficiency volume scorer. So I would say the best chance of improving that ranking would be Thornton picking things up and selling Monty Williams on his value. We were projecting him to score 20 points a night, as he did down the stretch, but he wasn't that player during the preseason.

R: The Hornets appear to have made a drastic defensive turnaround under Coach Monty Williams, fueled by strong defensive eFG% and defensive rebounding. Do you think it's sustainable?

KP: Some of the shooting numbers are bound to come back to earth. Opponents are shooting 29.1 percent from three-point range, and there's no way that's going to continue. Last year's lowest opponent three percentage was 32.8 percent. also shows teams making just 23.6 percent from 10-15 feet, which is probably a fluke. But there's room to drop off a bit and still be very good defensively. I like the way Emeka Okafor and Jason Smith are defending the rim and Williams seems to be doing a nice job of mixing in some zone at times. Like you said, the rebounding has been excellent as well.

R: What do you see as the upper level and lower levels of success and most likely outcome for the Hornets this year?

KP: Upper level: 60 wins and second in the West. Lower level: 40 wins and out of the playoffs. The Hornets have a larger range than most teams, I would say, because of Chris Paul's importance. I would say the most likely scenario is a win total somewhere in the low to mid 50s. I don't think the defense can keep playing quite at this level, but this is a legitimate contender.

R: If the Hornets were theoretically able to acquire Carmelo Anthony or Andre Iguodala for similar trade pieces, who would you anticipate being the better fit?

KP: I think New Orleans would be a fabulous fit for Iguodala, who could thrive playing opposite Paul, especially in the open court. Anthony's value would be slightly limited by the fact that you want Paul having the ball in his hands at all times, though there are some two-man game possibilities there. So I guess Iguodala.

R: The Hornets figure to have cap space in summer 2011 and/or 2012. If you were Dell Demps, would you try and hit the home run this upcoming summer, or would it be wiser to lay off a "weaker" free agent class?

KP: This question less meaningful now than it was when you asked it. ... Hard to say given the uncertainty around the CBA, but I think my answer depends on David West. If he opts out of the final year of his contract after this season, I would probably use the cap space then to try to find a replacement. A new long-term deal for a 30-year-old West could be problematic. If the new financial world is harsh enough that it makes sense for West to play out his contract, then there isn't really any reason or way to make a push for 2011.

R: Some quick hitters to close. Best division: Southwest or Southeast? 

KP: Southwest.

R: Kevin Durant or LeBron James for the next 10 years? 

KP: LeBron

R: Chris Paul or Deron Williams

KP: Paul

R: Your favorite player to watch in the NBA (other than Quincy Pondexter, obviously)? 

KP: John Wall

R: Last but not least: All this time, I've read SCHOENE as "shown" in my head. But alas, I've recently discovered that Russ Schoene's name may have actually been pronounced SHAY-nee. Can you confirm/deny this? 

Yes; everybody gets this wrong in podcast interviews, but it's like how Wayne Newton sings Danke Schoen plus an extra e on the end.