On the Hornets...
178 days later. Then and now. Hop to it, team.
Free-dumb. The Hornets (15.8 free throws made per game) and Bucks (15.3) finished 29th and 30th in the NBA respectively in free throws made last season.
Let us not pretend that we can read into the preseason when it is convenient, and dismiss it when it is convenient.
But it is certainly not the worst of news that the Bucks led the NBA this preseason in free throw shooting percentage at 83.2 %. Corey Maggette proved in 14 absurd minutes (during which time he made 17-20) against Minnesota that he is game to get to the line, Ersan Ilyasova made a silly 31-33 (.939) in the eight games, and Brandon Jennings led the team in overall makes, hitting 33-38 (.868). That last part is probably the most encouraging.
Though it's not as though even if the Bucks start scoring from the stripe that they will become an offensive powerhouse. Maggette's head-down forays into the lane will net some free throws, but at what expense to what was a free-flowing offense?
Two guards. Apparently Hornets coach Monty Williams prefers Marco Belinelli to Marcus Thornton at starting shooting guard, which should work to the advantage of the Bucks. Belinelli can shoot -- 38.8 % career on threes -- but has offered precious few other areas of consistent contributions during three offense-first NBA years, the first two in Golden State and then in Toronto last season. John Salmons should bust on through recovery mode quickly against Belinelli.
On the other hand, the 43rd pick in last year's draft, Thornton sported an advanced all-around offensive game as a rookie, making 59.2 % at the rim and 37.4 % on threes. Even if he doesn't start, Thornton should see plenty of minutes and will test Salmons' defensive nimbleness.
Blocked off. Bogut and Gooden should have an opportunity to operate in the post. The Hornets ranked 21st in defensive efficiency a year ago, and while Paul will go a long way to improve the perimeter defense, they remain penetrable on the inside. Emeka Okafor averaged more than four blocks per game as a senior at Connecticut, but that was seven long years ago, and the Hornets averaged just 3.7 blocks as a team last season, easily led by Okafor's career-low 1.5 per game. And David West has never made money playing defense.
Thin men. The Bucks won't have quite the depth they hoped for when constructing the team, as Douglas-Roberts (eye) and Brockman (sprained left ankle) are out and Mbah a Moute (sprained right ankle) is a question mark. Of course, the Hornets don't run very deep even when healthy. They are particularly thin in the frontcourt, with Jason Smith and Aaron Gray backing up West and Okafor respectively but not all that respectably.
Trevor Time. Trevor Ariza will line up at small forward after being acquired in a trade that sent Darren Collison to Indiana. Ariza was rather bad last year with Houston while playing roles that didn't suit him well, but Carlos Delfino can relate to matters of role and environment and system determining success.
Ariza's 33.4 % three point mark was actually the best of his career, but launched way too often -- his 5.7 three point attempts per game ranked him among the top ten. He excels as a defensive stopper, athletic slasher, and spot-up three point shooter. Playing with the best point guard on the planet figures to do wonders to resurrect his career. He is only 25.
New backup PG's in town. Brandon Jennings/Chris Paul is the rightful matchup of the evening. But don't overlook Jerryd Bayless/Keyon Dooling.
After some well-founded worries that Paul wanted to bounce, the Hornets tried to reassure the superstar point guard that he is New Orleans royalty for life. That, for some reason, included dealing away quite promising backup point guard Darren Collison, who coincidentally gave the Bucks and Brandon Jennings a head full of headaches last season as a rook. Collison flustered Jennings mightily in the first matchup as the Hornets stole a November win and then he went for 22 as the Bucks prevailed at the BC in February. GM Dell Demps has a good track record from his time with the Spurs, but why oh why deal away a hotshot young player like Collison because he plays the same position as your true prize? Apparently Paul supported the trade (for Trevor Ariza), but Paul is the best point guard in the world, not the best GM in the world.
Bayless, meanwhile, came out of Arizona with all the questions typically attached to scoring point guard -- questions that lingered all the way to Portland and new GM Rick Cho. But Bayless disputes those questions. From Jimmy Smith of NOLA.com:
Portland Trail Blazers General Manager Rich Cho might not think much of Jerryd Bayless' ability to play point guard, but Hornets Coach Monty Williams, and Bayless, said Monday they're unconcerned.
"I'm am; that's what I play" Bayless, 6 feet 3, 204 pounds, said Monday when asked if he were a point guard. "I've always played that. I'm going to continue to play behind Chris (Paul) and learn from him and hopefully we cando big things together. I can do whatever Monty needs me to do. Monty said he's going to put me out there and whatever he needs me to do, I'm definitely going to try and help."
Cho had been quoted in Portland as saying Bayless "is not a point guard."
Dooling shot pretty well in the preseason (43.8 % from the field, 44.0 % on threes) so hopefully the hot hand will carry over a bit, and he'll need all the defensive prowess he can muster to match up with Paul.
See Joe not play. I'm on record as having wanted the Bucks to draft Bayless (or Anthony Randolph) in 2008 when they instead chose Joe Alexander. Alexander, coincidentally, is also now on the Hornets along with Bayless. Alexander is one of three inactives for the Hornets, per tweet by our friend Jim Eichenhofer.