Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Opposing View: 12/19 vs. New Orleans

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Jim Eichenhofer of joins us today to talk about New Orleans. has an interview up with Sonics rookie Jeff Green. Also check out the blog

Is it fair to start talking about Chris Paul as an MVP candidate?
Personally, I think it’s probably a little too early to be debating the annual NBA awards, such as MVP and Coach of the Year. We’re only 25 games into the season and so much can change around the league in a week’s time, let alone four months from now, when the votes will be cast for those honors. With that said, though, if you go to’s “Race to the MVP” feature, they have Chris ranked fifth, behind only Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. That’s mighty impressive company and indicates the respect that he’s received for his performance early in the 2007-08 season. Short-term, I’d love to see Chris make his first All-Star Game appearance, especially with the game being played here in New Orleans.

Have the Hornets been pleasantly surprised by Tyson Chandler over the last season-plus, or was it anticipated he would anchor the middle as he has?
I don’t think anyone could tell you with a straight face that they thought Chandler would be this effective after his trade from Chicago. I know I didn’t. His fifth and final season with the Bulls in 2005-06 was the worst of his NBA career, one he described as “embarrassing.” Expectations from the New Orleans coaching staff were pretty high for him when he arrived, but he has exceeded what many believed he would do. He finished as the second-leading rebounder in the league last season and is averaging 11.6 points now. When he came over last summer I thought if he averaged about eight points, I would gladly take it. That sounds like a very modest goal – but not when you consider his scoring average of only 5.3 in his final year in Chicago.

How important is it for the Hornets to see the youngsters on their bench step forward?
For the future of the team, it’s extremely important, but recent injuries have made the youngsters’ development critical to the club’s immediate success as well. Lottery picks Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright both received only sporadic playing time early in the regular season, but are now every-game members of the rotation. Injuries to Melvin Ely (fractured eye socket) and Ryan Bowen (sprained knee) have led to Armstrong being the only big man available off Byron Scott’s bench in some games. Meanwhile, the absences of Peja Stojakovic (strained groin muscle) and Morris Peterson – who’s now back in the mix – meant significantly more minutes for Wright. Both young players have shown glimpses of their potential at times, but we’re talking about a 20-year-old rookie in Wright and a developing center in Armstrong whose appearance on the KeyArena hardwood will be just his 80th career NBA game.

How is the team different with Peja Stojakovic in the lineup?
I think Chris Paul put it best recently when he was talking about the impact of Peja Stojakovic. Paul says that the veteran small forward has such a tremendous league-wide reputation for his shooting ability, even if he’s missed 20 consecutive three-point attempts, opposing teams still won’t leave him unguarded. You always expect his next shot to go down. The respect he receives from defenses helps spread the floor for Paul and the other Hornets. To me, one of the biggest differences between this year’s club and the one that went 39-43 in 2006-07 is the presence of Stojakovic and Peterson. The Hornets went from one of the poorest perimeter shooting teams in the NBA to one of the best.

What don't we know about the Hornets but should?
That the players are committed to doing everything possible to re-connect with fans here in New Orleans, as the city continues its recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Morris Peterson signed with the Hornets partly because of the opportunity he saw at this point in the city’s history – to do something greater than just play basketball. I’ve heard multiple members of the team talk about how incredible it would be if the Hornets could approach the impact that the NFL’s New Orleans Saints made on people here during their 2006 run to the NFC title game.

The players know there are many ways they can use their position as professional athletes to help New Orleans. On the court, they would love to bring playoff basketball to the Big Easy for the first time since 2004. Off the court, they’re involved in a multitude of projects. The players are excited about many less-publicized efforts to make an impact in the lives of local children. Meanwhile, Chandler is donating $100 for each rebound he grabs this season to our Hoops for Homes program. That money is devoted to helping schoolteachers defray the costs of re-building and repairing their homes, eliminating one of the obstacles some face during their decision-making process of whether or not to return to the Gulf South region.