College Wolf and I recently exchanged some Q & A (the title of this post isn't just a clever name) with atthehive of the aptly named and superb N'Orleans Hornets blog: @ The Hive. We square off against the Hornets tonight, looking to throw a little wrench into their #1 seed quest.
Again, I'd just like to thank atthehive and urge you guys to check out @ The Hive, if you don't already. If you're looking to read a blog about a team that has something to play for besides the latest college studs, check it out.
Let's get to the Q&A... (Our questions for atthehive):
The Old Logo: Things in the Western Conference are tight, but most are presuming New Orleans will finish at or near the top. What teams does the fanbase want to see in the first round, and if you could pick the one team that scares the fanbase the most for a first-round upset, which team is it?
atthehive: Yeah, it looks strongly like we will see one of Dallas, Denver, or Golden State in the first round. I think match-up wise, New Orleans is least likely to get upset by Dallas, which is ironic since Dallas plays far better D than the other two. Tyson Chandler's length allows him to play Dirk Nowitzki reasonably well, and the emergence and acquisition of Julian Wright and Bonzi Wells, respectively, gives us the ability to slow down Josh Howard. I really don't think much of Jason Kidd (and I don't think I'm in the minority in calling Devin Harris the better point guard), but Jason Terry will be a wildcard. Quick point guards like Tony Parker, Monta Ellis, and Terry have been difficult covers for New Orleans, and I don't expect that to change. I couldn't pick between Golden State and Denver because both are scary for the same reason- matchup problems. The Nuggets' size at every position save the 2 allows natural mismatches to occur all over the court. Don Nelson, meanwhile, produces "artificial" mismatches via screens and the like, that can be equally as deadly.
Please click "read more" for the rest of @theHive's answers, plus College Wolf and I answer some Wolves related questions.
College Wolf: If you believe CP3 should win the MVP this season, what is your single most compelling argument and why?
atthehive: The stats argue better for Chris Paul than anyone or anything else. LeBron James is the only guy in the league outperforming him in PER, but he only does so by a single point, and we need to remember that Paul is a point guard. At a 28.6 figure, Paul is having the single greatest season in the history of the point guard position. I can't stress that enough; he's been more valuable than Magic Johnson ever was, more valuable than Oscar Robertson ever was, and seasons like Nash's MVP years don't even begin to compare. In fact, Nash' MVP years were the 26th and 51st best seasons by a point guard statistically. If the 26th and 51st ranked years get you back to back MVP's, how can the number 1 season get nothing?
College Wolf: The Birdman is back! Does he bring anything to the table at this point, or would the franchise (and perhaps the fans) been better off to not even bother with him?
atthehive: I think it was a move the Hornets had to make. At the time he was reinstated, the bench was just atrocious; the interior D was nonexistent, and Jeff Bower would've been maligned had Anderson gotten away to another Western contender. All in all, I'm very glad we brought him back. He hasn't lost much of his athletic ability, which was what made him so great in the first place. Hilton Armstrong is the more talented offensive player, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Chris make the playoff rotation over him for his rebounding and defense.
College Wolf: Do you think the collective lack of playoff and big game experience will be a detriment to the team come playoffs?
atthehive: In a word, no. I hate to link to myself, but I actually did a (very statistically oriented) post on this subject just a few days ago. Normally, I might think that experience plays some sort of role, but the stats say they haven't in recent history.
College Wolf: If you guys don't win it all this season, what are some off-season moves/acquisitions/releasees/free-agents (in your opinion) that could perhaps push this team over the top in the near future?
atthehive: Honestly, I haven't looked that much into it. I do have a few guesses though- if anything happens to our back-up guards, I think New Orleans would be wise to give Chris Duhon (of Chicago) a good look. Duhon's a guard with great size (a change up from the trio of Pargo, Jackson, and James we fielded this year), and he's from Louisiana. This team is one skilled big-man back-up away from being "truly" over the top. Francisco Elson of Seattle intrigues me, especially since I don't see the Sonics giving him any sort of long term deal. Of course, Josh Smith will be the most coveted guy on the market this year, but acquiring him just wouldn't make much sense for New Orleans. My best guess is that the Hornets stand pat this offseason, and concentrate on saving to lock up their core (CP3, DW, and TC) long term.
Here's our answers to his questions.
atthehive: Recently, we have seen Minnesota play two great games against Utah (2 wins), as well as a very close game against Boston back in February. What's the biggest change about this team since the beginning of the year when many considered them a lock for worst record?
TheOldLogo: I think two things changed. First, while Al Jefferson started as the centerpiece of the Wolves' end of the KG deal, it was widely acknowledged that he would be a work in progress. Somewhere in the middle of the year, he changed from a "fantasy stat stud on a bad team" to someone that not only legitimately kept the Wolves in games, but sometimes won them for the team (both wins against the Suns and a home win against the Nets where he was unstoppable even when triple teamed). My primary concern with Jefferson as a cornerstone for this team was his lack of presence as an alpha-dog. However, something clicked in him and I'm convinved he can turn into a leader on a good team, as well. Second, the wins against Utah are the product of a team that started to gel, and the fact that Utah has a tough time playing away from Salt Lake City. At the beginning of the season, the starting lineup was Telfair (starting in place of an injured Foye), McCants, Gomes, Jefferson, and Ratliff. Injuries and rotation switched resulted in a wide array of starting lineups throughout the early portion of the season. As a frequent critic of Coach Wittman, I will give him credit for sticking to the players that might have a future here and for keeping his players motivated, and his decision to stick with some of the younger guys (or at least the players I think the Wolves may try to retain) has resulted in some positive chemistry and some cohesion on the court, which ultimately created some wins.
atthehive: Talk a little bit about Al Jefferson- could he potentially be the "next KG" as some projected? What areas of his game does he still need to work on?
College Wolf: I hate to label Al Jefferson (or anyone for that matter) "the next KG"… because it's really not fair to the player being compared. KG is one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball. How is a 23 year old supposed to live up to those incredibly lofty expectations? All that can do is set Jefferson up for failure.
What Al Jefferson has done is become the new "face of the franchise" in the absence of KG. It is similar, but not a direct comparison to KG. Big Al has exceeded most (if not all) expectations that any reasonable fans could have had for him coming into this season. He has grown into a leader on the court, and is the number 1 "go to" option on offense with some of the best post moves of any player in the L. If the Front Office is able to land him some front court help, he could become one of the best big men in the game as he matures.
His biggest and most glaring deficiencies are undoubtedly his man defense and passing (namely out of the double and triple teams he sees on a nightly basis.) In Al's defense, his passing has grown measurably from what it was at the beginning of the season. His defense seems to be improving as well, even if it may indeed be at the expense of some of his offense (which seems to be the case over the past month or so.) Hopefully he will be able to come back strong next season, and exert as much energy on defense as he does on offense throughout the course of each game… and entire season.
atthehive: Obviously, losing a guy like Kevin Garnett can only severely hinder a team. However, statistically speaking, the dropoff in defensive efficiency has not been that bad from last year to this season. What's going on in Minny that has allowed the team to compensate for the loss of a defender of Garnett's caliber?
TheOldLogo: I have a few theories on it. KG is one of the best defenders in the league, but even his defensive presence could not make up for the Mark Blount, Ricky Davis, and Mike James poo-poo platter of defensive liability last season. Also, the tempo of this year's offense allows for better defensive sets. The majority of the NBA watching population did not get to appreciate KG while he was in Minnesota because the team was only in contention once and the market is small. Now that he has some spotlight, I'm pleased that more people get to experience the magnitude of his game (though his best seasons, 02-03 and 03-04 are past). One thing people should have noticed is that he is a jump-shooter. Granted, he is a very good jump shooter, his offensive game consists of jump shooting and passing. While that passes on the current Celtics team, if you look at last year's roster, Mark Blount at center (not only a jump shooter, but I'm not sure if he ever went into the paint), Mike James, at least for part of the season (jump shooter), Ricky Davis (jump shooter), and Trenton Hassell (no offense), it's easy to see where the problem lies. Off of missed outside jumpers, the opportunity for fast breaks occur and that pretty much neutralizes KG's defense. This season, Al catches it in the low post and beats people up, or else he's down there trying to rebound the missed shot. Basically, the Wolves have better all around defensive personnel and their style of game allows the team to set the defense better.
atthehive: What's your take on Glen Taylor's comments about Garnett "taking games off"? Were they totally off the mark, or was there some hint of truth to them that the media just doesn't want to acknowledge?
TheOldLogo: I really didn't have much reaction to this. This is like a fourth grader that still uses, "My dad can beat up your dad." Anyone who follows KG knows that the statement, at face value, is incorrect. KG can face legit criticism for not taking over games in the fourth (even though without him, we weren't even in the games in the fourth), or deferring on offense too much (and by that, he had a statement that basically said if he has an open look from 10 feet and sees a teammate with an open look from 5 feet, he'll pass it), but not for taking games off. All that intensity and pride he shows in the Celtics jersey now, he showed in the TWolves jersey before. The Twin Cities has seen sweat pouring and f-bombs dropping for ten years. This is KG's Basketball-reference.com page. Check the Games and Games Started columns, and I think that speaks for itself.
atthehive: Finally, let's suppose you were GM of the team, and you could pick only five guys off the current squad to have next year. Who do you take, and why?
College Wolf: Ah, if only I were the GM of this team. It's probably not as easy as it sounds, but it would be hard to do a worse job than McHale during the past decade.
1) Big Al Jefferson - A no-brainer. He's obviously the best player on our team and no one else is really close.
2) Ryan Gomes - The consummate "glue-guy." He's the type of high basketball-IQ guy that is good at everything, but not really great at anything. Still, all the great teams need at least one or two players of this mold in their rotation to succeed.
3) Corey Brewer - A versatile, defensive-minded player that only knows how to play at 2 speeds: Fast and faster. After seeing much of his college career and this first season, I am convinced that his offensive game can only improve.
4) Kirk Snyder – I couldn't decide between Randy Foye and Rashad McCants, because quite frankly, I don't really like either of the players all that much. Kirk Snyder has been playing decently lately and is capable of taking the ball to the rack almost whenever he pleases. The Wolves are in desperate need of a "slasher" that can create contact on the way to the hoop and get to the foul line. Snyder fits the bill and his soon-to-be free agent contract should be cheap.
5) Mark Madsen – I was thinking of being a smart aleck and putting "This Years Hopefully Top 2 Lottery Pick" here, but then decided… why the heck not, I'd keep The People's Champion. He's a great morale booster, member of the community, and his remaining contract isn't very intrusive at all.