If the Cavaliers didn't have LeBron James, they probably wouldn't be very good. If the Lakers didn't have Kobe Bryant, they would still be passable. Without Carmelo Anthony the Nuggets would still make things work, though they definitely wouldn't be contenders.
Can you imagine the Heat without Dwayne Wade? Nope. They would be horrendous. And there is one player in the NBA that is more important to his team then Wade. His name is Chris Paul, and he is the New Orleans Hornets franchise.
But what about David West? West is an All-Star, yes, but he wouldn't carry the Hornets within a sniff of the playoffs without Chris Paul around. Other Hornets like Peja Stojakovic, Julian Wright, James Posey, and Morris Peterson can contribute at times, but are generally somewhere between ineffective and unreliable. They certainly aren't an average playoff roster in the always stacked Western Conference.
The Hornets were once considered an up-and-coming title contender, way back one season ago. Back then their team seemed well-rounded. West seemed to have unlimited potential. Tyson Chandler appeared to be a reliable double-double. And Peja hit every open shot that Paul created for him. Some thought that adding Posey would put them over the top.
Turns out that David West pretty much is what he is--a jump-shooting power forward who doesn't rebound quite as well as you'd like. Tyson Chandler and Peja couldn't stay on the floor, and looked increasingly like liabilities when they were out there. James Posey's impact was minimal.
"On a recent episode of antique roadshow, Peja and Mo Pete were valued well under their cost of $20 million."
This season Tyson Chandler was flipped for Emeka Okafor, who won't be slamming the 'oop quite like Chandler could, but is arguably a bit more reliable and gifted offensively. Lots of Peja's minutes are probably going to be taken by Julian Wright, who will need to prove that his talents can translate into effectiveness. They've finally secured a backup for West in Ike Diogu, and have a couple jitterbugs in Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton.
How much does that matter? Maybe a whole lot, maybe not much. A true blue superstar like Chris Paul can only bring a team so far. His surrounding cast needs to do the rest. And this might just be the year that the Hornets rally around their young leader.
Breakout: Emeka Okafor- Free from the anemic Bobcats, Emeka Okafor is going to absolutely flourish. David West occasionally draws a double-team, and will move the ball around until the big man is found right under the hoop. If I told you that Emeka Okafor could score over 15 points per game, block almost 2 shots, and grab about 10 rebounds, all while playing over 70 games, where would you draft him? Probably well before 72, which is where ESPN has him ranked.
Bust: Small Forwards- Julian Wright, Peja, and James Posey will all kill each other's value. Take note and don't draft any of them, not even as 3-point specialists, which is the only place they have value.
Useful: Chris Paul, David West- If I have the #1 pick, I'm taking LeBron for the first time this season. But if I have the #2 pick I'm taking Chris Paul without a thought. David West is a bit overrated at #22. He'll see less minutes this season, and I think his scoring average dips below 20 points per game. Still useful for his FT% if you're a guard-dominant team, but you're probably in bad shape if he's your third best player.
My Prediction: 51-31 (ESPN: 47-35) Chris Paul is the most valuable player in the NBA. He is the best basketball player in the NBA. With a new, younger supporting cast, Paul is going to make the Hornets look like a top team again, but don't get any big dreams. As long as this team is saddled by the enormous Peja Stojakovic contract, they just won't have the cap-space to add enough talent to make championship waves.
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