In 2004-05 the Hornets won 18 games. Last year, playing most of its home games in Oklahoma City, the Hornets won 38 contests. How did this team improve 20 games in the standings?
Although one does not want to discount the value of enthusiastic fans in Oklahoma, the primary factor in the resurgence of the Hornets can be tied to the same event that causes most teams to see a dramatic change in its fortunes. NBA teams typically make major leaps in the standings because the team adds a major star. And the Hornets last year were no exception to this rule.
The Hornets new star, Rookie of the Year Chris Paul, produced 18.0 wins in 2006-07. Only seven players bested his level of production last season. If we look at the players named Rookie of the Year over the past 15 seasons, only Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal were more productive players their rookie campaign.
Duncan and Shaq were the first players chosen in their respective drafts. Paul, though, was the fourth player chosen and not even the first point guard taken. The Utah Jazz took Deron Williams with the third choice in 2005, and he proceeded to produce 0.9 wins for Utah his rookie season. This effort did earn D. Williams one lonely vote for Rookie of the Year. Despite this one misguided vote, one would think most NBA observers would now prefer the talents of Paul.
Looking at the top three choices in 2005 — Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, and D. Williams – we see that these players combined to produce just 11.4 wins for their respective teams. One should note that forecasting rookie performance is difficult, so fans of the Bucks, Hawks, and Jazz should not be too angry with their respective teams for passing on Paul. And fans of the Hornets should not think the decision-makers for their team are somehow better at choosing talent than their competition.
To prove that the Hornets are not perfect in the player evaluation business, the team assembled around Paul last year – as one can see HERE – was somewhat lacking in production. In addition to Paul, only David West played more than 1,000 minutes and offered an above average level of productivity (average Wins Produced per 48 minutes is 0.100).
Paul and West should be getting some help this next season. The Hornets signed Peja Stojakovic this past summer to a five year contract. Stojakovic posted a WP48 of 0.148 for the Kings and Pacers last year and produced 8.0 victories. For his career his WP48 has been 0.155 and he has produced more than 60 wins. Of course he turns 30 next summer, so one wonders what level of productivity the Hornets will see the last year of this contract.
Of course, that is a problem for the distant future. For next year, Stojakovic fills an obvious need at small forward and/or shooting guard. The Hornets also acquired Tyson Chandler from the Chicago Bulls. As noted in The Wages of Wins, Chandler is one of those productive players who can’t score. Last year Chandler produced 10.3 wins for Chicago and he clearly can help the Hornets at the center position.
At this point the starting line-up for the Hornets appears formidable. Paul, Sojakovic, West, and Chandler are all above average players. Of course, four players is not a complete starting line-up. The likely fifth cast member is Desmond Mason. Mason is easily the weak link of this line-up, but even with his lack of productivity this starting line-up should excel. Combined these five players produced about 40 wins last year.
The problem for the Hornets begins once you go to the bench. Based on what we saw last year, the Hornets bench doesn’t appear very productive. None of the players on the bench were above average last year. In essence, it looks like the Hornets will go as far as the starting line-up can take them.
If this team were in the Eastern Conference it might challenge for home-court advantage in the first round. In the West this team might have a hard time just making the playoffs. Still, the Hornets look to be an improved team in 2006-07. And for the people of New Orleans, that is good news.
Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts