After the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Denver Nuggets on Veterans Day, the New Orlenas Hornets became the last undefeated team in the NBA this season. Coming out of the free-agency sweepstakes with no new big names and just a few trades, this team was not one of the expected powerhouses like the Lakers, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, or Orlando Magic. Looking at the team, here are five reasons contributing to the team’s recent success despite a preseason where they lost a game against the Magic by 54 points.
1. Skill at the top of the lineup with three stars
While the Hornets are not known for sporting a “Big 3,” the team has had their own 3-headed beast with Chris Paul at the point, All-Star David West scoring inside, and Emeka Okafor playing solid interior defense. Paul, the leading scorer of the team averaging 17.9 points a game, has also averaged nearly 10 assists a game and over 2 steals a game. Adding the leadership and chemistry he has with West, these two players serve as two elite scoring weapons that opponents need to concentrate on. As for Okafor, he is the 5th leading shot blocker in the NBA and is the reliable center option Tyson Chandler never was.
2. Simple trades made this offseason are paying off
Whether it was the draft day trades that landed Quincy Pondexter, Jason Smith, and Willie Green or the acquisitions of Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinelli, the Hornets made several low-risk moves that have greatly improved the overall look of their team. Aside from Paul, West, and Okafor being the three main stars of the team, Ariza and Belinelli round out the starting five, both of whom are averaging double-digits in points. Smith and Green are both benefiting from a change in environment, as they’re producing off the bench and are proving to be key scorers off the bench. Also with low-risk pickups of Jerryd Bayless and Joe Alexander, there are some young high-draft picks that may prove to be useful in the future.
3. Monty Williams as head coach
Perhaps one of the most forgotten new changes for the Hornets is at head coach. Currently the youngest head coach in the NBA at age 39, Williams was an assistant coach for the Portland Trail Blazers behind Nate McMillian for five years and is only the fifth coach to win his first seven games as a head coach, succeeding Larry Brown, Lawrence Frank, Buddy Jeannette, and Kurt Rambis. Williams has come in and not only garnered the respect of his roster, but has lead them to the 7-0 start and is having them play a consistently solid game.
4. Overall team defense mentality
Perhaps one of the best improvements of this team is its overall team defense. Known for starting defensive-liabilities such as Peja Stojakovic, Jannero Pargo, and Rasual Butler in the past, the team has brought in a tough wing defender in Ariza and has limited all opponents to under 100 points this season. Williams along with lead assistant coach Mike Malone have made team defense a priority and has gotten their team to transition defense into offense for the victories.
5. Offensive efficiency
Ranked 26th in the league (76.9) at shots attempted per game, the team is able to utilize all of their offensive possessions to make the most of their attempts. Not only are the Hornets 6th in the league in field goal percentage, but also rank 6th in three-point percentage and 13th in free throw percentage. This year’s offensive efficiency, compared to the Hornets years past, have always been a highlight of their team and has been key for them succeeding and making the playoffs two out of the last three years.