Hornets More Than Chris Paul and David West
The New Orleans Hornets big three of Chris Paul, David West and Emeka Okafor will ultimately dictate whether or not a playoff berth is achieved, but the play of the next four guys on the roster will be the determining factor of how much success the franchise enjoys in the playoffs.
However in this case the next tier of Hornets aren’t content to make Paul, West and Okafor do all the heavy lifting down the stretch.
"Everybody wants to go to the playoffs especially with this team that last year didn’t play a good season," Hornets starting shooting guard Marco Belinelli told HOOPSWORLD. "For me, it’s very important because this is my fourth in the season in the NBA and I’ve never played a playoff game. So I want to go into the playoffs and I want to see how the play is. Everybody is talking about the playoffs is more tough, so I want to prove to everybody I’m ready for that. "
As we close out the season, only four games separate the fifth and eighth and final playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
The Hornets currently occupy the sixth slot if the playoffs were to begin today, but their final twelve games of the season are all against playoff caliber teams.
Reserve point guard Jarrett Jack is another Hornet with a significant role in the rotation who has yet to log a single playoff minute in his career.
The veteran has come close to tasting the postseason fruit in the past but a berth has constantly eluded his grasp.
"It’s kind of a mirror image from last year even though we weren’t in the sixth or seventh spot," Jack told HOOPSWORLD in reference to his stint with the Toronto Raptors in 2010. "We were on the cusp of being in or on the cusp of being out. It’s really up to us to see if we can come out and take care of business for these final twelve games left."
Both Belinelli and Jack talk passionately about being more aggressive in their current roles in order to assist their top three down the stretch.
Belinelli, as a member of the starting lineup, talks of more defensive intensity since the main rotation doesn’t need another offensive juggernaut.
"I think it’s important for me to play aggressive," said Belinelli. "We are a defensive team so everything has to start from our defense. As for the offense we have Paul and [David] D-West that are our two All-Star players. We don’t have a lot of problems on offense."
On the other hand Jack wants to remain in attack mode offensively while anchoring the team’s reserve unit. The backup floor general has averaged 13.8 points on 49 percent shooting from the floor after the All-Star break.
"I’m just being aggressive," Jack said to HOOPSWORLD referring to his improved play since the All-Star break. "[I'm] trying to come out in attack mode and just trying to help the team in any way possible. For me it’s translated into scoring but that’s not the only thing I focus on. I just try to come out and take what the defense gives me and try to be a threat out there."
One of the biggest surprises of the season for the Hornets has been the career year experienced by Belinelli under rookie head coach Monty Williams.
The fourth year guard is averaging 10.2 points per game but has also become the team’s leading perimeter marksman by shooting over 40 percent from three-point range.
Belinelli’s play was so encouraging the organization felt it could package high scoring shooting guard Marcus Thornton to Sacramento in order to acquire more frontcourt depth in power forward Carl Landry at the trade deadline.
The Italian born Belinelli believes this endorsement from the organization and coach has helped aid in his confidence and development.
"I think it’s important to have confidence from the coach," Belinelli said. "But [also] from everybody else like teammates, assistant coaches and the owners. At the same time it’s important that you can go on the court and make a mistake and can still play."
"I just know my guys," Belinelli added. "I love to work before and after practice. I have confidence in myself and from my teammates and that is important to me."
Being able to play free on the court without constant worrying that the smallest of mistakes will land you on the bench is also another aspect of Belinelli’s inspired play this season.
"Last year and the year before when I was making mistakes the coaches would take me out of the games," Belinelli said to HOOPSWORLD. "It was tough dealing with that. I don’t want to make mistakes, but we know for everybody it’s impossible to not make mistakes."
Jack, who was acquired in a November trade, says the overall character and professionalism of the team has been the lynchpin of the season to date success.
"Veteran approach," Jack quickly responded when asked about the character of his new teammates. "Guys who care about nothing else besides winning. It’s good to see guys who have the same approach I do."
For Belinelli, besides the postseason goal another objective he wanted to conquer during the 2011 season was becoming a full-time starter.
"I think every player wants to play in the starting five and be important for the team," Belinelli said. "I was ready for that. I worked for that and I’m happy right now."
That happiness with the organization has the No. 18 overall pick of the 2007 draft wanting to remain a member of the Hornets for the long term.
"I think so," Belinelli told HOOPSWORLD when asked in New Orleans felt like home. "I feel that in New Orleans I’m really growing. The fans are good. This team is incredible. We are a good team, but in the locker room we are a real group. For me, I don’t know about my future but I’d love to stay here."
Belinelli will enter the upcoming summer as a restricted free agent and the Hornets will have a shot to retain his services, by letting the market set his value.
Back to the present, if the Hornets can overcome the brutal schedule to end the season they’re poised to get back into the playoff mix after failing to clinch a spot in 2010 when Paul missed 37 games due to injury.
To achieve this success guys like Belinelli and Jack are going to have to continue stepping up and taking the pressure off the lineup’s main cogs.