Hollinger's Team Forecast: NO/Oklahoma City Hornets

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The Hornets were one of the league's biggest surprises, more than doubling their win total behind impressive years from Rookie of the Year Chris Paul and Most Improved Player runner-up David West. The Hornets' 20-game improvement -- from 18 wins to 38 -- was the league's largest. Making it even more impressive was their doing it in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which forced the team to play most of its schedule in Oklahoma City.

Unexpectedly, Oklahoma City turned out to be a basketball town. The raucous crowds that showed up for Hornets games were a huge factor in the club's surprising early-season start. Overall the Hornets sold out 18 of their 36 games at the Ford Center (they also played games in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Norman), and finished 11th overall in attendance after coming in last a year earlier in New Orleans. It put the long-ignored Oklahoma capital on the map for future NBA relocations, although not for at least another year -- the Hornets will be back in 2006-07, playing 35 of their 41 home games there.

The Hornets found themselves in the playoff race thanks to the play of Paul and West. Paul, the fourth overall pick in the draft, played at an All-Star level and was the league's most effective rookie point guard since Oscar Robertson. West, meanwhile, had one of the biggest one-year player efficiency rating (PER) increases in history to give the Hornets a solid second option offensively. The two were dynamite together in pick-and-roll plays, with Paul penetrating and either taking it all the way or finding West at the free-throw line for a jumper. Another surprise was the play of shooting guard Kirk Snyder, who was sent to the Hornets as an afterthought in a multi-player trade following a disappointing rookie season in Utah. Teamed with Paul, the Hornets had a far more competent backcourt than many expected.

Unfortunately, that still didn't make the Hornets a good offensive team. With no low-post threat and tepid outside shooting, New Orleans/Oklahoma City (the club's inconvenient moniker until it returns to the Big Easy full-time) ranked just 26th in the NBA in offensive efficiency.