73756_hornets_rockets_basketball_medium_mediumThe wheels came off the Hornets season a long time ago. But if it weren’t for rookie point guard Darren Collison, they wouldn’t even be close to playing .500 basketball.

When I attended NBA Summer League in Las Vegas last summer I specifically wanted to see how the young point guards sized up. You could tell right away that the BucksBrandon Jennings was NBA-ready. Even though he was only 6’1″ he had abnormally long arms and big hands – almost an Allen Iverson body type but with a few more inches of height. Same went for the Thunder‘s James Harden and the KingsTyreke Evans, who looked like men among boys out there.

Speaking of boys, I was shocked at how small Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Darren Collison were versus their competition. Maybe I’m saying this because I’m almost 6’6″ myself and am rarely impressed by anyone’s height (except for the time I was in an elevator with Zydrunas Ilgauskas), but back in July I couldn’t foresee how great these guys would be given how small they were. Curry at least had a silky smooth jump shot and exceptional quickness. Lawson had the quickness, the ball sense and the bulk to stand up to bigger competitors. But Collison?

Collison didn't seem to have much going for him from my perspective at the time.  Listed at 6'0", he might be 5'10" on a good day and he weighs a mere 160 pounds.  Furthermore, Collison had one of the worst jump shots technique-wise that I've seen in a while.  It's a poor man's Reggie Miller-type shot, almost a two-handed push shot.  I quickly saw why this kid – in spite of being a bona fide winner at UCLA – slipped to the 21st overall selection.

And yet here we are in mid-March, and – until recently losing seven of 10 games – Collison has been carrying an injury-ravaged Hornets team to within arms’ length of a playoff berth. Not only has Collison made 10 NBA GMs look like morons (not hard to do) for passing on him, but he’s been getting Rookie of the Year consideration alongside Evans and Curry. The clear winner is and should be Evans, who has been doing it all season long. But Collison’s play since future Hall of Famer Chris Paul went out in late January (likely) for the season with knee surgery has been nothing short of sensational considering he’s an undersized rookie.

In the 19 games that Collison has started at point guard in CP3's absence, the rook is averaging 20.1 ppg, 9.8 apg, 1.7 spg and is shooting 48.3% from the field.  Those aren't typical numbers for the 21st overall selection in the draft, folks.  And during this stretch, Collison has had games with 18, 14 and 20 (20!) assists.  The only downside to Collison's game right now is that he's very turnover prone, to the tune of 4.5 per game since filling in for Paul.  But he gets a pass because all rookie point guards give the ball away at an alarming rate.

Unfortunately for Collison and Hornets fans everywhere, the team is still recovering in the wake of Byron Scott‘s poor coaching and subsequent firing, and Paul’s injuries. Scott should have been canned the day after the Nuggets beat them by 58 points at New Orleans in a playoff game last spring. That’s right, the day after. But by allowing Scott to come back while doing nothing to upgrade the bench sans drafting Collison and stealing fellow rookie Marcus Thornton (who’s been an absolute gift, more on him shortly) from Miami, the Hornets were in disarray before the season began. But as I like to say to my girlfriend after an argument, we are where we are and we have to move forward. And while the Hornets present won’t include a playoff berth, the Hornets future – thanks to Collison and Thornton – actually looks pretty bright.


Hornets Stiffs

Emeka Okafor: When I snagged Okafor in the middle of my fantasy basketball draft I was convinced I had a steal on my hands. Amazingly, Okafor played pretty damn well with Chris Paul but has been completely lost with Collison at the helm of the offense. So lost, in fact, that Okafor airballed two consecutive free throws against the Thunder the other night.

James Posey: Remember when this former Nugget was an integral piece to the championship puzzle in Miami and Boston? Now Posey is just another example of why guaranteed contracts ruin the NBA. Averaging a career-low 5.1 ppg on a career-low 35.3% shooting from the field, the now 33 year old Posey is due $6.9 million…two seasons from now!

Peja Stojakovic: Due a mere $15.3 million next season, the soon-to-be 33 year Peja is averaging near career lows in all categories and will be out for a few games with a lower abdominal strain. Because, you know, what’s an NBA season without Peja getting hurt?

Hornets Non-Stiffs

-Darren Collison: For all the reasons noted above.  The question facing the Hornets, however, is what to do with Collison when CP3 returns?  

-Marcus Thornton: When you’re the first second round pick to score at least 37 points in a game since Sherman Douglas did it in 1990, you’ve got game. Hornets interim head coach Jeff Bower has done a great job working Thornton into the lineup. In eight of his last nine games, Thornton has put up scoring nights of 37, 25, 18, 21, 30, 24, 18 and 28. I think the Hornets have found their shooting guard for the future.

David West: On a team being forgotten by most who follow the NBA, West is quietly having yet another solid season. His scoring and and rebounding is down a tad, but his field goal percentage is up and he’s had a slew of monster games recently. Notably a 40/10 game to lead the Hornets to victory over the Magic a few weeks ago.

Opposition's Take: At the Hive

Photo courtesy of AP: Pat Sullivan