The 2005 NBA season was a rusurgent one for the franchise from New Orleans. After drafting Chris Paul, the Hornets saw David West explode onto the scene averaging 17 points a game. They had a dynamic back court that was very close to reaching the NBA playoffs, but unfortunately their lack of size was exposed.
There was a lot of activity from the now Oklahoma City based organisation. They had two players they could build on top of and were hoping to find guys to complement them.
The Hornets traded J.R. Smith and P.J. Brown to Chicago for Tyson Chandler. They previously traded Jamal Magloire for the Milwaukee Bucks’ Desmond Mason and a 2006 first-round pick. The biggest move though was signing Free-Agent Peja Stojakovic. It was a very busy offseason (they also acquired several other free-agents like Jannero Pargo). The front-office knew they had to make moves to get more talent in. Signing Peja to that huge contract killed them over the long term, but it showed to the league that free-agents would be willing to go to New Orleans, if the contract was there.
All this had the Hornets looking like this heading into the draft:
PG: Chris Paul/Jannero Pargo
SG: Bobby Jackson/Devin Brown/ Rasual Butler
SF: Peja Stojakovic/ Desmond Mason
PF: David West/Linton Johnson/ Brandon Bass
C: Tyson Chandler/ Marc Jackson
So let’s see what the Hornets decided to do in order to solidify their roster.
Pre-Draft Needs And Wants
Heading into the Draft New Orleans still lacked size up front. While David West had broke out and Tyson Chandler had been traded for, the Hornets still weren’t sure whether they had enough size up front to compete. Many mock-drafts had New Orleans going for big-men. From Cedric Simmons to Patrick O’Bryant, it seemed like that was the direction the Hornets were leaning towards.
But also, New Orleans didn’t have a true shooting guard. A lot of draft pundits had us taking Ronnie Brewer either with our 12th pick or 15th pick.
But pretty much every mock draft had us taking center Hilton Armstrong with either the 12th or 15th pick. Armstrong rose on many draft boards because of his athleticism, size and shot-blocking. “I’m a quick, agile guy who plays a lot of defense. I can dribble and shoot, and a lot of (NBA) teams are starting to see that. Those are some of the things I didn’t get to do much in college. I play hard every game, and not everyone does that,” said Armstrong at a Hornets work-out.
The Hornets really wanted more size and interior defense, but rather than package their picks to move up, they stayed put.
With the 12th selection in the 2006 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Hornets selected Hilton Armstrong, Center out of the University of Connecticut. People for the most part loved this pick. Jim Calhoun had created a very good program and UConn and people were targeting his players, no matter their role.
My logic at the time was that either he or the 15th pick had to be a hit. It was simple probability.
With the 15th pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Hornets selected Cedric Simmons, Forward out of North Carolina State. Simmons had risen up the board, just like Armstrong, in large part due to his workouts. “I can shoot a face-up jumper, because that’s not something I got to do too much in college. It’s really not that consistent yet, but it’s getting there. I’m getting more confidence in it,” said Simmons in a interview with Hornets.com.
The unfortunate thing was that Ronnie Brewer got snagged one pick prior to the Utah Jazz. The Hornets decided to take a chance on Cedric, boy was that a mistake.
At the time, I was quite happy. It seemed like we had solidified out front-line, yet that wasn’t to be the case. I still can’t believe we couldn’t get something out of either of them. Big men have a tough time making it in the NBA, particularly as role players.
Success Or Failure?
A big fat failure. It was so big that looking back now makes you laugh at things like this:
“Quick: Name the Hornets’ general manager. A year ago, he drafted Chris Paul. Last week, he rebuilt the Hornets’ frontcourt, adding Cedric Simmons, Hilton Armstrong and Peja Stojakovic. You’ll remember Jeff Bower’s name next spring, when he wins Executive of the Year honors.” – Sporting News magazine, July 14, 2006
While Bower did some nice things over his time with the Hornets, he did a terrible job of drafting big-men (in fact a little known fact is that he didn’t draft Chris Paul, Allan Bristow did as General Manager). But could you imagine if one of those two guys had developed into, let’s say, a decent back up big man (maybe like a Chris Andersen) the Hornets would be in a lot better shape in terms of their current depth.
Armstrong never averaged more than 4 points per game, and his best season was when he started 23 times for New Orleans. Yet in light of that mediocre statistic, Hilton was terrible offensively. He looked lost, couldn’t shoot at all (despite him proclaiming to be a good shooter) and was never the defensive shot-blocker we all hoped him to be.
As for Simmons he was even worse (if that’s at all possible). After starting off his rookie year averaging just over 2 points a game Cedric fell off the map. He provided next to nothing on the court, other than just taking up space. He is now in China…
It’s very disappointing when you look back at a draft like this. What makes it that much more depressing is that it occured only one year after the 2005 draft which landed Chris Paul.
Drafting is the cornerstone to every franchise. Teams like Oklahoma City are now powerhouses because of it. If a team can draft successfully you can truly build around a core group of players and not try to mesh some veterans onto a roster. To learn from our mistakes we need to judge just how effective some of these guys in creating their own shot, ball security, defensive IQ and toughness among other things. Raw athleticism can be exciting, but if guy knows jack-all about how to play the game, he can end up like Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons, playing basketball for communists.