Posey Heightens Hornets’ Expectations
How big of a difference can a role player make to his team’s success? What impact can a journeyman defender truly have on the league’s championship landscape?
James Posey is not an All-Star. Surprisingly he is not even a member of the All-Defensive Team. Yet the newest member of the New Orleans Hornets holds the key to his team’s chances of winning it all next spring.
Thus far this season, Posey is averaging a mere 10 points a game and fewer than four rebounds a contest. His defensive stats are also somewhat underwhelming: .83 steals and .33 blocks each game. These are not the sort of averages that advocate a four-year, $25 million deal, such as the one Posey signed this summer.
Basketball purists though know that Posey’s merit lies not in empty, basic statistics: it comes from his unquantifiable defensive savvy and prowess. Posey’s length, height, athleticism and experience all work together to give him an edge on nearly every opponent he faces, including Kobe Bryant.
Posey does not proclaim himself a “Kobe Stopper” as Rueben Patterson once famously did, but he does possess the ability to get Bryant out of his shooting rhythm more than any defender today.
That capability to make Bryant’s life miserable is what will make the difference when the Hornets battle the Lakers in the months ahead for the Western Conference crown, as well as lock horns Wednesday night.
It was in large part Posey relentless defending of Bryant during last spring’s NBA Finals that helped the Boston Celtics win their seventeenth championship. For Posey, it was also a large part of why the Hornets paid him as much as they did.
His crowding and swarming slowed Bryant, just as it had earlier in the postseason against LeBron James and Richard Hamilton. Posey systematically forces opponents towards the end lines and into positions where help defenders can crowd shooters.
The Hornets are now hoping he can bring that same defensive wherewithal to a team that was sorely lacking in wing defense last year, particularly against Bryant, as the Laker star averaged 28 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.25 assists and 50 percent shooting over four games against New Orleans.
Posey knows Bryant’s tendencies better than any defender other than the Spurs Bruce Bowen, and unlike Bowen, he still has the quickness and strength to stay with elite guard and wing players step for step.
The former Xavier standout Posey plays a physical brand of defense, pressuring players into bad passes and offensive miscues. In that way he controls them and their overall impact on the game at hand.
With players like Bryant and James, it is impossible to ever shut them down completely, so all the Hornets ask is that Posey contain them and make them work for any baskets they get. He will draw the other team’s top assignment every night out for New Orleans.
So far, Posey already has helped limit James to his worst night of the young season. James scored a mere 15 points in a 104-92 loss to the Hornets, including shooting just making just one shot in the fourth quarter.
Success has certainly has not always been this straightforward for Posey: Denver selected him 18th overall in 1999, but he barely played at all in three seasons before being traded to Houston and signing as a free-agent with Memphis.
As Posey continued to struggle to find a home for himself, he was traded to Miami, where he worked through another disappointing regular season. Unexpectedly, Posey performed brilliantly during the playoffs as he increased his scoring, shooting percentage, and defensive intensity.
In the NBA Finals, he was tasked to guard Dirk Nowitzki and at times Josh Howard while still hitting one big three-pointer after another.
A season later he signed with the revamped Celtics. His time with Boston saw him find more success with timely baskets throughout the playoffs en route to the second title of his career.
Whether or not he can lead New Orleans to the NBA Finals will not be known of course for nearly eight more months. What can be said for certain already though is that Posey has brought with him a swagger and veteran confidence on defense that the Hornets did not have previously.
His experience provides them with credibility and a reason to believe that next spring might be their time. That is the difference James Posey has made for their title outlook.
Not bad for a role-playing journeyman.
Photo Credit: ICON Sports Media