clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Hornets turned into a 3-point juggernaut during the NBA preseason

It's the dawn of a new era in Charlotte -- one where they join the rest of the NBA in realizing the importance of the three-point shot.

The Charlotte Hornets had an identity last season, but it wasn't a very good one. Sure, they had an elite defense -- giving up only 101 points per 100 possessions, which was ninth-best in the league -- but their offense was miserable. The Hornets plodded along, running plays through Al Jefferson to the tune of 97.6 points per 100 possessions, third-worst in the NBA.

Coach Steve Clifford believes he knows why the offense was so bad: The Hornets weren't taking enough three-point shots. Charlotte ranked 24th in three-point attempts last year, taking only 19.1 per game. Plus, they weren't even making the shots they did take, sinking only 6.1 per game for a league-worst 31.8 percent.

Unlike some basketball purists who aren't embracing the advantages of the three ball (how's that goink?), Clifford wants to emulate the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

"The 3-point shot now ... you know it makes sense," Clifford told CBS Sports. "It creates spacing on the floor, which opens things up for everybody else. You've got to be able to shoot threes."

Can't beat them? Join them

The Hornets aren't going to start jacking threes solely to join a growing trend. They're building a roster to do so, even (and perhaps especially) with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missing six months after shoulder surgery. The Lance Stephenson experiment failed, so Charlotte has assembled a team that should be able to shoot well with Jefferson roaming the middle.

"We're going to try to play 4-out a lot more," Clifford told CBS Sports, meaning that the Hornets will begin each play with Jefferson on the block and the rest of the offense outside the three-point line. Last season, the Hornets used this offense only 51 percent of the time, Clifford told reporters at a media luncheon.

Clifford has the roster to live out his goal. Kemba Walker and free-agent signing Jeremy Lin will run the point and trade acquisition Nicolas Batum is going to be asked to do a lot more than he ever did in Portland. Marvin Williams and P.J. Hairston will have to step up in Kidd-Gilchrist's absence and power forwards Cody Zeller and rookie Frank Kaminsky will help stretch the court as Jefferson handles the key.

The Hornets and Clifford are not shy about attempting to play like the NBA Champion Warriors. Clifford plans on playing Walker and Lin together -- he thinks they can be their own version of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

"It's always good to have two pick-and-roll players on the floor," Clifford told the Charlotte Observer. "That way, you can put pressure on the defense at one side, then switch it to the other. That makes more room to play similar to how Golden State does. You've got [Curry] on one side, so defenses have to load up there, and then you've got Thompson on the other with room to operate. That's what Kemba can do for Jeremy and Jeremy can do for Kemba."

Executing the plan

If the preseason is any indication, the Hornets are turning into a three-happy squad. Over eight games the Hornets averaged 25.6 three-point attempts per game. They made 9.3 per game, shooting 36.1 percent. All of these numbers are drastic improvements over last year's putrid numbers. It's only the preseason, but the Hornets did win seven of those eight games.

They have clearly placed an emphasis on outside shooting. Heading into the preseason, Cody Zeller had taken only two shoots from deep in his NBA career -- hitting one of them. This preseason, however, he was 4 of 6 from deep.

Clifford is happy to see him taking those shots. "He doesn't have to shoot 35 percent from 3," Clifford told reporters at a media event. "But if he shoots 32 percent it opens up his game."

That appears to be the motto for all of the Charlotte roster this season: Hit open shots because that will create more options elsewhere. And so far, the Hornets are doing what they set out to do. They shot more than 20 threes in all but one game this preseason.

The Hornets better make some shots

Clifford isn't the only one in the Hornets' locker room expressing the importance of the three-point shot. When asked what he worked on most this offseason, Kemba Walker told the Charlotte Observer, "The 3-ball."

Walker is a career 32 percent shooter from deep. The hope in Charlotte, however, is that he can improve in this new stretch offense because he'll be getting more open looks. That will be the goal for everyone on the roster.

Batum is a career 36 percent shooter from behind the arc. Lin has hit 34.9 percent during his career. Kaminsky shot 41.6 percent from behind the college three-point line as a senior, but that's college. If he can do that in the pros, Clifford will put him on the court often.

"If you look at trends in this league, last year of any statistic 3-point shooting percentage was the No. 1 factor in why teams won," Clifford told CBS Sports. "The five best 3-point shooting teams were the four teams that played in the conference finals and the Clippers. All five of them were top 10 all-time in the NBA. That's the way this league has gone."

The Hornets hope that by emulating the best, they'll join the them soon enough ... or at least make it back to the playoffs after a disappointing 2014-15 season.