Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today Sports (http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/playoffs/2016/04/15/hornets-improved-three-point-shooting-rich-cho-steve-cliffford-kemba-walker-al-jefferson-jeremy-lin-marvin-williams-nic-batum/83073886/)
The Charlotte Hornets’ front office, led by general manager Rich Cho, and Coach Steve Clifford and his staff had an honest postmortem discussion after the 2014-15 season.
“The stat that stood out was that some of the top three-point shooting teams by percentage were the teams that played in the conference finals, and we are 30th,” Clifford told USA TODAY Sports.
An impressive revamping of the roster steered by Cho addressed that need. The Hornets went after versatile shooters, using the three-pronged approach of draft, trades and free agency.
They drafted Frank Kaminsky, traded for Nic Batum and Jeremy Lamb in the offseason and Courtney Lee during the season and signed Jeremy Lin during free agency in July. Add considerable player development from Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller, and the Hornets generated desired results.
They tied for seventh in three-point shooting percentage, fourth in three-pointers made per game and fourth in three-pointers attempted per game – up from 30th, 26th and 24th last season.
It has led to a more versatile offense that finished ninth in offensive efficiency at 105.1 points per 100 possessions, up from 28th last season. They did it without sacrificing defense, a conundrum teams have trouble solving.
Charlotte finished 48-34 – its best season since 49 victories in 1999-2000 – and are in the playoffs after a one-year break. Though they are the sixth seed based on tiebreakers, seeds three-six in the East have identical records.The Heat-Hornets first-round series is more like a three seed vs. three seed.
- Walker, a most improved candidate, averaged 20.9 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds and developed a reliable three-point shot.
- Batum did what he has done most of his career: 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while often defending the opponent’s top perimeter player.
- Center Al Jefferson remains one of the game’s most skilled low-post players and helps create space at the three-point line for shooters.
- Williams shoots 40.2% on threes, and Lee is at 39.2% on threes.
- Off the bench, Lin averages 11.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and three assists.
- The Hornets also use an effective big man by committee: Zeller, Kaminsky and Spencer Hawes.
The versatile shooters and Jefferson’s post-game have allowed Charlotte to play a style with four players on the perimeter and one player inside, creating necessary spacing to utilize different offensive sets. Last season, the Hornets played four-out, one-in about 48% of the time, and this season, it’s almost a 100%, Clifford said.
“Your shooting on the floor in this league is your spacing,” he said. “Teams are only going to guard you to where you can shoot from. We didn’t have a lot of space last year for guys to play. It makes an incredible difference.”
This season was needed after last year’s step back and playoff absence. OwnerMichael Jordan gave Cho latitude to reshape the roster, and Cho’s moves have made him an executive of the year candidate. He sought specific players.
“We wanted to improve on the offensive end, so we made a concerted effort to do that, and in particular improve our shooting and our overall skill level,” Cho told USA TODAY Sports. “Look at some of the guys we brought in. They can all shoot, and they all have high skill levels. We also looked at guys who could play more than one position and have some versatility to their games.”
“When we look to acquire players, there are certain qualities we look for – guys who have a strong work ethic, guys who play with a high degree of competitiveness, guys with high character and guys who are good teammates, unselfish players.”
But even Cho admitted he had no firm idea how it would work out on the court. Clifford, who should get coach of the year mentions, had to facilitate.
“We’ve had a good work team since we’ve been here and the guys we added are similar to that,” Clifford said. “That came in with a good attitude, team-first and are willing to work to get better. In terms of having a good team culture of work and unselfishness, you could tell we were going to have that.
“A lot of times coaches get credit for that, but so much of attitude and work is your roster. A coach has a part in that, but bottom line is you have guys who want to win or don’t, and we do. That’s so critical.”