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Run Hornets, Run?

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Last year the Charlotte Hornets were purposefully conservative with their fast break opportunities. Will that change this year? Should it? Let's run down the situation.

Lance running the break
Lance running the break
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The fast break can be entertaining, exciting, and quite efficient relative to other forms of offense.  A lot of NBA fans can fondly recall the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers, the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns, or even the iconic Fast Break starring Gabe Kaplan.  Those teams were famous for running the floor and getting easy baskets before the opposing defense could get set.

In 2014, Charlotte's coach Steve Clifford knew the team would have difficulty winning games if the team didn't control the boards and limit turnovers.  This may have been a big reason that he didn't ask the team to push the tempo, despite having players that project as positives in transition like Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Cody Zeller.

Last year the then Charlotte Bobcats were 25th in the league in fast break points per game with 10.2 and tied for 25th in the league for fast break points as a percentage of total points at 10.5 percent.  With the addition of Lance Stephenson and with another year of coach Steve Clifford's teachings, will the coach let the Hornets fly this year?


To Run or not to Run


There have been rumblings from training camp, such as the tweet above, that coach Steve Clifford might implore the Hornets to run more this year.  As mentioned, the Hornets added a guy in Lance Stephenson that can really run the fast break.

lance GIF

It makes sense that coach Clifford might want to unleash that on opposing teams this year.  If this is true, the question becomes what are the specific consequences for this year's Hornets team?

The team succeeded last year for a number of reasons.  A few of which were that the team limited turnovers (12.3 per game - best in the league), cleaned up the defensive glass (securing 76.6 percent of available defensive rebounds - best in the league), and took away opponent's fast break points (allowing only 10.2 per game - best in the league).  More running could potentially take away from these areas where the team had obvious strengths.

Could fast breaks lead to more turnovers?

Could more running lead to fewer players boxing out and getting defensive rebounds?

  • The top five teams in fast break points were all in the bottom third of defensive rebound percentage.

And finally, would more quick buckets for the Hornets lead to more of the same for their opponents?

  • Out of the five aforementioned teams, all but the Clippers finished in the bottom third of opponents fast break points (as a percentage of total points against).
Team FBPs %FB Pts FB Rank Opp FBPs %Opp FBPs Opp FB Rank TO Rank DREB% Rank
Phoenix Suns 18.7 17.80% 1 14.1 13.74% 23 19 22
Philadelphia 76ers 17.4 17.50% 2 16.6 15.10% 26 30 27
Los Angeles Clippers 18.6 17.30% 3 11.1 10.99% 2 5 26
Houston Rockets 18.5 17.10% 4 13.8 13.39% 20 29 20
Detroit Pistons 16.9 16.70% 5 14.1 13.47% 21 10 23

Stats via NBA.com

The stats here don't prove causation, but it seems logical to assume that running the break could negatively affect the Hornets in a number of ways.

Conclusion

The Bobcats had to do play "clean" basketball last year because the team lacked the talent offensively to make up for mistakes.  This year the Hornets have added talent to the roster and should be able to take more chances.  It's unlikely that the team will need to be the best in a number of categories in order to squeeze out wins in close games.  Although I don't think the Hornets should go full tilt and be at the top of this year's list of team fast break scoring, the team should look to run in the following situations:

1. Whenever Al Jefferson is out of the game.  Forcing the big guy to run up and down the court without getting frontcourt touches is an unwritten basketball no-no.  Asking Jefferson to gobble up boards while the rest of the team leaves him in the dust is a bad way to work around the team's offensive center piece.  However, if Clifford is set on using Stephenson with the second unit, then a lineup like Brian Roberts, Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and Bismack Biyombo could be deadly in the open floor.

2. When playing against teams with great halfcourt defenses.  There's no better way to breakdown a strong defense than to score before they can get set.

3.  Against teams coming off back-to-back games, long road trips, or starting a number of older players.  Throwing out the fast break could be a nice weapon to unleash on teams likely to be tired and unwilling to get back in transition.

Hopefully coach Clifford is ready to unleash the fast break as a situational weapon this year and the Hornets become more dynamic and efficient offensively as a result.