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Despite offseason acquisitions Hornets still can't buy a 3-pointer

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The focus for the Charlotte Hornets this offseason was to improve outside shooting around center Al Jefferson. Despite the front office's effort, the Hornets still rank as one of the league's worst 3-point shooting teams. What's the problem and can the team fix it?

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In seemingly every interview at the end of last season, coach Steve Clifford and general manager Richard Cho talked about the need to add shooting to the roster. After making the playoffs last season with a team dedicated to feeding Al Jefferson the ball down low, it made sense to build on that formula by adding players able to space the floor

The team added Marvin Williams (35.9 percent on 3-pointers last year), Brian Roberts (36 percent), Lance Stephenson (35.2 percent), and P.J. Hairston (35.8 percent in the D-League). Despite the addition of four quality 3-point shooters, the Hornets rank 24th in 3-point attempts per game, 26th in 3-point percentage, and 25th in percentage of total points from 3-pointers.

Looking at the shot chart and the numbers from above, you might say well that's about the same as last year and for the season you'd be right. But after the All Star break, the Hornets were 19th in 3-point attempts per game, 24th in 3-point percentage, and 19th in percentage of points from 3-pointers. Why are the Hornets shooting so poorly, then?

The offense as a whole is a work in progress

Last year the Hornets lost Al Jefferson to an ankle injury in the presason and he missed nine of the team's first twelve games. Without practice time to adjust to a player that completely changed their offensive system, the team struggled by losing five of the first seven games upon his return. Coach Steve Clifford has been quoted numerous times describing the difficulty of playing inside-out basketball.

This year, Jefferson has been healthy for every game of the season, but the players around him have struggled to stay on the court. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, Marvin Williams, and P.J. Hairston have all missed games. The Hornets have used five different starting lineups through the first 18 games of the season.

Without offensive chemistry, the team isn't generating good looks

The typical Charlotte offensive possession is not geared to generate a 3-point shot. In the simplest terms, the offense is built to get the ball to Al Jefferson as close to the rim as possible. If that is unsuccessful, the offense usually reverts to Kemba Walker trying to generate a shot for himself or his teammates. Even though Jefferson is routinely doubled in the post, the team runs very little secondary action to free up a shooter once the ball is down low.

In the NBA today, teams generate a lot of 3-pointers out of the pick and roll. Unfortunately, Charlotte just doesn't have the personnel in the starting lineup to really take advantage of that play. Yes, Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson run the pick and roll plenty, but it rarely results in a play to free up a 3-point shooter. This is because Jefferson just doesn't create much separation on his picks, Walker has trouble making cross-court passes once turning the corner, and Jefferson rarely passes when he does catch the ball on the roll.

Watch John Wall and Marcin Gortat run the play. The defense is forced to honor both Wall's drive if he chooses to turn the corner and Gortat's dive to the rim. This sucks in the defense and typically leaves a player open in one of the corners. Unlike Walker, John Wall has the ability to see and pass over defenders in order to get his teammates those wide open looks.

To back some of this up, let's take a look at NBA.com's player tracking data.

Closest Defender 3PM 3PA 3P%
0-2 Feet - Very Tight 1 10 0.1
2-4 Feet - Tight 17 75 0.227
4-6 Feet - Open 44 134 0.328
6+ Feet - Wide Open 42 106 0.396

The Hornets are taking a large amount of their 3-point shots with a defender within six feet of the shooter. As one would expect, the further away the defender, the better the shooting percentage. In order to get those wide open looks, it helps if the team is able to create a defensive breakdown.

Another avenue to breaking down a defense is to drive and kick the ball back out to the perimeter. If a player can get past his initial defender, this typically causes a chain reaction of rotations that an offense can exploit to find an open shot. Again, the starting lineup isn't geared to generate drives to the basket. With Al Jefferson camped out near the lane at all times, there are typically two defenders between a perimeter player and the hoop at all times. This might help explain why the Hornets are 22nd in drives per game (according to NBA.com's player tracking data).

Guys are shooting worse than they should be

On the surface, the Hornets' 3-point shooting dilemma could be attributed to guys just not shooting well. Take a look at the Hornets main shooters this year compared to last year.

Players 2013 2014
3PA 3P% 3PA 3P% Difference Point Diff
Kemba Walker 4.5 0.333 4.3 0.273 -6% -0.3246
PJ Hairston* 7.8 0.358 3.9 0.372 1% -1.3416
Marvin Williams 3.5 0.359 3.1 0.388 3% -0.0537
Gary Neal 3.1 0.406 2.7 0.429 2% -0.1003
Brian Roberts 2.5 0.36 2.4 0.302 -6% -0.1752
Lance Stephenson 3.1 0.352 2.1 0.184 -17% -0.7048
Gerald Henderson 1.5 0.348 1.4 0.273 -8%

-0.1398

*2013 stats from D-League

Although a few players are shooting a better percentage from 3-point range this year compared to last, every single player is contributing less points on 3-pointers per game ("Point Diff"). P.J. Hairston has the largest decrease in points generated from beyond the arc, but that is due to his obscene 3-point shooting volume in the D-League last year. The next largest drop off is Lance Stephenson, who has only made seven 3-pointers this year. His first didn't come until the sixth game of the season when he banked in the game winning shot against the Atlanta Hawks in double overtime.

So can it improve?

The simple answer is yes. Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson are in visible funks. Brian Roberts is proof that a player can turn around their shooting percentages. Roberts has shot 40 percent in his last four games after starting the season in the same camp as Stephenson.

However, if the Hornets really want to improve their scoring output from 3-point range, the team might have to consider some offensive wrinkles that are designed to free up 3-point shooters. Lance Stephenson, Kemba Walker, and Marvin Williams can all make a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer if called upon.

Another avenue would be to consider changes to a number of lineups. This isn't something coach Clifford will likely entertain, because historically he has been quite rigid with wholesale lineup changes, and for good reason. Adjusting just one starter creates a domino effect that might change up four or five other rotations.

However, with Stephenson succeeding with the second unit, it might be something worth considering. A starting lineup of Walker, Hairston, Henderson, Williams, and Jefferson until Kidd-Gilchrist returns could be interesting. This would move Cody Zeller to the second unit. As well as he has played, he might be best served partnering with Stephenson and Neal on the second unit. That unit can generate 3-point looks for Roberts and Neal by utilizing the quality screen setting of Zeller and Bismack Biyombo.

At this point, there are two camps forming amongst Hornets' fans. The first believes that 18 games is enough to mark the Hornets as a finished product that cannot improve as currently constructed. The second feels that this team hasn't played its best basketball and things are likely to improve. When it comes to 3-point shooting, the latter feels far more likely. Hopefully if the team can start converting more looks from beyond the arc, they can start winning a few more games in the process.