For the Charlotte Hornets, preseason was a chance to try out some new lineups and schemes in a situation where the results didn't matter. None of these games were anything more than glorified exhibition games, and while the effort is certainly there, it's hard to say that players are going 100 percent. Despite all this, the Hornets finished the preseason with only one loss, and played some very solid looking basketball. While most of what happened the last month doesn't matter there are definitely some positives to take away from those exhibitions as Charlotte enters the season.
For starters, the offense played at a level that nobody in Charlotte has seen the entire Steve Clifford era. Gone were the Al Jefferson post moves, with Kemba Walker dribbling around for the half the shot clock, and replaced with it was ball movement with a flurry of 3-point shooting. This isn't to say that the Hornets never went back to their old ways, but unlike previous seasons, that wasn't their first option. The team instead relied on quickly moving the ball, using the pick and roll to their advantage, and trying to find open looks from deep. They averaged over 20 3-pointers per game, and even with the small sample size that's still an absurd number. The offense was shockingly modern from a team that's spent so much time using an offense that would have worked a lot better in the 90's. Preseason or not, Charlotte clearly is planning on running something different this season, and everybody is very hopeful that this new 3-point heavy offense sticks around.
Of course, part of why Charlotte was able to make this work had to do with the the lineups Steve Clifford was putting on the floor. Towards the end he was frequently starting games with Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, and Al Jefferson. Not only is that a lineup that can be a handful on defense, but Williams solid play throughout the preseason helped this lineup even more. Backup units usually featured players like Frank Kaminsky, Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb, or P.J. Hairston, and the common connection between all of them was the ability to stroke it from deep. This just adds in to the belief that the Hornets offense is going to undergo a change this season.
Also adding in to this belief was the lineup that Clifford found himself closing with. Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and Al Jefferson was usually the group in at the end of games and they played very well together. The dual ball handling from Lin and Walker worked out extremely well, despite both players being known best for their skill with the ball in their hands, and the extra creator in Batum allowed the offense to really get creative in how they moved the ball. What's interesting about this group is that it's not the best group of 3-point shooters in the world, but considering the rate that they were firing them up it might not matter.
What really made that closing lineup work however was Lin. The new point guard had an incredible preseason for the Hornets, and even found himself starting a couple times. He showcased an ability to play with Walker that will surely help his minutes this season, and he did a fantastic job penetrating to distribute the ball to 3-point shooters in the second units. It's unlikely Lin will find himself in the starting lineup, because of how well he manages the second unit, but at the moment he's likely to be one of those guys closing out games.
The most crucial part to everything the Hornets did this offseason is so much of it felt like process over results. If the Hornets averaged 110 points per game during preseason while running last year's horror show of an offense then nobody would have expected that to be sustainable. However, because there were obvious changes it allowed fans to be encouraged by their play. Lin in particular could have easily been putting up empty numbers, but his play was clearly within a system that was working, and again that's something to be excited about.
Of course, it was still just preseason, and all of this could end up being a whole lot of nothing by mid November. Even so, there is a lot to be encouraged about after this month of exhibition games. We just have to see how much of it actually caries over.