This play during one of the Charlotte Hornets preseason games sticks out when thinking about Charlotte's revamped offense:
Presented without comment pic.twitter.com/Q0wWXKRkRl— Hive Talk Live (@HiveTalkLive) October 11, 2015
"They do have a good spirit there," said Zach Lowe in his podcast conversation with Jeff Van Gundy last Friday. "There is a camaraderie in a sort of 'let's work together' aspect of Big Al, Kemba, and everyone is happy for each other."
That is going to be the key element of any success that the Hornets have on the offensive end this season. The league is trending in the direction of ball movement after seeing teams like the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors win titles due to their unselfishness. Passing up a good shot for a great shot is what separates pretenders from contenders. For the Hornets, it could be what gets them out of mediocrity and into the playoff picture.
Compared to last season, this is an area that the Hornets will naturally improve in. Losing a ball stopper like Lance Stephenson and filling those minutes in with exceptional playmakers like Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin will naturally make the Hornets' offense better. The early indications in preseason show this won't just be an "addition by subtraction" story with Lance leaving; with a new uptempo, free flowing system in place, the Hornets are now shooting more jumpers within a flow and rhythm instead of trying to go crazy on their own. Last season, Charlotte ranked dead last in the league in field goal attempts taken without a dribble.
It also helps when you have better three point shooters on your team, something that GM Rich Cho and the front office made a priority to add this offseason after the team finished last in the league in three point shooting last season.. Adding above average three point shooters in Batum, Lin, rookie Frank Kaminsky, and Jeremy Lamb give them the types of spot up players you need to make a fast paced, high ball movement offense work. It's that combination of shooters and playmakers that create high percentage looks.
After being the worst outside shooting team in 2014-15, Charlotte came out guns blazing in their preseason contests, shooting 36.1 percent from three, good for sixth best. After only shooting 19.1 attempts from three last season while chucking up the most mid range shots per game at 18.4, Charlotte traded those inefficient mid range shots for threes, bombing 25.8 per game and only 11.6 mid range field goal attempts in the preseason. It isn't like their pace is blowing people away; it is as simple as moving the ball and taking better shots.
Every team uses the pick and roll in some way, shape, or form as their main action to create open looks for their players. The action that Steve Clifford has implemented in this Hornets offense, however, is the dribble handoff from his bigs. According to Synergy Sports, Charlotte ran the second most handoffs in the preseason of any team and was ranked fifth in efficiency scoring out of those handoffs. It essentially acts as a side pick and roll, only the big dribbles right at the guards' defender making it easier to make contract on his screen and harder for the opposing team to guard.
If teams go under it, then Charlotte now has guys who can hit threes and make the defense pay for disrespecting them.
If the four feels his man getting ready to show in order to stop the ball handler going middle, then he can keep the ball and take it for an open layup because of the spacing. If the team decides to ICE on the side - a defensive scheme that sends the ball handler towards the baseline - then the four can hit the guard on a backcut and slip towards the middle to work a four on three.
The high post catch by the four man is something that Mike D'Antoni invented when he was in Phoenix. Most teams have their four man take the ball out on made baskets, and in order to save their energy while also speeding the pace up, he had guys like Amar'e Stoudemire catch at the high post to initiate their offense. In order for that to work, you need athletic guys at that position and the Hornets are fortunate to have two of those players in Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams. Both can handle the ball well at the four spot and have the athleticism to be matchup nightmares for bigs. Zeller especially was impressive in the preseason, consistently blowing by guys off the dribble and beating players down the floor for easy dunks.
Everyone agrees that this new Hornets motion offense is ten times better than whatever it is this team threw on the court last season. The divisive moves that the front office made in the offseason have seemed to pay off and Coach Clifford has used those pieces to build a workable offense. The downside to this new type of motion, however, is that their previous offensive focal points are now in a system that doesn't use their strengths.
With Kemba Walker, you can see him eventually fitting in. It will take some getting over a lot of the long two's that he normally shoots and instead, trade those shots for threes or making a play to get his teammates a shot. The numbers that I cited earlier about the whole team trading long two's for threes are very encouraging and Kemba has the ability to fit into that. You also need those guards who can break down a defense to create a shot late in the shot clock, and Kemba in particular is one of the more well known clutch players in the league. Take that how you want, but there is something to say for a guy who constantly knocks down big shots with the game on the line.
For Al Jefferson, things get a lot more difficult. Al has lost a ton of weight this offseason, and he visibly looks thinner and moves around the court better. He isn't the freak athlete that Zeller is, but he has been just fine moving around in the pick and roll in coach Steve Clifford's offense. He is sprinting harder off the screen and getting into the open space for the guard to get him the ball.
Again, he still isn't that fast, but he is faster and smart enough to find those open crevices. If he can't quite keep up with the pace and roll to the rim fast enough on a consistent basis, Jefferson showed off a nice elbow jumper that he could use in a pick and pop or slip situation instead.
At heart, Jefferson will always be a guy who wants his touches on the block, just like every other low post player in the league. The Hornets are still going to go to that their fair share of times and even in the preseason they got creative in the ways to get Jefferson the ball. They set cross screens underneath the hoop to get him deep post position and got him post ups right off of ball screens. Charlotte will have success with it too, given the extra room Big Al will have to work now that he has better shooters around him. That might not be their first option anymore, however, and this could leave a guy in a contract year a little salty.
The only question that remains with this offense is whether or not it can produce enough points to push the Hornets into the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. As impressive as it has looked, who knows if this type of three point barrage is sustainable for a team that was last in the NBA at shooting threes just last season. Guys like P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels, and Brian Roberts will have their chances to play, and if they can't prove to be the type of shooters they've become known for, the depth on this team will be worrisome.
However, with the new additions of shooters on this team and more emphasis on getting great shots off of ball movement, it isn't unrealistic that this team could get up to a top 10-12 offense. They have the chemistry and unselfishness to put it all together, and when push comes to shove they have two guys in Kemba and Al who have proven to get them a bucket when they need one. You know that Coach Clifford is going to get this team to lock in on defense, and having a top half team on both ends of the floor normally is a recipe for a playoff berth.