Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford said center Al Jefferson won't be the focus of the team's offense like he has in years past yesterday at a media luncheon.
Clifford stressed that the team won't move away from Jefferson, but plans to distribute its offense more evenly. From the Charlotte Observer:
"Hopefully more five-man movement and quick decision-making," Clifford said of his offensive goals 10 days out from training camp. "If we can combine that with a good post game, ... (Jefferson) is by far our best offensive player. He’s 10 years of 19 (points) and 10 (rebounds). But we can’t play where every play is to Al."
Jefferson posted a usage rate of 26.3 percent last season — his second highest mark since 2009 — and coupled that with a career-low 50 percent in true shooting percentage. Jefferson was plagued by injuries and played in just 65 games in the 2014-15 season. That surely factored into his (relatively) poor play on offense.
Clifford said Jefferson's lost "considerable weight" over the offseason and that should have a tremendous impact on his ability to stay healthy, especially as he begins the latter half of his career and gradually transitions into a role player in a couple of years. Jefferson's battled weight problems for the majority of his career, and hearing that he's followed through on getting in shape is terrific news for the Hornets.
The newly acquired Nicolas Batum is expected to have a large role in the team's offense this season. In fact, Clifford compared Batum's upcoming role to that of Hedo Turkoglu in Orlando a decade ago. Also from the Observer:
"He’s in a similar place to where Turkoglu was in Orlando as far as size and exceptional feel for the game," Clifford said of Batum. "If he’s open, he shoots it. If he’s not, he’ll drive. He’s as instinctual as you can ask of a player, and you can’t coach that."
And that's what many fans expected Batum's role to be. One of the (many) reasons the Hornets' offense has been so poor in recent years is that far too much pressure has been put on Jefferson and Kemba Walker to create offense from nothing. Batum offsets that. Instead of getting the ball to Jefferson or Walker late in the clock for isolation basketball, the Hornets can now depend on Batum to either create off the dribble or spot up for a consistent 3-point shot. That's a luxury the Hornets haven't had in a long, long time.
But in order for the offense to improve markedly, other players will need to expand their games as well. Clifford has said in the past that he and the coaching staff have been pushing Cody Zeller to take more 3-pointers. He reiterated that point yesterday, suggesting that Zeller doesn't need to be a dead-eye shooter: Shooting just 32 percent from behind the arc should open up both his and the team's offense considerably.
That's an important piece of a bigger puzzle, as, according the Clifford, Frank Kaminsky is in fact a rookie. Apparently he's having difficulty adjusting to the size and strength of the NBA, and that's to be expected. Seldom does a rookie enter the NBA and physically dominate from the outset. Still, Clifford sounded high on Kaminsky overall, so there's probably no reason for fans to panic.
However, Clifford again stated that he doesn't think Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will ever be an elite scoring option. Personally, it's far too early in Kidd-Gilchrist's career to make such a definitive statement, but there's no doubt he's far more likely to make his mark on defense rather than offense in the NBA. He's improved his jump shot to the point that teams can't simply leave him open, but MKG is not a player you can feed the ball to for points.
At least not consistently.
Media day is only nine days away, so we're going to hear much more about the state of the team in the coming days. Keep your eyes peeled.