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The Hornets don’t have the clutch gene on offense

One of the biggest problems facing the Hornets this season has been atrocious shooting late in close games.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a tight game and the clock is winding down. The Charlote Hornets are in dire need of points to keep the game from slipping out of reach. There’s a single spot on the floor they need to get to in order to score those points. That spot? The free throw line.

This season, nearly half of the Charlotte Hornets scoring in ‘clutch’ situations has come at the free throw line. Clutch situations are defined as possessions in the last five minutes of the 4th quarter or overtime with the scoring margin within five points. Here is where the Hornets’ points come from in those situations:

Two pieces of this pie are very significant, the section representing the aforementioned free throws and that little sliver that represents 3-pointers. Each of those marks sit at opposing ends of the league rankings. The amount of points coming from the free throw line is the highest percentage in the league while the amount of points coming from behind the 3-point line is the league’s lowest. The fact that the Hornets rely on free throws so much late in games is indictment on their ability to make shots from the field. Their dreadful rate of converted 3’s accentuates that fact.

The gap between the Hornets and the next worst team in 3-pointers made in clutch situations is 4.5 percent, which is bigger than the gap between the second worst team and the sixth worst team. That pitiful rate of 3-pointers made isn’t for lack of trying though; Clifford’s bunch attempts the fourth most 3-pointers in the clutch. The problem is the conversion rate. The Hornets are making, and you might want to sit down for this, a whopping 10.5 percent of their 3-point attempts in the clutch. That is not a typo. The Hornets have attempted 38 clutch 3-pointers and made exactly 4 of them.

And it’s not just 3-pointers giving the Hornets problems. They can’t shoot from anywhere. The team’s 29.6 percent clutch field goal percentage ranks dead last in the league. Only MKG is free from blame here:

Hornets clutch shooting

Marvin Williams 13 51 1 0 11 0.0 0 7 0.0 1 1 100
Kemba Walker 12 50 46 14 39 35.9 3 18 16.7 15 16 93.8
Dwight Howard 13 46 13 3 8 37.5 0 0 0.0 7 16 43.8
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 9 40 14 5 9 55.6 0 0 0.0 4 7 57.1
Jeremy Lamb 11 31 14 2 13 15.4 0 4 0.0 10 12 83.3
Nicolas Batum 5 21 9 2 6 33.3 0 3 0.0 5 5 100
Frank Kaminsky 10 9 5 1 2 50.0 1 2 50.0 2 3 66.7
Cody Zeller 4 8 4 1 2 50.0 0 0 0.0 2 2 100
Michael Carter-Williams 5 7 2 0 2 0.0 0 0 0.0 2 2 100
Malik Monk 4 6 0 0 4 0.0 0 4 0.0 0 0 0.0
Dwayne Bacon 5 4 2 1 2 50.0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0.0

Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Marvin Williams are shooting a combined 4 for 30 in pressure situations. No team can win when so many of its main contributors shoot so poorly in crunch time.

But it’s not as simple as the Hornets just missing shots. It’s a total breakdown of the offense.

On the season, the Hornets average 101.2 possessions per game, the ninth fastest pace in the league. In clutch situations, that number jumps up to 105.7, which is the fourth fastest mark in the league. On top of that, only 34.5 percent of the field goals the Hornets actually make in crunch time are assisted, nearly 20 percent lower than their normal, already poor rate. They also attempt a significantly higher number of 3’s.

It points to a problem that many eye tests have seen without the numbers to back it up. When the game is close late, the Hornets get in a hurry and settle for tough shots, largely from the hands of Kemba Walker. Kemba’s usage rate in the clutch is 40.6 percent, which isn’t uncommon for a team’s star player. Unfortunately, many of those possessions end in step back jump shots and contested 3’s off the dribble, which has led to his underwhelming field goal percentage down the stretch.

The Hornets need to continue executing their normal offense late in games. Allowing Kemba to do too much seems to be throwing the rest of the team out of rhythm. Fortunately for the team and fans, the Hornets’ shooting numbers in clutch situations seem unsustainably low, even within a stagnant offense. The non-Kemba Hornets’ 25.4 percent clutch field goal percentage will surely climb as the season goes on, and it’s more than likely that Marvin Williams will eventually make at least one shot late in a close game. It’s frustrating right now, but they should find their clutch jeans soon enough.