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In absence of Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats struggling to make 3-pointers

New Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford often reminds people that in the NBA “your shooting is your spacing.”

That’s been an issue so far this preseason. As good as the Bobcats’ defense has been, the offense is hurting from a lack of 3-point shooting.

The Bobcats’ 3-point percentage (31.4 percent) isn’t terrible: 17th among 30 teams. But the Bobcats average 5.17 made per game. That’s 29th, ahead of only the Denver Nuggets (5.0).

The issue became acute in Saturday’s preseason loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The Bobcats never took a 3 in the first half and missed all seven of their attempts in the second half.

There are various reasons for this. Reserve guard Ben Gordon, the team’s best 3-point threat at 40 percent for his career, is out right now following a minor procedure on his right knee. The Bobcats’ other perimeter players – primarily Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – are more drivers than jump-shooters.

But if the Bobcats don’t get better at making long jump shots, they will fail to fully exploit the benefit of signing center and low-post scorer Al Jefferson, who is sidelined with an ankle sprain. Jefferson should be a two-way weapon: Scoring consistently down low and forcing teams to double-team, opening looks along the perimeter.

Jeff Taylor, who made 34 percent of his 3s as a rookie, said the team is aware of the issue and trying to adapt.

“Most of us tend to be drivers,’’ said Taylor, a small forward who can also be a spectacular dunker. “But we know 3s have to be a part of our game to best take advantage of Al.”

Henderson said it’s clear the Bobcats’ defense is ahead of its offense right now. He likes the progress the team has made on spacing, a big problem last season, from the time the players started showing up for voluntary workouts in September.

Part of the issue might be Jefferson’s injury. He was hurt in the team’s second exhibition, and isn’t expected to play again until the regular-season opener Oct. 30 against the Houston Rockets.

The Bobcats play one way with Jefferson – inside-out with a variety of post-ups – and another way without him, reverting to the heavy diet of pick-and-rolls from last season.

Henderson said it’s ultimately beneficial they’re practicing both ways this preseason because, obviously, Jefferson won’t play every minute of every game.

“The Al injury definitely changed the order in which our offense is worked on,” Clifford said. “We were doing a lot of post-up stuff, and now we do a lot of 5-man, catch-and-shoot, pick-and-roll.”

The Bobcats put considerable time into 3-point shooting drills at practice this week.

“Going into the season range-shooting and rebounding were two of the things we knew we had to work on,” Clifford said. “So we’ve taken a lot of 3s since September.”

Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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