Let’s talk needs.
Don’t worry, this won’t get all touchy-feely. I’m talking about the Charlotte Hornets’ needs. Specifically I’m talking about the over-arching need that must be addressed this off-season for this team to be competitive.
To say the Hornets’ 3-point shooting was bad last season would be overly kind. It was awful. As in historically awful.
The Hornets shot 31.8 percent from the 3-point arc last season, last among 30 NBA teams. But that really doesn’t convey how bad it was. Over the last decade of NBA basketball, only eight teams shot as bad or worse from 3-point range. So they were tied for 291st among the last 300 NBA teams to finish a season in 3-point accuracy.
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Granted it’s not good to be last at anything, but 3-point percentage is a pretty significant NBA statistic. If you were last in steals or last in offensive-rebound percentage, you’d try to improve but you wouldn’t necessarily conclude that’s a back-breaker. This was a back-breaker.
It’s no coincidence the top two seeds in this season’s Eastern and Western Conference playoffs – the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers – finished in the top five in 3-point percentage during the regular season. The Clippers were the only one of those teams not to reach the conference finals, and they blew a big series lead to the Houston Rockets.
A well-conceived team in this era of the NBA has strong 3-point shooting. Every team in the top 10 in 3-point shooting qualified for the playoffs. Two teams in the bottom 10 of the league in 3-point shooting – the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets – qualified for the playoffs, and they essentially backed in via a weak Eastern Conference draw. Each lost in the first round.
I think analytics should be more a tool than a cause in major-league sports, but this is what the numbers-crunchers have found: The three most efficient places to score in an NBA game are the foul line, followed by the rim, followed by the 3-point line. The mid-range game isn’t dead and never will be. Still it’s undeniable there is an inefficiency about an 18-foot jump shot late in the shot clock, and the Hornets take a lot of those.
You’ve got Lance Stephenson, Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker as the primary options in the backcourt. Last season they combined to take nearly a third of the Hornets’ 3-point attempts. They combined to shoot 148-of-449, or 32.9 percent, from 3-point range. Rookie P.J. Hairston was brought in as a possible 3-point fix; he took 163 3s and made 30 percent of his attempts.
Walker is a gifted driver who uses the 3-pointer as a when-he-must alternative. Henderson is a gritty defender who still isn’t much of a threat from the corner 3. Stephenson is trying to figure out how to help any NBA team outside the borders of Indiana.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford says solving the 3-point problem must be both an internal and external process. He’s hiring a shooting specialist to replace assistant coach Mark Price, now coaching the Charlotte 49ers. That’s wise, because in this time when shooting is a team’s spacing, the Hornets must do something to get the crowd of defenders in the lane away from center Al Jefferson next season.
But hiring a shooting coach is not necessarily enough. The onus is on the Hornets to find better 3-point shooting in the draft, free-agency, or both. They worked out Kentucky freshman Devin Booker, and he’s the best long-range shooter in this draft (41 percent from 3 in his one college season). Yes, there are questions about what else he’d provide, but he’d at least have an in-demand skill from the day he showed up.
Booker is just 18, and as Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist illustrated, young first-round picks can take a while to develop. Another solution would be Croatian Mario Hezonja, but I suspect Hezonja will be chosen before the Hornets’ No. 9 pick. The Hornets have checked out Nevada-Las Vegas shooting guard Rashad Vaughn, but he’s more a late first-round pick than a candidate for the No. 9 spot.
As far as free-agency, the Hornets will have the mid-level exception this summer (so they could pay a player a first-season salary of about $5.5 million), but this isn’t like the previous two summers when they had the cap space to sign Jefferson and Stephenson.
I’m not suggesting the Hornets must draft Booker with the ninth pick. But if they don’t find great shooting in the June 25 draft, there better be one spectacular Plan B.
▪ Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell’s decision to cancel a workout with the Philadelphia 76ers, first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, raises two interesting possibilities with the Sixers drafting third: Did the Minnesota Timberwolves (first pick) or Los Angeles Lakers (second pick) promise to take him? Or might Russell want to slip past the Sixers, possibly to the New York Knicks at No. 4?
▪ Based on nbadraft.net’s mock draft as of Friday, the projected first five college players chosen (Karl-Anthony Towns, Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Trey Lyles) all left school after a single college season. That reinforces the idea that NBA teams are more than ever drafting far from finished products.
▪ According to the Indianapolis Star, Wisconsin power forward Frank Kaminsky is being selective about who to work out for, relative to the best fit for him. His list, according to the Star, includes the Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks. No Hornets? No surprise after Charlotte used its last two lottery picks on power forwards Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell