There is nothing that rankles Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford more than silly turnovers.
It’s no coincidence the Hornets have finished each of Clifford’s four previous seasons with the fewest average turnovers in the NBA. There are three non-negotiables in Clifford’s system: Low turnover, low foul and get back on defense.
That has made this preseason quite frustrating. In five exhibitions (they finished with a 2-3 record), these Hornets averaged 16.8 turnovers per game. It’s been bad all preseason, worse still Friday against the Dallas Mavericks, when the Hornets committed 22 turnovers, resulting in 13 Dallas points.
There are circumstances contributing to this: Injuries and a personal absence (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been tending to a family matter) have hindered any real sense of continuity in practices or games. Six players were unavailable Friday and all six would either be in the rotation or on the fringe of the rotation if they could play.
Clifford isn’t looking for excuses; he needs correction. The Hornets open the regular season Wednesday in Detroit against the Pistons. This team’s habits, as demonstrated so far, won’t do if the Hornets expect to return to the playoffs. They simply aren’t talented enough, even if they were at full strength, to play this sloppily.
“It’s a problem,” Clifford said when I asked about the turnovers. “Some of it is disorganization: We take more bad shots we were ever taking” in the past.
“That’s why, if you look at it, our offensive efficiency has also been the worst in (Clifford’s) time here, too…Those things have to be worked out, because obviously we can’t have 22 turnovers.”
Twenty-two is roughly double what this team aspires to under Clifford. And he’s right that quick, questionable shot selection has been commonplace. The Hornets had a strong shooting night Friday, making 49 percent from the field and 57 percent (17-of-30) from 3-point range. But for the entire preseason, those averages drop to 43.5 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from the 3-point line.
These Hornets are never going to be well suited to win shootouts. Clifford reiterated Friday they need to return to being a top-5 defensive team to reach their potential. So far, they are allowing teams 46 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from 3.
It’s going to be bumpy the first few regular-season games for this team. It’s likely, with Nic Batum and Michael Carter-Williams already out, that the Hornets will have both rookies – first-round pick Malik Monk and second-round pick Dwayne Bacon – in the rotation.
They both have shown promising signs: Monk can score in so many ways; he has a floater it sometimes takes three or more NBA seasons for other guards to develop. Bacon already has a body strong enough to take on NBA wing players.
However, it’s obviously less than ideal to have to throw the rookies into the mix so much and so soon. For the second time in as many preseason exhibitions, Bacon and Monk each played 30 or more minutes, most on the roster.
Now, getting back to those turnovers: Center Dwight Howard, a future Hall of Famer, committed a team-high 22 in the preseason, double the second most with Kemba Walker’s 11.
Howard has played long enough for Clifford (who was an assistant with Howard’s teams in Orlando and Los Angeles) that he has to know how turnovers are such sins in Clifford’s vision of good basketball.
There are three practices between now at that opener. Time to clean up the giveaways, to give the defense a fighting chance.