Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets lead NBA in shot blocking

Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (left) is among the players who have picked up the slack defensively since Roy Hibbert was injured early in the team’s second game.
Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (left) is among the players who have picked up the slack defensively since Roy Hibbert was injured early in the team’s second game. AP

While the Charlotte Hornets have been an elite defensive team under coach Steve Clifford, they haven’t been particularly strong at blocking shots.

That could be changing.

Through their first four games, the Hornets are leading the NBA in shots blocked at seven per game. The Indiana Pacers are second at 6.8.

The surprising thing about that statistic is the Hornets’ best shot-blocker, center Roy Hibbert, was injured early in the Hornets’ second game and hasn’t played since. Others – particularly Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Spencer Hawes – have picked up the slack.

If the Hornets continue the early pace, it would be a significant upgrade from last season, when they averaged 5.3 blocks. Coach Steve Clifford said once Hibbert recovers from a sore right knee, the shot-blocking improvement is sustainable.

"I would think that we will be better than we have been the other years" he’s coached in Charlotte, Clifford said. "I think (Hibbert’s) basket protection gives us a chance to have a defense that is different at the rim.

"We have been good at protecting the paint for the last three years, but we have had to do it in a way that we gave up more 3-point shots. I believe when he is in the game, we can hopefully still be good at protecting the paint, but able to stay home more (on outside shooters)."

Under Clifford, the Hornets focus defensively on preventing post-ups and drives, which tends to leave the 3-point line open. If Hibbert can dominate defensively in the lane, the guards will have less need to collapse into the lane to provide help defense.

The Hornets are 27th among 30 NBA teams at defending the 3-point shot, allowing opponents to make 39.5 percent of their attempts.

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