By typical measures, the Charlotte Hornets aren’t very good offensively.
They are bottom half of the NBA in field-goal percentage (20th), free-throw percentage (24th) and 3-point percentage (16th).
But there is an element to their style of play that balances off all that, and allows the Hornets to be 11th in points per game (105.3): They are as good as any of the NBA’s 30 teams at getting fouled and not fouling.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The Hornets average 26.6 free throws attempted per game. Only two other teams – the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets – average more free throws. Meanwhile, the Hornets give up 18 free throws per game, which is the league low.
Earning an extra eight or nine trips to the foul line every game is a huge advantage, even with the Hornets averaging a so-so 75 percent from the foul line.
Seldom this season was that advantage more evident than Wednesday’s home victory over the Detroit Pistons. The Hornets won 87-77, despite shooting just 34 percent from the field. The difference in free-throw attempts was massive: 29 for the Hornets to eight for the Pistons.
They never beat themselves.
Stan Van Gundy on the Hornets
This wasn’t particularly surprising to Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, Hornets coach Steve Clifford’s boss and mentor when both worked for the Orlando Magic. Van Gundy has said the signature of a Clifford-coached team is minimizing fouls and turnovers.
"They never beat themselves," Van Gundy said of the Hornets.
That’s one side of the equation. The other is that the Hornets’ rotation is full of players with a knack for drawing shooting fouls. Three starters – center Cody Zeller and guards Kemba Walker and Nic Batum – had at least six free throw attempts Wednesday.
Ramon Sessions’ best NBA skill is getting to the foul line, thanks to a herky-jerky ability to drive to the rim that gives defenders little choice but to bump or reach.
Reserve Frank Kaminsky had four trips to the foul line and Ramon Sessions had two. Sessions’ best NBA skill is getting to the foul line, thanks to a herky-jerky ability to drive to the rim that gives defenders little choice but to bump or reach.
Clifford appreciated hearing postgame that Van Gundy praised the Hornets’ discipline not to foul. That priority is one of the things Clifford learned as an assistant coach under Van Gundy.
"That has been one of our strengths this year – better than the other three years," Clifford said. "We’ve been good at not fouling every year, but this year we have more guys who are good at driving the ball.
"If you don’t have a lot of fast-break points, it’s not a big deal. Offensive rebounds don’t matter all that much. But you can’t turn the ball over and you can’t be losing the fouling game. You give up those plays, and you’re going to lose.
"That’s what (Van Gundy) preaches. What we do is eerily similar. So much of what I do is about learning from him."
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell