Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford is huge on the value of internal improvement in the NBA.
By internal improvement, Clifford means players at the periphery of the rotation working so diligently on their games in the offseason, that they change perception of their games. The Hornets’ Jeremy Lamb obviously accomplished that last summer. Another prime example, to Clifford, is former North Carolina player Wayne Ellington.
Without a single start this season, Ellington is averaging 10.8 points and more than 25 minutes per game. Ellington was anything but a lock for a long NBA career, drafted late in the first round (28th overall) by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009. Miami is his seventh NBA stop, but of late he has dramatically raised his value to the league at large.
“In practice yesterday, I was talking to Dwayne (Bacon) and Treveon (Graham). I said that (Ellington) is a great example of a guy who stays with it,” Clifford said at morning shootaround before Saturday’s home game against the Heat. “You can tell watching him that he knows what his game is. But in all aspects (he’s improved): He’s quicker, he’s stronger. He’s always been a terrific shooter, and now he plays at even a faster pace.
“You can just tell from what he’s done, this guy must be a great worker: Very professional, and he’s taken his strengths and made them even greater strengths. To this point, he’s been one of the big stories in the East. With the injuries they’ve had, for them to continue to play that way, and you look at his role. You look at the box score and he’s played 32 or 33 minutes.
“I think (his success) is a good testament to young players: What did he do? He worked, and he got a lot better.”
Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who grew up in Gastonia, missed the first two games against the Hornets this season due to injury. So this is the first Whiteside-Dwight Howard matchup since the Hornets acquired Howard in June from the Atlanta Hawks.
Whiteside was hugely disruptive to the Hornets in the first-round playoff series the Heat won in seven games in 2016. At Saturday morning’s shootaround, Clifford detailed what can be so problematic about Whiteside, who had 22 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks Friday in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
“He is so long, and he so anticipates well, and he’s very quick, obviously,” Clifford said of the 7-foot Whiteside, who played overseas and in the G-League before establishing a career with the Heat.
Asked what the Hornets must account for against Whiteside, Clifford said:
“Making decisions in ways that move him around, (making it harder) for him to protect the basket. Making good decisions when you get the ball in there at one end, and then at the other end of the floor, when he’s at his best, he’s at the high end (of the league) in paint catches, rebounds, duck-ins, going right to his jump hook. You’ve got to take those easy ones away.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell