Charlotte Hornets

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes roster changes improve team’s playoff hopes

Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford talks to reporters after a news conference introducing the team's newest point guard, Jeremy Lin, at Time Warner Cable Arena on Monday, July 13, 2015.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford talks to reporters after a news conference introducing the team's newest point guard, Jeremy Lin, at Time Warner Cable Arena on Monday, July 13, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Is the Charlotte Hornets’ remade roster good enough to reach the playoffs?

“Oh, I think so,” coach Steve Clifford said after Monday’s news conference to introduce free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin.

“I thought we had a playoff roster last year. You have to have everything else; health is a part of it, how your team comes together is a part of it.”

The Hornets have added five players since the end of last season: They traded for Nicolas Batum, Spencer Hawes and Jeremy Lamb. They drafted Frank Kaminsky and signed Lin.

An NBA source says the Hornets have also come to terms with undrafted rookie guard Aaron Harrison, who shined on the team’s summer league team in Orlando, Fla.

That’s quite a makeover and general manager Rich Cho has indicated he might not be done pursuing free agents.

Clifford was asked Monday how this roster is different from the one that finished last season a disappointing 33-49.

“I think bigger, particular along the perimeter, more versatile and much more skilled,” Clifford said.

The Hornets set out to attack their shooting problem. They were 31.8 percent from 3-point range last season, worst in the NBA and one of the nine worst 3-point percentages in the past 10 NBA seasons.

The Hornets added 3-point shooting in Batum, Lamb, Lin and Hawes. Just as importantly, Clifford said, they improved ball movement.

“You have to be able to make shots, and I believe we have more shooting,” Clifford said, “but we’ve also added guys to more create shots for their teammates, which helps a lot.”

The Hornets were among league leaders in defense in Clifford’s first two seasons, but poor offensively. Will these roster changes make it hard to maintain a strong defense?

“We’re going to have to do more things than we had to do before,” to scheme team defense, Clifford said. “Looking inside, we’re not physical necessarily. But we have enough. We’ve done a lot of (scheming) defensively the last two years already. We’ve had smart guys who are able to make adjustments game-to-game, and I think we’ll continue to be able to do that.”

Clifford said this roster will make for more competition for minutes than either of the last two seasons. Clifford emphasized it’s not realistic to play more than a nine-man rotation because a player can’t get into a rhythm playing 14 or fewer minutes a game.

Other thoughts from Clifford:

On rookie big man Kaminsky:

“He’s got size, high IQ, very skilled and he plays in a way that helps his teammates play better. He has the ability (offensively) in pick-and-rolls and the agility to defend pick-and-rolls. That as a (power forward or center) is a big deal.

“He’s very competitive. He’s not just learning as he goes. He attacked it.”

On undrafted rookie Harrison:

“He’s got toughness. I think he’s highly competitive, he’s got size and he’s got a really good feel for how to play. Obviously he’s got some work to do, but I really like what he can become.

“The thing he did a lot late in games is he can turn the corner and get to the basket. He can finish with either hand. He’s deceptive that way: He’s big, but he gets to the rim quickly.”

On the deeper roster:

“With all the versatility we have, you can play nine guys and it will work out. But there will be a lot more competition than in previous years.

“We have five rotation bigs, all of whom are good enough to play. Some of this is about combinations: Who can we score with, who can we defend with? On the perimeter it’s a little more (set) that Kemba (Walker) will start at the (point), Nic (Batum) will start at (shooting guard) and Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) at (small forward).”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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