Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ newfound 3-point prowess changing how teams guard them

Forward Marvin Williams says the Charlotte Hornets’ improved 3-point shooting has dramatically changed how teams must guard them.
Forward Marvin Williams says the Charlotte Hornets’ improved 3-point shooting has dramatically changed how teams must guard them. AP

Forward Marvin Williams knew the Charlotte Hornets were making more 3-pointers this season.

But it still struck him Monday when told the team is now averaging 10 3s per game.

“It’s a big deal from last season, huh?” Williams asked.

It is. Last season the Hornets averaged 6.1 3s per game. So they are averaging an additional 12 points per game from outside the arc and shooting a solid 35.7 percent.

Only three other NBA teams – the Golden State Warriors (13.1), Houston Rockets (10.5) and Phoenix Suns (10.2) – average more 3s made this season than the Hornets.

That changes what teams must do to guard the Hornets (14-9).

“I would think getting ready to play us, compared to last (season), is dramatically different,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “Simply because of the shooting but also because we have a lot of guys who can put the ball on the floor and create for teammates.”

Some of the improvement was internal, with point guard Kemba Walker improving his 3-point percentage from 30.4 percent last season to 39.6 percent this season. But most of it was external, with the acquisitions of Nic Batum, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb and others.

Those roster moves have allowed Clifford to play 1-in-4-out, posting a single player and surrounding that player with 3-point threats.

“Last year we were 4-out 51 percent of the time, where this year we’re 4-out almost all the time,” Clifford said. “Your spacing is your shooting. We’re much more difficult to guard.”

Williams, shooting 36.3 percent from 3-point range, says the contrast between then and now is dramatic.

“Not only just for our shooting, but also our playmaking ability out there. We have so many – both perimeter and big players – who can make plays. A huge difference from last year,” Williams said.

“When you bring in a Jeremy Lin – a very good pick-and-roll player. When you bring in a Jeremy Lamb, also a very good pick-and-roll player. Spencer Hawes, who can pass and shoot the ball. Frank (Kaminsky), the rookie, a very good playmaker. Nic Batum can do everything.

“When you have four guys like that out there on the court at the same time, you’re going to have to guard us a little different.”

As opponents have to guard farther from the lane, seams develop. That is great for Walker, attacking and creating off pick-and-rolls.

“There weren’t many lanes before and he still managed to get” to the rim, Williams said of Walker. “With a guy like him who is that quick, that strong and that small, he can get anywhere he wants to get to.”

That has helped Walker improve his overall field-goal percentage to a career-best 45.2 percent this season.

“When you make 3s it changes everything,” Walker said. “It helps our post-up game and also teams have to go over rather than under our screens. I know a couple of years ago we weren’t very good at guarding the 3 ball, and that hurt us a lot. Now we’re the ones making 3s and that changes everything.”

Jefferson practices

Center Al Jefferson participated in most of Monday’s practice, the first time that has happened since he suffered a strained left calf in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks Nov. 29.

Clifford said if Jefferson is able to practice Tuesday and get through shootaround in Orlando Wednesday without a setback, Jefferson could be declared medically ready to play. That would start the five-game suspension Jefferson must serve for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy.

Jefferson can practice while he serves that suspension.

Kidd-Gilchrist progress

Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is cleared for some light shooting and conditioning drills following shoulder surgery in October to repair a torn labrum.

Clifford said it’s conceivable Kidd-Gilchrist could be cleared to play if the Hornets make the playoffs, but that decision is way down the road.

“He does a lot of conditioning moves, but he has to be careful with his shoulder. He’s just so anxious to get back that he’s in here real early every day,” Clifford said.

“They just have to keep evaluating. It’s such a process. There is no definitive timeline.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell