The Charlotte Hornets won’t just break the franchise record for 3-point shots made in a season; they will obliterate it.
That would have seemed inconceivable a season ago. They weren’t just the worst-shooting team from 3-point range in the NBA at 31.8 percent. They had one of the 10 worst seasons from 3 in the past decade.
As coach Steve Clifford scouted what works in the modern NBA, he decided that was unacceptable. The four teams that advanced to the conference finals were all elite from 3-point range. So General Manager Rich Cho did a roster makeover that prioritized 3-point shooters.
What a difference that made. The Hornets have reached 10 or more 3s made in 31 games this season – a mark they reached 25 times combined over the previous five seasons.
The Hornets record for 3s made is 591, back in 1996-97 before the original Hornets moved to New Orleans. These Hornets are already at 569 with 27 regular-season games remaining.
The current Hornets and that team back in 1996-97 had very different approaches to the 3-point line. That ’90s team hit a higher percentage (42.8 percent versus the current team’s 35.2 percent) but put less priority on the shot.
There really is only one crossover: Dell Curry. He was the Hornets’ shooting guard back then and is their television analyst now.
So let the player who is still the Hornets’ career scoring leader (9,839 points) describe the difference and how that reflects the NBA’s evolution.
“It was basically just me and Glen (Rice),” Curry said, noting those two combined for 333 made 3-pointers that season. “This team has a lot more parity as far as who can shoot 3s, starting with Kemba Walker, who has improved so much. Then the pieces that they added: (Nic) Batum, (Jeremy) Lin and (Jeremy) Lamb all shoot the ball so well.
“It’s a different NBA. They probably take more 3s on average than any team then.”
How true. At their current rate (29.4 3-point attempts per game) they would finish the season with the second-most tries from 3 in NBA history. The record was set by the 2014-15 Houston Rockets at 32.7.
Curry said 3-point shooting was more sporadic back then, not the strategic priority it is now.
“Glen and I were allowed to take 3s at any time, but I don’t know that any other player was. Or run plays (specifically) to take 3s,” Curry said. “Now there are four or five guys on this team where Cliff can run a play for them to take a 3 and them make it.
“In today’s game, you have to make the 3 to be successful. Back then, you probably won if you made 3s because they allowed you to score at a faster clip, but no way they were as integral to the game then as they are now.”
The Hornets’ shift was very much by design, and it’s still evolving with the return of low-post scorer Al Jefferson from knee surgery.
Clifford wants to play 1-in/4-out sets (a post scorer surrounded by four 3-point threats) at least 90 percent of the time. Last season they were 1-in/4-out on 48 percent of their possessions.
What’s different about Jefferson’s presence is he can force opposing teams to double-team. That will make the outside shooters even more open and possibly raise the shooting percentage above the current 35.2 percent.
“For us to take a step here, and give ourselves the best chance to make the playoffs, it’s about where our 3s come from,” Clifford said. “When we shoot 3s before the ball hits the paint, we don’t shoot it nearly as well. When we play inside-out (through Jefferson’s touches), then we shoot the ball very well. And, except for Golden State, that’s the way it is for every team in this league.”
Of course, Golden State has a unique 3-point weapon in Stephen Curry.
And who knows better than Charlotteans how those Currys can shoot.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
3 for all
The Hornets are among the NBA leaders in 3-point goals and attempts per game, but they’re middle of the pack in percentage (NBA rank in parentheses):