Opponents constantly feeling the need to double-team center Al Jefferson is what the Charlotte Hornets want to happen.
It just didn’t look that way Wednesday in the season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Every time Jefferson touched the ball an extra defender sprinted in Jefferson’s direction. It worked to the extent that Jefferson shot 6-of-15 from the field and took just three free throws in 40 minutes played.
Now it’s up to Jefferson’s teammates to present themselves as targets for Jefferson’s passes.
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“We’ve got to make it easier for him because he makes it extremely easy for us,” said power forward Marvin Williams, who also played with Jefferson on the Utah Jazz.
Williams did his part Wednesday, making eight of 12 shots for 19 points in the Hornets’ 108-106 overtime victory. But as a team, the Hornets shot just 41 percent from the field.
The fix is rotating better to spots where Jefferson can feed shooters. That took a while in Jefferson’s first season in Charlotte, and with all the roster changes it will take a while again.
“Most of us haven’t played before with an offensive force like Al. I know I hadn’t until last season,” said point guard Kemba Walker.
“Not many teams play inside-out so much, especially not in college.”
That’s because there aren’t many players left of Jefferson’s mold. By his own count the NBA is down to four true low-post, back-to-the-basket scorers: himself, Memphis’s Zach Randolph, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan.
Low-post scoring has become a lost art because so many big men fall in love with their jump shots. But that rarity is part of what made Jefferson so successful last season; good for a 20-point, 10-rebound performance nearly every game.
“NBA basketball is about devising ways to get to the ball. So if we’re organized and we do what we’re supposed to do, them bringing two (defenders) to the ball is what you want,” said coach Steve Clifford. “We weren’t good at that the other night. By the end of last season we got really good at that stuff.
“Post-up basketball takes more time (to perfect). It’s more precise with less room for error. The ball is not in the middle of the floor, it’s on one side, so you have to be better (spaced). We certainly have the skill level to make it hard for people to double-team.”
Raising that skill level was the theme of the off-season, when the Hornets signed Lance Stephenson, Brian Roberts and Marvin Williams, all solid three-point shooters.
Placing those shooters in position to feed off opponent double-teams was a big focus in Friday’s practice.
“I’ve been going through double-teams since my third year in the league. We just need to learn how to benefit from it,” said Jefferson, a 10-year veteran.
“It was a mix of a lot of small things – first game of the season, a lot of new guys. We want them to double-team – that means there is a mismatch somewhere. Then it’s just swinging the ball to open shots.”