You may not have been aware, but the Charlotte Hornets have become one of the best offenses in the NBA. Gone (at least mostly) are the days of Kemba Walker pounding the ball for an agonizing eternity as a prelude to nearly decapitating some poor, unsuspecting soul with a bricked jump shot. Now Hornets players weave through multiple screens to find the open man and shot, limiting stagnant possessions. Suffice it to say the overhaul of Charlotte’s offense is one of the most unique and aesthetically pleasing changes to occur in the NBA this season.
New additions Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb, Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky infused the roster with something it was in desperate need of: three-point shooting. Last season, the Charlotte Hornets were the worst three-point shooting team in the league, only managing to hit 31.8 percent of their long distance attempts. Now the Hornets are shooting 35.9 percent from three-point range while hitting the fifth-most long balls per game.
As well as being capable shooters, the new additions can move the ball and make plays for their teammates. With the exception of rookie big man Kaminsky, the lowest assist percentage of the aforementioned offseason acquisitions belongs to Jeremy Lamb, who currently assists on 10.6 percent of his teammates’ baskets, per NBA.com.
The integration of shooting and passing helped offset the loss of small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It’s common knowledge that MKG is the linchpin to the Hornets’ defense, but few know that he helped their offense as well despite some of his own struggles on that end. When he was on the floor, the Hornets scored 99.4 points per 100 possessions, but they only scored 96.5 when he was off, per NBA.com. His offensive rebounding and cuts to the basket created scoring opportunities that made up for his lack of shooting.
To everyone’s surprise, the offense as well as the defense is holding up in MKG’s absence. The Hornets have scored 105.2 points per 100 possessions this season while allowing 100.2 points per 100 possessions. By that metric, they currently have the fourth-best offense and 10th-best defense in the league, per NBA.com.
A reason behind the offense’s turnaround is the team’s adaptation of the dribble hand-off into their schemes, as the Hornets have scored the second-most points on hand-offs in the league. According to NBA.com, the team has scored 1.08 points per possession (PPP) on 46.8 percent shooting from the field using hand-offs. In a previous article, I mentioned Batum’s fondness for the play, but most of the team’s perimeter players have become proficient using hand-offs as well:
On its own, the hand-off is pretty difficult to defend, but with quick guards like Walker and Lin, or players who can cover large spans of the court because of their length like Batum and Lamb, it becomes almost unstoppable.
The Hornets also enhance the hand-offs’ inherent effectiveness by masking the play. They deploy down screens along the elbows in advance of the play to free the player who’s going to receive the hand-off from his defender. This gives the ball handler room and momentum coming off the hand-off after receiving the ball, and he has space to shoot or sort of slingshot right into the middle of the floor to get to the rim or draw a foul:
The renovation of its offense is the reason Charlotte is now 9-6 in a surprisingly competitive Eastern Conference (at least compared to last year). I was skeptical that their new identity would survive past the preseason, but the Hornets have proved me wrong thus far. They’re not the pushovers they were supposed to be, and more importantly, their once suspect playoff aspirations appear to be legitimate.