No one has really noticed but the Charlotte Hornets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now. Winners of 9 out of the last 10 games they are making a run at the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks to secure a home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
After missing the playoffs last year, the Hornets front office set out to get more shooting on the floor. They moved Lance Stephenson to the Clippers for Spencer Hawes, drafted Frank Kaminsky from the University of Wisconsin a 36.9% three-point shooter in college to bring in some stretch bigs. They traded for future free agent small forward Nicolas Batum and signed Jeremy Lin to back up Kemba Walker. All of these moves were a sign of them shifting their focus to shoot more three pointers. Last season the Hornets averaged 19 three point attempts a game finishing in the bottom third of the league. This season they are third in the league attempting 29 threes a game and making 35.9% of them.
In this scorching hot stretch, they are shooting 41.1% from three and averaging 10 points more a game at 113.8 points. Although their focus has drifted to the three-point line, they still have the ability to post the ball when they bring Al Jefferson off the bench.
In the plays below, Jefferson’s ability to command the attention of help defenders opens more scoring opportunities for the Hornets. In the first play Jefferson gets posted up, Lin comes over to the wing, his defender jumps into the paint. Jefferson immediately kicks it out to Lin who passes it right back to Jefferson who scores on a jump hook. In a similar play late in the game with the shot clock winding down Jefferson sees Walker’s man coming to double team him, he kicks it out to Walker for a three.
The real engine of the Hornets is Kemba Walker who is having his best season in the NBA. He’s improved in nearly every category, going from averaging 17 points a game last season to 21.4 this year, and improving his three point shooting from 30% to 38.3% this season. In this 10 game stretch he’s shooting 45.9% from 3 while averaging 26 points a game and 6.5 assists. In the two plays below, Walker blows by his defender in the first one, and then has Dragic spinning like a top before drilling a deep three.
The Hornets are not just a two-man team Batum is the playmaker they hoped they had in Lance Stephenson, in the action below he creates an easy basket for Jefferson on the pick-and-roll late in the game against the Heat.
The Hornets have a good amount of depth as well. Jeremy Lin comes in to back up Walker but also has the ability to play with him at the same time to easy the ball handling responsibilities off of Walker. Marvin Williams is having a career year from three shooting 40% and filling the role of the stretch big for them. They also made a midseason trade for Courtney Lee who is a solid three and D player shooting 43.6% from deep since the trade.
With the race in the East still extremely tight, Charlotte can finish anywhere from third to sixth. No matter where they finish they are reaping the rewards for the decisions they made in the offseason to focus more on three point shooting. The Hornets are beginning to take the shape of a team that no one in the East is going to want to play in the playoffs.