SPREAD THE WEALTH
It's easy to see the temptation: Al Jefferson is one of the NBA's most skilled post players, a reliable 16-to-18-points-per-game scorer. If you are coach Steve Clifford, why not force-feed him? Here's why: For the last two seasons Charlotte has finished in the bottom seven in offensive efficiency—including 28th last year. In that time Jefferson averaged 18.9 shots per 36 minutes, third in the NBA. Says Clifford, "We can't play where every play is to Al."
Heavily featured in Clifford's new sharing philosophy will be Nicolas Batum, the 26-year-old forward acquired from the Trail Blazers in the off-season. Batum is a skilled passer, averaging 4.8 assists last year. Clifford will look to use him in the same point forward role that Hedo Turkoglu filled for the Magic when Clifford was on Stan Van Gundy's staff. Batum became even more important when incumbent small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a right shoulder injury, which will sideline him for most of the year. Cody Zeller (who has been encouraged to shoot more threes) and rookie Frank Kaminsky (who doesn't need encouragement) will be expected to keep the floor spaced so Jefferson can work on the inside—at a more reasonable rate.
The Hornets' tumble from the playoffs to the lottery was among last season's most surprising stories. Their D is sturdy; it ranked in the top 10 in efficiency for the second straight year. A more balanced offense will put Charlotte back in the mix for a playoff spot.
A rival scout sizes up Charlotte
The biggest x-factor is Al Jefferson. He gained a lot of weight toward the end of the season, and I feel like he's going to be injury-prone. They'll run a lot of turn-outs to get him the ball inside. The big question, then, is whether they put good enough shooters around him.... Last year they were near the bottom in almost every category on offense. You're going to see better spacing, better ball movement with Nicolas Batum.... Jeremy Lamb is a good addition too. He was knocking on the door in Oklahoma City, and this change may help him.... A point guard needs to be a distributor who can score as well; Kemba Walker is the opposite. He's their leader and a good one-on-one player when they need a bucket. But throughout the season, or even throughout 48 minutes, he pounds the ball too much and leaves his teammates standing around.... They'll play good defense. Steve Clifford really spends a lot of time on rotations. That fell apart last season because Lance Stephenson is terrible at that kind of stuff.... They want to go back to the way they played a couple of years ago, when Josh McRoberts was at the top of the key swinging the ball and making shots. That's probably why they drafted Frank Kaminsky. I saw him during the summer league and was really impressed with his shooting, his ballhandling and his intelligence on the court.... Cody Zeller needs to improve his scoring around the basket, but he runs the court really well and can knock down a 15-footer. That'll keep the spacing inside for Jefferson.
COACH STEVE CLIFFORD
(3rd season with Hornets)
2014--15 RECORD 33--49
(4th in Southeast)
PG KEMBA WALKER
17.3 PPG; 5.1 APG; 1.4 SPG; 38.5 FG%
SG P.J. HAIRSTON
5.6 PPG; 2.0 RPG; 32.3 FG%; 30.1 3FG%
SF NICOLAS BATUM*
9.4 PPG; 5.9 RPG; 40.0 FG%; 32.4 3FG%
PF MARVIN WILLIAMS
7.4 PPG; 4.9 RPG; 42.4 FG%; 35.8 3FG%
C AL JEFFERSON
16.6 PPG; 8.4 RPG; 1.3 BPG; 48.1 FG%
PG JEREMY LAMB*
6.3 PPG; 2.3 RPG; 41.6 FG%; 34.2 3FG%
PF CODY ZELLER
7.6 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 46.1 FG%
F-C FRANK KAMINSKY (R)
18.8 PPG; 8.2 RPG; 54.7 FG%; 41.6 3FG%
*NEW ACQUISITION (R) ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS
Three-point percentage for Kemba Walker, second worst in the NBA. Walker's 280 attempts led the Hornets, who were last in the league in three-point shooting (31.8%).
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED