In this era of space-and-pace and three-and-D, a throwback post player like Al Jefferson might as well be Rip Van Winkle. In 2015, we like our bigs to be able to run the court and step out and knock down a three when necessary. But Jefferson has no plans of revolutionizing his game anytime soon. In fact, contrary to popular belief, he thinks his game fits perfectly in the modern NBA, and upon closer examination, there just might be something to that. Via Adi Joseph of The Sporting News:
“I think people don’t realize, 3-point shooting is what makes me who I am,” Jefferson says in that same training camp interview. “Last year, we didn’t have 3-point shooting. That’s why guys were able to sit down on me. I didn’t have it. Now we have guys who can spread the floor and make shots. Teams have to pick and choose their spots. You double me, bang — we’ve got an open shot. So having shooters around is music to my ears. That’s what lets me do what I do best.”
He’s mostly right. As a team, the Hornets shot a meager 31.2 percent from three. They also didn’t take very many. The majority of their shots came from the mid-range, the most inefficient shot in basketball. So it’s no surprise that they ranked dead last in effective field goal percentage last year. They also ranked 21st in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) and their offense was near the bottom of the pack (28th).
You might immediately be thinking of the Memphis Grizzlies as an obvious corollary here, considering their stubborn adherence to a twin tower frontcourt tandem, but one of Jefferson’s new running mate’s former teams is actually a much better model to examine. The Portland Trail Blazers had the eighth best offense in the NBA last season, and they managed that while running their entire offense through an old-school big like Jefferson: LaMarcus Aldridge.
In order to do so, the Blazers had to sacrifice a bit of pace. In fact, they were actually remarkably similar to the Hornets in terms of the speed they played at. Portland averaged 96.46 possessions while Charlotte averaged 95.33. So it’s not as if they have to revolutionize their entire offense. They really just need better three-point shooters. And that’s the rub of it. Former Blazer Nicholas Batum will help, and jettisoning Lance Stephenson will be addition by subtraction as he shot a horrendous 17.1 percent from downtown last season.
But it remains to be seen whether the Hornets have the personnel to fully embrace a Blazers-like offense. Kemba Walker, though supremely talented in many respects, can’t hit the broad side of a barn from beyond the arc (30.1 percent last season). So it will essentially be up to the new guys to give them the spacing and the shooting they need. Jeremy Lin was a respectable 36.9 percent from three for the Lakers last season, but he’ll be playing backup to Walker, unless Steve Clifford decides try on a smaller, speedier backcourt for stretches this season. And then there’s Spencer Hawes, a historically solid shooter from distance, but who is coming off a disappointing year with the Clippers during which he shot just 31.3 percent from long-range.
Losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to injury is going to hurt them defensively, but it also opens up a starting spot for Jeremy Lamb, whose 34.8 percent from three last season is just respectable enough to suit their new offensive direction. And that brings us to the power forward position.
According to Clifford, that starting spot is still up for grabs, and there’s a good reason for that. Many fans in Charlotte believed that Cody Zeller had more than earned his starting spot, but he has absolutely zero range and will only help clog the paint with Big Al setting up shop down there on every possession. That leaves Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams. Williams is obviously the more proven of the two, and he’s nearly a 36 percent shooter from distance. Kaminsky has range as well; he shot 41.6 percent from the college three-point line last year, but it’s going to take some time to get acclimated to the deeper three of the NBA, while also being hounded by NBA defenses.
Regardless, it’ll be interesting to watch Clifford tinker with his lineups and try to drag his team into the modern era while simultaneously playing to Jefferson’s strengths. History has shown that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’ll be a welcome change from last season’s horrific shooting woes, but still, it’s hard to imagine it translating into a playoff berth like they’re expecting.