October 16, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) If the NBA preseason is any indication, the Charlotte Hornets are going to be a vastly improved offensive team.

The concern will be how well they can defend.

The Hornets made an effort to upgrade their offense this past offseason by adding Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Hawes, along with first-round draft pick Frank Kaminsky. But none are particularly known as defensive stalwarts and with top defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sidelined for six months with a shoulder injury, third-year coach Steve Clifford will be relying on team defense.

''Potentially we could be a very good offensive team, but if we want to go where we want to go we are going to need to be a good defensive team also,'' Clifford said.

The Hornets scored more than 100 points three times and started the preseason 4-0, showing unselfishness, solid chemistry and ball movement for a roster that includes seven new players.

''The ball is moving and when guys are open the ball is in their hands,'' Clifford said.

The Hornets were the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season, but are shooting 40.2 percent from long distance during the preseason.

''The big thing is what we addressed in terms of more skill, more shooting and ways to create more range shooting - and that is evident so far,'' Clifford said. ''We have more perimeter players who shoot and create shots. But a lot of that is set up by the spacing of the bigs.''

Things to watch from the Hornets this season:

JEFFERSON'S DURABILITY: Al Jefferson is only 30 years old but he has plenty of tread on his tires having played in 780 career games during his 11 seasons in the league. Jefferson began to show wear and tear on his knees and feet last season, forcing him to miss games. He has dropped 25 pounds in the offseason hoping to lessen the pressure on his lower body.

BATUM'S ROLE: The Hornets traded to acquire Nicolas Batum, figuring he would play mostly at the shooting guard spot. But when Kidd-Gilchrist went down with an injury, Batum shifted over to small forward, where it is expected he will see most of his playing time. Batum is big and athletic enough to play either position. Clifford is excited about his court smarts and expects him to be one of the top three scorers on the team this season along with Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker.

POWER FORWARD BATTLE: Kaminsky, a four-year player at Wisconsion, may have to bide his time as he looks to find his way into the Hornets rotation. Charlotte is jammed with bigs that include Jefferson, Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes and Tyler Hansborough. Kaminsky came into the league with an NBA-ready game and has already shown he plays well off the pick and roll. There were plenty of critics who berated the Hornets for passing on Duke's Justise Winslow with the ninth pick, but the team fully believes they made the right decision by taking a power forward in the first round for the third straight season.

WALKER'S SHOOTING: Clifford believes Walker could be on the verge of a breakout season with other scorers around him. The 6-foot-1 point guard shot just 30.4 percent from 3-point range last season and is at 31.8 percent for his career. Clifford said Walker has worked extremely hard on that aspect of his game this offseason and the Hornets would like to see him shooting around 37 or 38 percent.

SHOOTING GUARD OPENING: Clifford is set on four of his five starters with Walker, Batum, Zeller and Jefferson. He hasn't figured out who'll start at the shooting guard spot. Lin, Lamb and P.J. Hairston are all options there. Lin is looking to jumpstart his career in Charlotte, and has looked good in the preseason playing games in China. But Clifford also likes the idea of Lin coming off the bench as a second-team point guard. ''He can play both positions, which is an advantage,'' Clifford said.

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