Improved 3-point shooting has Hornets thinking playoffs
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Maybe the Charlotte Hornets are catching Curry fever.
The Hornets, who play about 20 miles from where sharpshooter Stephen Curry starred at Davidson College and who employ Stephen's long-distance shooting father Dell as a broadcaster, are suddenly one of the NBA's hottest shooting 3-point teams.
The seemingly playoff-bound Hornets (42-31) are averaging 10.6 made 3-pointers per game, second only to Curry's Golden State Warriors. Behind the improved shooting of fifth-year point guard Kemba Walker and a revamped roster, the Hornets are hitting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc - sixth-best in the league.
That's hard to fathom considering just last season the Hornets finished last in the NBA in 3-point shooting efficiency, making just 31 percent.
But an offseason spent revamping the roster by adding long-distance shooters and players with an ability to penetrate and open up the outside game has paid off.
''We have guys with chips on their shoulders; guys with a lot to prove,'' Walker said. ''For myself I know I had to get my percentages up.''
He's done that.
Walker is shooting a career-best 37.9 percent from 3-point range, a marked increase from the 31.7 percent he made during his first four seasons.
Veteran power forward Marvin Williams has also elevated his long-distance game, shooting a career-best 40.2 percent on 3s. Walker, Williams and Nicolas Batum all rank in the top 25 in the league in 3-pointers made.
The Hornets are getting smaller, but still significant contributions from rookie 7-foot power forward Frank Kaminsky, and guards Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb and Courtney Lee, all new to the team this season. Charlotte is assured of a winning season, and they had the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference entering Monday night.
The additions of Lin and Lamb have helped open up more shots because of their ability to penetrate.
''They can make plays off the dribble and draw defenders and get an open guy the basketball and make an open shot,'' Walker said. ''And we have guys like Marvin (Williams) and Frank (Kaminsky) who can stretch the floor out. There's a lot of spacing, so I feel like spacing attributes'' to the improved shooting.
Third-year coach Steve Clifford is all for the Hornets letting it fly, although he preaches the importance of his team working inside-out and making sure the ball reaches the paint before any shots go up on most possessions.
When Clifford was an assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy in Orlando, the Magic were known for playing four-in, one-out basketball - and knocking down 3s.
So Clifford is comfortable playing that style.
''I think that worked for Mike D'Antoni, who gets a lot of credit for that, and also Stan,'' Clifford said. ''Stan is doing that same thing in Detroit. I think a lot of the things that we do are things I learned from them.''
The Hornets haven't had small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist except for seven games this season.
While they miss his defense, hustle and ability to get to the basket, Kidd-Gilchrist has never been considered a dangerous long-distance shooter. In fact, he didn't even attempt a 3-pointer in 55 games last season.
With Batum playing the 3-spot and Williams at the four, the Hornets are getting more offensive production from long range. Williams has made 135 3-pointers this season and Batum 133.
But Walker's improvement is most noticeable.
He's made 158 3-pointers, 14th-most in the league and by far the most of his budding career. He said he's shooting the ball with a confidence he hasn't had since his final year at Connecticut, when he led the Huskies to a national championship.
''Over the last couple of years, as far as consistency, it just hasn't worked out for me. This year it has,'' Walker said. ''Just the guys that we have helped as well with spreading the floor out and me seeing the basketball go through the net early in the season has given me confidence. I'm trying to stay confident.''