The Charlotte Hornets had a top-10 offense last season. Is it possible for them to repeat that impressive and unexpected feat?
The Charlotte Hornets turned heads in NBA circles last season when they managed to cobble together a top-10 offense. Since rejoining the league as the expansion Charlotte Bobcats in 2004, the team hadn’t managed to climb out of the basement in that category, never finishing above 22nd place in points per possession. Last year’s team finished ninth. The last time a team in Charlotte managed an offense as efficient as last year’s 1.07 points per possession was in 1997-98. The leading scorer on that team was Glen Rice, who is so old that his son has had a failed attempt at an NBA career of his own.
In other words, Charlotte teams have been bad at offense for a long time. That’s what made last season so surprising. It’s also why many fans and experts — including Zach Lowe — are predicting a backslide on the offensive end.
There are two primary reasons to be worried: regression on three-point shooting and loss of important personnel.
Much of the Hornets’ offensive development last season was due to vastly improved three-point shooting. In 2014-25 no team shot worse from behind the arc than the Hornets. Last year, they jumped to eighth in the league in three-point percentage, as well as fourth in the league in both three-pointers attempted and made. The good news for the Hornets is that each of their top three long-distance shooters is returning this year. The bad news is that it’s unclear if any of the three can continue their hot shooting next year.
Kemba Walker and Marvin Williams are both coming off of career years from behind the arc: each posted career highs in threes attempted, threes made, and three-point shooting percentage. Walker re-worked his shot last summer, meaning there’s reason to believe that his improvement will stick. Williams, on the other hand, is a bit more confusing. After a career of mostly below average deep shooting with peaks around 35 percent, his shooting percentage spiked to just over 40 percent last year. It’s certainly possible for him to continue that, but it seems more likely that he will regress a bit in that category. Nicolas Batum was third on the team in threes made, and his history in that category doesn’t exactly inspire confidence: he has been wildly inconsistent from year-to-year, and it’s impossible to tell if he’ll be a great shooter next season. Besides, at just under 35 percent, he wasn’t incredibly efficient this year.
Marco Belinelli joins the team this year, but he’s coming off a miserable year in Sacramento in which he shot a career low from just about every area on the floor. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returns after missing most of the last year, but his only history of not-horrid shooting is a very limited sample: he was 3/7 from behind the arc in only seven games last year.
On paper, Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson don’t seem like huge losses. Fans loved both players, but they are ultimately replaceable. Unfortunately for the Hornets, it seems as if they didn’t replace them. Sure, they picked up a pair of guards and a big man — Ramon Sessions, Belinelli, and Roy Hibbert — that can take up Lin and Jefferson’s minutes, but they likely won’t be able to serve the same roles.
Jefferson is a bit of a dinosaur, a slow back-to-the-basket big man in a pace-and-space league. His slow, plodding style makes it difficult to be a starter in today’s NBA. Still, he’s an efficient scorer in the low post, and that’s an asset. When the offense grinds to a halt or long-distance shots aren’t falling, he can bail the team out with a post move. Hibbert is a talented player, but he’s not a post scorer. If the offense slows down, he’s not going to be a safety valve in the same way Jefferson was.
Last year, Lin served a similar purpose to Jefferson. Of course, he’s not a post player, but he’s a natural scorer on the perimeter and a great ball-handler that helped take pressure off of Kemba Walker. His ability to play effectively at both spots in the backcourt opened up a number of things for the Charlotte offense. Playing point guard allowed Walker to focus solely on scoring. Playing as an off-guard with Walker as the primary ball-handler allowed him to attack defenders. Just as Jefferson was a great player to have when the offense faced issues, Lin was another spark plug. Just like Hibbert isn’t a real replacement for Jefferson, the combination of Belinelli and Sessions likely won’t be able to fill the void left by Lin’s departure.
The Hornets are looking to take the next step towards being a real contender. Their defense should continue to be among the league’s best, but the offense looks poised to regress. That regression shouldn’t be enough to keep Charlotte out of the postseason, but it could certainly hinder their progress towards being one of the game’s premier teams.