Diving Deeper Into The Hornets’ Recent 3-Point Shooting Success

Eight games into the NBA season, the Charlotte Hornets had themselves an upside-down Triple Crown of sorts when it came to 3-point shooting. They were dead last in the league in nightly 3-point field goals (8.4), last in 3-point attempts (28.3) and to cap it all off, also last in 3-point percentage (26.6%) through Nov. 11.

Across their next 10 games, the purple and teal have flipped the switch with the behind-the-arc shot-making. Despite sitting only 18th in 3-point attempts (32.6), the Hornets have vaulted to 12th in made 3-pointers (13.8) on the NBA’s best 3-point percentage (42.3%). Both these sample sizes are relatively small, but what’s the reasoning behind the sudden flip?

Head Coach Steve Clifford openly acknowledged the team needed to generate more 3-point attempts following the first few weeks of action, something that has clearly transpired.

“We’re just making more kick-out plays, more kick-out 3-pointers,” said Clifford, following Monday morning’s practice. “Our ball movement is good if you look at our assist numbers. No matter what, you don’t want to lock down one aspect of the game and say, ‘We’re good at that.’ You want to keep getting better in every area – offense, defense, rebounding – as you go.”

Charlotte currently sits third in the NBA in drives per game (56.3) and like Clifford referenced, the passing has really ramped up in this area. Between the first eight games and past 10, the Hornets have gone from 10th (18.9) to third (23.1) in passes off drives and from 21st (34.7%) to 12th (40.0%) in percentage of drives that led to a pass.

Prior to suffering another ankle injury on Nov. 26 in Orlando, LaMelo Ball was riding the hottest heater of his NBA career, evidenced by the 32.2 points and 4.6 3-pointers on 43.6% shooting (41-of-94) over the previous nine games. Coming off a rehab-heavy summer, Ball was a little rusty coming out of the gates, converting 27.0% from deep (10-of-37) in his first five outings.

With center Nick Richards placed into concussion protocol for two weeks, the Hornets were forced to use smaller lineups simply out of necessity. Running more five-out lineups with PJ Washington or Miles Bridges at the five opened the offense more, though not having Richards has understandably led to a decrease in the paint scoring, rebounding, rim protection and defense.

Bridges’ first game of the season was the same one that Richards exited at halftime in with concussion-like symptoms. Given how much time he missed and that his 3-point percentage dropped nearly seven points to 33.1% in the 2021-22 season, Bridges has already knocked down 16-of-36 3-point attempts to begin the year (44.4%). “Miles coming back is part of it,” confirmed Clifford. “‘Melo before he got hurt, was playing at an incredibly high level.”

Some of the turnaround can simply be attributed to players finding their rhythm. Terry Rozier (now 37.0% overall from 3-point range) nearly doubled his 3-point field goal total with a 7-of-9 clip in Brooklyn last Thursday night, after going 10-of-38 in seven appearances to start the year. Similarly, rookie Brandon Miller shot 25.6% from downtown over his first 10 outings (10-of-39) and has spiked that efficiency to 53.1% (17-of-32) in his six outings since.

Bryce McGowens had to endure a pair of left ankle sprains – one before training camp, the other during the preseason – and didn’t enter the playing rotation until Nov. 5. The second-year swingman was 27.8% on 3-point attempts (5-of-18) over his first eight appearances, then drained 8-of-11 across the next five (72.7%), which included a career-high four 3-pointers in his first start of the season four days ago at Barclays Center.

Even Nick Smith Jr. – a 33.8% 3-point shooter at Arkansas – has gotten in on the action. Smith drained all five of his 3-point attempts over the last two road games, one of which he was in the rotation for. Along with DJ Augustin, he’s one of only two rookies in franchise history to tally five 3-pointers over a consecutive two-game span without missing and the first NBA rookie to do so since Facundo Campazzo in April of 2021, per Stathead.com.

Teams want as much spacing as possible in today’s NBA game, but there have been a few drawbacks here for the Hornets. With fewer rim and paint shots, they haven’t drawn nearly as many fouls (21.9 to 16.9), which has led to a sharp decrease in free-throw attempts (26.5 to 17.3) between the first eight games and next 10. Creating longer rebounds with smaller lineups may have also influenced a slight drop in second-chance scoring – 16.4 points (eighth) to 14.7 (13th).

A little individual improvement with the 3-point shooting here and there can have seismic ripple effects on a team’s offensive efficiency and how the opposition is forced to guard. Admittedly, the Hornets’ defense still has quite a ways to go, but at the very least, it’s been encouraging to see the offense humming from 3-point range, even amidst some adverse circumstances.