Perley’s Press Pass: Ball is Moving in Hornets New-Look Offense

Another one of the major elements Hornets Head Coach James Borrego wanted to see incorporated more in the team’s offense this season was increased ball movement. Over the previous two seasons, Charlotte ranked in the bottom 10 in numerous categories revolving around passing, but this year, things have swung decisively the other way.

Through 29 games, the Hornets rank ninth in the NBA in passes per game (299.6), after finishing 21st last season (290.0) and 26th in 2017-18 (281.5). They are also ninth in assist percentage (62.4%), a measurement of how many made field goals were assisted on. This ranking was 24th last season (57.8%) and 25th (55.4%) the year prior.

Charlotte also sits 14th in assist ratio (17.3%), which is the percentage of its total offensive possessions that end in an assist. Once again, it’s a steady rise from the 22nd (17.0%) and 27th-place (16.1%) rankings from last season and the year prior, respectively.

“They’ve bought in. It’s been our emphasis from day one in camp,” said Borrego. “They’re sharing the ball, they’re moving the ball, they’re understanding the types of shots we want. The ball’s not sticking in one guy’s hands. Multiple guys are touching it and if we do that, most times we’re getting a pretty good shot. It doesn’t mean it’s going to go in every time, but in general, the guys have bought into the system, the style and executed it very well.”

“They’ve got a stat for everything now,” said a smiling Cody Zeller when informed about where the team sits in nightly passes. “I hadn’t heard that one before, but it feels like it on the court. The ball is moving pretty well. We don’t have as many iso guys. We have to move the ball to get shots. That’s what we need and that’s what we’ve gotten better at throughout the year.”

Zeller makes a great point about the reduction in isolation scoring this season. Right now, the Hornets are averaging the 22nd-most isolation points per game (4.8) on the fifth-lowest shooting percentage (34.6%). Last year, they were 17th (6.3), although were the 13th-most efficient team in such plays (39.2%). Kemba Walker (2.1 PPG), Jeremy Lamb (1.5) and Tony Parker (0.8), ranked first, second and fourth on the team in isolation scoring last year.

The lack of pure isolation scorers combined with an increased overemphasis on getting more shots at the rim and from three-point range is a major reason behind the increased ball movement this season. Currently, the Hornets rank 18th in the NBA in total assists (23.6) after ranking 24th each of the last two seasons (23.2 in 2018-19; 21.6 in 2017-18).

Individually, Devonte’ Graham is ninth in the NBA in assists (7.4), eighth in passes (62.3) and 13th in potential assists (13.3), while backcourt mate Terry Rozier is 28th in passes (49.5). Graham has already accumulated the fourth-most total assists in the league (216), making him the first Charlotte player to reach this mark within the team’s first 29 games of the season since Brevin Knight in 2005-06.

Although the Hornets have struggled to score the ball their last two games, the ball movement hasn’t dropped too significantly (285.5 passes per outing). All in all, the offense is trending in the desired direction compared to the last few seasons with ball movement continuing to be a primary focus.