Perley’s Press Pass: Hornets Offense All About Getting to the Rim and Shooting 3's

by Sam Perley

Charlotte Hornets Head Coach James Borrego adamantly stated during training camp that he wanted his offense to focus more on shots at the rim and from three-point range this season. Two-and-a-half weeks of practice and five exhibition games later, significant, quantifiable progress has certainly been made on both fronts.

“We’re hitting our goal,” said Borrego on Thursday morning. “I think ultimately, our guys are trusting us. They’ve bought into this system and we believe we’re only going to get better at it. I think we have an identity now and I think guys understand it. There’s no gray area. I’m proud of them. They’ve bought in, we’re executing our gameplan and now, we have to get better at it.”

Only the New York Knicks (57.9%) had a lower field-goal percentage in the restricted area last season than the Hornets (59.4%), despite the fact that latter had the 15th-most such attempts (29.6). Charlotte is currently third in the preseason in restricted area attempts (35.8), over six more than last season’s average. The efficiency isn’t where it needs to be yet (55.9% - fifth lowest in the league), but right now, step one is about creating those opportunities.

Borrego’s offensive vision starts and ends with getting to the paint and players like Terry Rozier (5.3 restricted area FGA PG), Dwayne Bacon (4.8), Miles Bridges (3.8), Cody Zeller (3.6) and Willy Hernangómez (3.6) have all shown a solid knack for doing so this preseason. And if the defense collapses and the shot isn’t there, finding the open man is the next course of action.

“Some of those rim attempts are tough attempts,” Borrego added. “We want to turn those tough attempts into kickouts for open threes. I think we’re probably leaving three or four of those on the table. We do want to shoot more threes than where we’re at.”

“Getting to the rim and then making the right plays is the next step for us,” Zeller said. “There’s so many good shot-blockers and defenses in this league that a lot of times it’s not going to be there on the first drive. Making the drive, then making the kick to the swing [guy]. You have to work hard at it to get a good shot off in this league.”

“Keep attacking the paint, keep attacking the rim and then, we’re going to find open shots,” center Hernangómez added. “Attacking the rim is the key. It will make the defense close in on you and then you can find the open shot with the extra pass.”

As for those threes, Charlotte is averaging 33.2 shots from beyond the arc this preseason, which is just a tick lower than last season’s 82-game average (33.9 – 10th most in the league). Borrego wants the three-point takes to increase and they should with better decision-making and recognition around the basket and less turnovers.

Naturally, an increase of rim shots is going to lead to a drop off elsewhere and that elsewhere is in the mid-range, where the Hornets rank third to last in attempts (5.2) after ranking 19th last season (12.1). They are currently tied for the sixth-most combined rim and three-point shots per game (69.0) in the preseason and rank fourth in percentage of field-goal attempts coming within one of these two areas (80.4%).

“You got to have both. We want shooters and drivers,” Borrego stated. “Paint threats – guys that can get to the paint who can create for others and create for themselves. When the ball gets to the paint or to the rim, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on defenses and that’s what we’re trying to create.”

“Everybody’s driving it. Cody Zeller’s driving it. PJ Washington’s is driving it, Willy’s driving it. Some of the growing pains we’re going through right now are when the drive is made, are we in our right spots in the spacing behind us? So, when we drive, we know someone’s in the corner or someone’s in the slot. A lot of this offensive system is built around pace and spacing and if we give our guys space, there’s openings to drive it, but they also need the outlets to be there.”

By no means is replacing the roughly 60 points in scoring the Hornets lost this summer going to fall squarely on the shoulders of just one player. Everything this season – scoring, rebounding, passing, defense – is going to be a collective team effort. And with regards to the offense specifically, it’s about attacking the basket, making the right play, knocking down shots and ultimately, buying in.


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