Perley’s Press Pass: Hornets Taking (and Making) Corner 3’s Amongst NBA’s Best
A three-point attempt from the corner of an NBA court is 21 inches closer to the basket than one from above the break. Widely considered one of the best shots you can get in the sport, Hornets Head Coach James Borrego has been on a continued mission to increase his team’s tries from this shooter-friendly zone.
Last season, Charlotte notched the sixth-highest three-point percentage from the corners in the league (40.6%), although was just 16th in total attempts (571; 7.0 per game). In 2017-18, the Hornets finished with the fifth-worst corner-three efficiency rate (36.5%) and the fewest attempts by any NBA team for the second consecutive season (362; 4.4 per game).
Right now, they’re sitting ninth in the NBA in corner efficiency (40.2%) on the 11th-most total attempts (112; 7.5 per game). Narrowed down, the Hornets are tied for seventh in left-corner percentage (45.0%; 27-of-60), 19th in right-corner percentage (34.6%; 18-of-52) and are 13th in frequency of corner threes attempted (8.2% of all field-goal attempts according to CleaningtheGlass.com).
Borrego has clearly made corner threes a primary focus of the offense since he joined the organization last year. But there’s much more to shooting corner threes than simply heading to the corners and firing up shots on every possession – a carefully constructed strategy has been put in place.
“Our players understand what we value as far as shot selection and obviously, the corner three is one of the shots that we value at a high level,” Borrego explained thoroughly in an interview with Hornets.com. “It’s our spacing, our timing and the system that’s really producing this. A lot of it happens in transitions. Guys are running to corners, sprinting and valuing each possession. That’s the first layer. Secondly, it’s dribble penetration. A lot of our guys are getting downhill and getting to the rim, which is causing the weak side [defenders] to pull in. Now, we’re making the right reads. We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better.”
“Right now, our guys are starting to make that jump,” he added. “If they see the weak side there, they’re kicking it and most teams are going to rotate. We’ve been able to find that corner guy and if they even run us off that side of the floor, we tend to come back to the second (opposite) side of the floor and now find that corner three. It’s constant pressure on the rim, whether it’s dribble penetration or with our pick-and-roll game that is producing a weakside collapse out of the defense.”
Two particular players have been vital to the team’s success in this area. Marvin Williams is tied for second in corner efficiency (10-of-17 for 58.8%; 100th percentile for his position per CleaningtheGlass.com) and PJ Washington is fourth (11-of-19 for 57.9%; 90th percentile) amongst NBA players with at least 15 total attempts. Terry Rozier is also 8-of-19 from the corners this season (42.1%), one year after going 27-of-69 with the Boston Celtics (39.1%).
Williams and Washington are one of just two pairs of NBA teammates shooting at least 55.0% from the corners on more than 15 total attempts apiece this season. The other qualified duo is Portland’s Rodney Hood (56.3%) and CJ McCollum (55.6%).
“They’ve put a lot of time into the corner threes this summer and it’s paying dividends for us right now,” Borrego added. “We put our big guys in the corners, we put our smalls in the corners and it’s valuable when other teams know we have elite shooters there. It really puts a tremendous amount of pressure on defenses.”
“One of the things that’s helping us is putting big guys there because [opposing] big guys, their tendency is to go help at the rim. When there is dribble penetration or pick-and-roll penetration on a defense, now it’s going to leave (our) big guys open in the corners for more threes. It’s a big part of our offense, scheme and spacing.”
Williams shot 40.9% from the corners last season (52-of-127), leading the team in attempts. Nic Batum drained 43-of-97 attempts for a 44.3% clip and is 2-of-5 through four games this year. Jeremy Lamb led the team in efficiency (53.8%; 28-of-52), Dwayne Bacon was second (46.7%; 14-of-30) and Devonte’ Graham rounded out the top three (45.0%; 9-of-20).
Emerging as one of the league’s top three-point threats, Graham is just 3-of-7 from the corners, although a fantastic 49-of-119 from above the break through 15 games (41.2% - good for fifth highest amongst NBA players with 75 attempts). Since training camp, Borrego has emphasized quality over quantity and for Graham especially, that often means beating defenders off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot situations with more space to operate.
The one drawback to shooting from corners is that there’s not a whole lot of room to operate, particularly when the defender does close out in time. Coach Borrego and the Hornets are continuing to sharpen this element of their offense, transforming it into more and more of a focal point for opposing defenses.