One Team, Three Stats: Hornets at their best in third quarter

Charlotte still has room to improve in some key defensive aspects

After a 6-1 start, the Charlotte Hornets have come back down to earth, losing five of their last seven games to fall to 8-6.

Much of the regression has to do with a turn in the schedule. After losses this week to the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs, the Hornets are 1-5 against teams that currently have winning records. They’re 7-1, meanwhile, against teams that are currently at or below .500.

The Basics – Charlotte Hornets

Pace: 99.7 (13th)

OffRtg: 104.5 (12th)

DefRtg: 100.7 (4th)

NetRtg: +3.8 (7th)

Hornets links: Team stats | Player stats | Player shooting | Lineups

Only one of their next nine games is against a team (Memphis again) with winning record. But a home-and-home with the 7-7 New York Knicks begins Friday on NBA TV (7:30 p.m. ET) at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks have won five straight games.

No. 1

The Hornets have the league’s lowest turnover rate at just 11.5 turnovers per 100 possessions.

Over a full season, that would be the lowest turnover rate since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. The lowest mark prior to this season was 12.1 turnovers per 100 possessions by the 2011-12 Philadelphia 76ers.

This is nothing new for the Hornets, though. In their three prior seasons under coach Steve Clifford, they’ve recorded three of the 14 lowest turnover rates of the last 39 years (1,058 total teams).

Shooting is the most important thing in this league, and the Hornets were a much-improved shooting team last season. But they were still slightly below the league average in effective field goal percentage. And it was their league-low turnover rate that helped push them into the top 10 in offensive efficiency. Again this year, they rank a few spots higher in efficiency (12th) than they do in effective field goal percentage (15th).

The Hornets keep their turnovers low while ranking in the middle of the league in passes per possession and second in assist percentage. Their ability to take care of the ball starts with Kemba Walker, who has the 10th lowest turnover rate among 129 guards who have played at least 15 minutes per game in at least five games. Among starting point guards, only Utah’s George Hill (5.9 per 100 possessions) has a lower turnover rate than Walker (6.2).

It’s been said often that the Hornets don’t beat themselves. The lowest turnover rate in NBA history would be Exhibit A when making that case.

No. 2

Charlotte’s opponents have taken 35.6 percent of their shots from 3-point range.

That’s the highest opponent rate in the league and an increase from 29.9 percent last season. Only the Spurs have seen a bigger increase in the percentage of their opponent shots that have come from 3-point range.

The Hornets are one of the best teams in the league at protecting the basket, which is important. The league is shooting more 3-pointers every season, but the most valuable shots on the floor (worth 1.2 points per attempt) are still those in the restricted area. Charlotte is one of three teams (Atlanta and Miami are the others) that ranks in the top 10 in both opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area and in the (lowest) percentage of opponent shots that come from there.

But in an effort to protect the basket, they have allowed their opponents to get good looks from beyond the arc. According to SportVU, only the Indiana Pacers have allowed more catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game (23.5) than the Hornets have (22.4). The Hornets don’t run their opponents off the line and force mid-range shots enough.

The Hornets were expected to take step forward defensively this season with the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the addition of Roy Hibbert. But they’ve taken a small step backward, allowing 0.4 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season.

At this point in the season, you have to look at the schedule for context, but the Hornets have played more games against teams currently in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency (6) than those in the top 10 (4). That trend will continue, as six of their next nine games are against bottom-10 offenses.

No. 3

The Hornets have been the league’s best third quarter team by a wide margin, having outscored their opponents by 28.9 points per 100 possessions.

That’s the best NetRtg for any team in any quarter this season. The Hornets have won the third quarter in 11 of their 14 games, and have won it by double-digits six times.

But they’ve actually lost three of those games – including two in the last week – that they won the third quarter by 10-plus. While the Hornets have outscored their opponents by 97 points in the third quarter, they’ve been outscored by 61 points in all other quarters plus overtime.

The difference is on both ends of the floor. The Hornets have scored 119 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter and 101 in the other three. They’ve allowed 90 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter and 106 in the other three.

Hornets’ opponents have shot much better from every area of the floor in the first quarter (their worst defensive period) than they have in the third. And there’s no easy explanation for why. Clifford’s minutes distribution has been no different in the third quarter than it’s been in the first.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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