With the loss of their only low-post scoring threat this offseason in Al Jefferson, many expected the Charlotte Hornets to struggle in paint points this year but they are actually better than before.
This past summer, the Charlotte Hornets lost one of the best low-post scoring big men in the NBA in Al Jefferson as they did not re-sign him and he moved on to the Indiana Pacers. With the departure of Big AL, who had been a reliable scoring presence on the low block, many expected the team to take a step back in easy buckets and scoring down low. Instead, they have become a better team at scoring in the paint with Jefferson gone this year.
During the past two seasons, the Hornets ranked 29th in Points in the Paint, which is second to last in the league. Not only are they scoring more points in the paint this year but the team’s also scoring more of their total points in the paint as well as shooting substantially better in the paint. They’re marks this season is some of the best they’ve had in the past seven years.
As everyone noticed, Charlotte has become a better three-point shooting team, but what has gone under the radar is their ability to finish inside and get better quality shots down low. When Al Jefferson first arrived with the team, it was a culture-changing experience and they changed their style of play to suit their star big man, which meant that they would slow the game down and dump the ball into Big Al on the block.
It was a successful style but the team never really excelled in paint scoring. With him now gone, they are putting up better numbers than they ever had with him on the team. When Jefferson arrived in 2013-14, the Hornets were 21st in the league in PITP (40.4 per game). They then dropped to 29th each of the next two seasons (36.5 per game and 37.6 per game last year).
While Al was a presence in the offensive low post, he wasn’t making it efficient for Charlotte to score in the paint.
The Charlotte Hornets currently rank 20th in PITP (42.4 per game) which is the highest clip they’ve had since the 2010-11 season when they were 17th in the NBA. 40.2% of their total points this season have come in the paint and that is their highest mark since Jefferson’s first year with the team as they were below 39% each of the past two seasons. (NBA.com)
The biggest and arguably most significant improvement that the Hornets have made is their ability to make shots in the paint. Charlotte’s shooting 45.2% in the paint (non-restricted area) which is fourth best in the NBA. They were only 11th best last year at 40.6% and 19th best the season before that at 38.9%. (NBA.com)
Another key stat is that the team was only averaging 11.1 paint touches last year which was second to last in the NBA and they are now averaging 13.3 which is 14th in the league. This is after they were last in the NBA at 10.0 in 2014-15. (NBA.com)
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The Hornets’ teams of the past got used to dumping the ball down to Big Al and letting him work for almost the entirety of the shot clock. While it was successful, the team became too reliant on Jefferson. Now with him gone, they are a more well-rounded side with both inside and outside scoring threats. They may not have the one player who can consistently score inside but the team as a whole is taking better shots and making more inside.
It is unclear why the team is better at scoring inside without Jefferson. I think that without Big Al on the court, the floor is more open and there is better spacing which allows Kemba Walker and other to drive and attack the basket. Not to mention that Cody Zeller has been huge inside as he is shooting 60.8% from the field which is among the best in the league this season.
For all that Al Jefferson did for the Charlotte Hornets’ franchise, helping the team score inside as a whole was clearly not one of them. He may be a great individual low-post scorer but the current collection of players have fared much better so far this season. Despite losing Big Al, the team has come together and collectively made an effort to be more efficient inside this year.