Steve Clifford began letting his players know during the summer that things would be different with the Charlotte Hornets.
He told them to get into shape and prepare to run.
No longer would the Hornets play offense at a slow pace. Charlotte would be like the rest of the league and increase its tempo. The roster was revamped and the Hornets (9-7) have gone from one of the worst offensive teams to a vastly improved scoring team.
The Hornets entered Saturday sixth in the NBA at 103.4 points per game after finishing 28th at 94.2 points per game last season.
“We saw trades happen and the draft happen and Coach sat down and talked to everybody,” said Charlotte forward Marvin Williams. “And I think it was something they wanted to try to implement. They definitely had guys ready to go, for sure.”
Williams is one of the holdovers. The Hornets pushed to upgrade their backcourt by signing Jeremy Lin and trading for Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lamb to go along with Kemba Walker.
The Hornets drafted Frank Kaminsky and acquired Spencer Hawes, big men who are comfortable playing away from the basket.
Charlotte has jumped to sixth in offensive rating at 104.5 points per 100 possessions. The Hornets were 28th last season at 97.6.
Charlotte is 18th in the NBA in pace with 98.71 possessions per 48 minutes, up from 22nd (95.33) last season.
“Some of it is obviously personnel related because, again, usually there’s some characteristics of running teams like usually bigs that run,” Clifford said. “We have bigs that run, but it’s still also a situation where your shooting – which is helping us – how much shooting you have on the floor.
“If you don’t have shooting, when teams get back, they just worry about getting back to the paint. And instead they’ve got to get all the way out to guys that can shoot. So it opens up space for the other players, too.”
Gone are guys like small forward Lance Stephenson, last season’s big free-agent addition who never fit with the Hornets because he’s so reliant on having the ball in his hands. He was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Hawes deal.
“They brought in a lot guys who can really shoot,” Williams said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot threes, a lot of guys who can push the ball and make plays for themselves and others, and I think that’s made a really big difference for us. Guys also did a really good job in the summertime preparing their bodies to play uptempo, and I think that’s paid off for us as well.”
Clifford said he’d like the Hornets to score more on fast breaks, but he also knows that takes time.
He also didn’t want the Hornets sacrifice defense for the sake of running.
Charlotte is 12th in defensive rating, allowing 100.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s only slightly off last season’s pace when the Hornets were ninth at 101. Charlotte’s net rating of 4.4 is eighth in the league after being 23rd (-3.4) last season.
But can the Hornets keep this up all season? Running in November is a lot different than running in March.
“I remember when I was in college (at North Carolina) and my coach (Roy Williams) would always say, ‘People want to run, but you’ve got to run both ways,’ ” Williams said. “So he made sure we were in shape to run both ways. It’s just the way you practice; it’s the way you train. We do a good job of it in practice and it doesn’t really hurt us too much in games.”
We’ve never seen a defending champion as dominant as the Golden State Warriors. Their 17-0 start is the best in NBA history by two games. Stephen Curry might be averaging more than 35 points if he didn’t sit out fourth quarters of blowouts. The passing and commitment to defense makes the Warriors the most fun team to watch in the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers are a loss away from a new record for most consecutive losses to start a season as they sit at 0-17. Their top rookie, Jahlil Okafor was in a street fight in Boston, reportedly defending a teammate who was being accosted by fans who were making fun of the Sixers.
“My shooting will be better. I could’ve scored 80 tonight. It wouldn’t have made a (darn) difference. We just have bigger problems. I could be out there averaging 35 points a game. We’d be what, 3-11? We’ve got to figure out how to play systematically in a position that’s going to keep us in ballgames.”
– Kobe Bryant after shooting 1 for 14 in the Lakers’ 111-77 loss to the Warriors on Tuesday that gave Golden State its 16th victory, the record for most wins to start a season.