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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Charlotte Hornets have been the league’s most improved offensive team this season, having scored 6.8 points per 100 possessions more than they did last season. That’s a bigger jump than the Oklahoma City Thunder have made by getting more than twice as many games from Kevin Durant as they did last year.
The Hornets are the only team that has gone from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
There are two big factors in the Hornets’ improvement. First is the additions of Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin. Second is the improved shooting of Kemba Walker. And the two really go hand in hand.
Through his first four seasons, Walker had the lowest effective field goal percentage (44.0 percent) among 151 players who took at least 2,000 shots over that time. And he hadn’t shown much improvement from year to year.
This season, though, Walker is one of the league’s most improved shooters. Among 109 players who have taken at least 500 shots both last season and this season, only Kenneth Faried has seen a bigger jump in effective field goal percentage.
The additions of Batum and Lin have certainly had an effect on Walker. In fact, Walker has an effective field goal percentage of 54.4 percent on passes from Batum or Lin, and just 46.2 percent on passes from any of his other teammates.
“They give me more space,” Walker said after the Hornets’ win in Brooklyn on Tuesday. “I’ve always been good at creating my own space and those guys just help me get extra space.”
It makes sense. With extra playmakers and better shooters, there’s less pressure on Walker to carry the offense. And when the initial action of a possession is taken away by the defense, there is somebody on the weak side who can better take advantage of a close-out.
What doesn’t necessarily correspond with the additions of Batum and Lin is that Walker is shooting off the dribble as much as he did last season. According to SportVU, 75 percent of his jump shots have been pull-up jumpers, a slight increase over last season (74 percent). Only 32 percent of his buckets have been assisted, down from 35 percent last season.
But Walker has shot a higher percentage of those pull-up jumpers from 3-point range, and and shot 32.0 percent on pull-up 3s. That’s still below the league average (35.3 percent), but is a big improvement from his pull-up 3-point percentage last season (25.6 percent). Walker isn’t exactly Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard, but he already has more than twice as many pull-up 3s in 2015-16 (70) as he had in 2014-15 (32).
“A lot of the credit does go to those guys for giving me the opportunity to get open shots,” Walker said. “But at the same time, I still got to make them.”
“He put in the work,” Al Jefferson added. “Playing with Nic and playing with Jeremy is one thing, but he’s still able to knock down shots and get his shots off.”
The Hornets have been a top-10 defensive team in each of Steve Clifford‘s three seasons in Charlotte. But in the Bobcats/Hornets’ first 11 seasons in the league, they never ranked better than 23rd in offensive efficiency. Now, with the league’s most improved offense, they’re one of only five teams (and one of only two in the Eastern Conference) that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor.
Those are the makings of a team that will be a tough out in the playoffs.