Posts Tagged ‘Kemba Walker’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 26




NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors | Questions abound for new-look Hornets | Pistons open camp in much better space | What’s next for KG?

No. 1: Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors — They can’t hide from it, the expectations or the obstacles. And Doc Rivers knows as much, has prepared for as much heading into the 2016-17 NBA season with designs on taking the Los Angeles Clippers to places they haven’t been before, even with the Golden State Warriors and their superstar-studded roster (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) standing in the way. Rivers insists his Clippers are ready to challenge the Warriors, no matter what the doubters think. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times breaks down the challenges facing the Clippers with training camps set to kick off around the league:

Last season the Clippers had another successful regular season (53-29) and had high hopes going in the playoffs. But that quickly evaporated when they lost a first-round series to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series.

Once again there were complaints that the L.A. Clippers still had never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

“You should never run from the truth. That’s true,” Rivers said. “But getting past the second round is such a [expletive] goal. That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the winner. So, to be the winner, part of that is getting past the second round. The second round talk does nothing for me. The endgame is being the winner.”

Rivers quickly pointed out that “we’re not” one of the favorites to win the 2017 NBA championship.

Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Warriors as the title favorites at 5-7 odds, with defending NBA champion Cleveland second (5-2), San Antonio third (6-1) and the Clippers fourth (20-1).

“We’re in the conversation,” Rivers said.

So much of the Clippers’ success will be determined by the health of Paul and Griffin, both of whom Rivers said are 100% healthy based on how well they have looked while playing in pickup games at the practice facility.

But Griffin has another cloud hovering over him. He broke his right hand in a fight last January with then Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Griffin penned a letter to Clippers fans on the Players’ Tribune Friday, apologizing for last season.

“It’s been a hard year for Blake – from the knee injury to the Matias thing,” Rivers said. “Blake had a year of life lessons. And that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that. We all have them. I actually will say Blake is in the best physical and mental place he’s been in since I’ve been here.”

The Clippers will gather together for media day Monday and open their training camp Tuesday at UC Irvine.

In recent weeks Rivers has watched as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken a knee during the the national anthem in his quest to raise awareness about racial injustice.

“When I hear people say, you have to stand with your team, that’s true. But there are certain issues that transcend everything,” Rivers said. “This is a very serious problem we have. And to me, none of us are smart enough to know the solutions. But what we can do is start the debate and the talk.

“And usually when enough people get to talking, there are usually results in some type of action. To me, whether you like what Kaepernick did or not – and it’s not for me to tell you if you should or shouldn’t – the fact that you’re reading about a statement that I’m making about it means what he’s doing has had an impact. Now we have to get to the endgame and that’s the hard part.”

On the basketball court, the hard part for the Clippers and the rest of the league will be getting past the Warriors with Durant and two-time MVP Stephen Curry as the expected super team of the NBA.

“There’s always going to be a competitor in our league. There’s never going to be one team that wins it every year,” Rivers said. “There’s always going to be someone that’s standing in front of you and our job is to stand directly in front of them and block their way.…

“But that’s fine, if that’s what people want to believe [about the Warriors]. We’re just not going to believe that crap.”

***

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Do the Cavs have any worries in the East?

Watching these playoffs, and concentrating their attention for now on the Eastern Conference, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers are somewhere literally sitting pretty right now.

They’re sitting because, after sweeping aside the Detroit Pistons, there’s nothing else to do but wait.

And they’re pretty because most if not all of their internal worries of the past are gone, and meanwhile, their competition in the East has never looked more beatable.

While it’s true that anything and everything is possible in the playoffs, the notion that the East title is Cleveland’s to lose looks stronger than ever. When you combine the good health and good vibes of the Cavs with the flaws of the remaining field, it screams Cleveland dominance. Wouldn’t you be shocked if LeBron James doesn’t make a sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals?

In a sense, the Cavaliers deserved a break. Come again, you say? Remember last year: Kevin Love‘s shoulder was ripped apart on a cheap shot by Kelly Olynyk in the first round. And Kyrie Irving was injured most of the East finals, then was gone for good after Game 1 of The Finals (knee). LeBron carried the Cavs anyway and took two games from the Golden State Warriors, but the health gods owed Cleveland a full compliment of bodies and, in particular, two All-Stars (Love and Kyrie). Hopefully we’ll get to see how good the Cavs are with LeBron, Love and Kyrie on the floor and clicking. And judging by what happened in the last month of the season and the first round, those three are finally playing in harmony.

As for the competition in the East?

Atlanta Hawks: Entering Thursday’s Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), they hadn’t won in Boston in 10 previous playoff games. So there’s a chance the Hawks could be extended to seven games. After winning 60 games last season, the Hawks were then swept by the Cavs without Love and Kyrie in the East finals. What gives anyone the idea things will be different in the semifinals this year? Paul Millsap is having a beastly series against Boston, but he was torched by LeBron last season. Meanwhile, if Jeff Teague has his hands full with Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie is a step up from that.

Toronto Raptors: If not for a few breaks their way in Game 5, the Raptors would be down 3-2 instead of up 3-2 on the Indiana Pacers. That’s not what you’d expect from the No. 2 team in the East. Kyle Lowry bombed in the 2015 playoffs and this time has upgraded to inconsistent. Speaking of that, the Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll to major dollars, hoping he’d be their defensive rock. The first impressions aren’t very kind — injuries didn’t help — and he’s the guy who’ll be assigned to LeBron.

Indiana Pacers: Paul George is averaging 28.8 points, six rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the postseason. You have to love Paul George. You don’t have to love the Pacers.

Miami Heat: What a weird situation — and we’re not talking about Dwyane Wade on that last drive in Wednesday’s Game 5 and whether or not he got fouled. We mean Chris Bosh. He hasn’t spoken in public since All-Star weekend and hasn’t been officially ruled in or out of the playoffs. He and the Heat are involved in some sort of stand-off regarding his status — he wants to play but there’s a medical issue — and without him, Miami may not beat Charlotte.

Charlotte Hornets: This is a cool story, how a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002 has won one, then two, then three, and now finds itself in position to win its first playoff series since 2002. Good for Steve Clifford, Kemba Walker and especially Michael Jordan. But they’d get swept by the Cavs.

Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens can coach, and Isaiah Thomas can play. But a coach can’t take a team deep into the playoffs, and the only way a 5-foot-9 player can carry a team far is if he’s Allen Iverson-like. Nice showing by the Celtics, though. Their big moment will comenot next week, but next month at the Draft Lottery show; they hold Brooklyn’s pick.

 

Heat and Hornets in a fight for control of the paint

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Charlotte Hornets have been beating the Miami Heat at their own game in their first round series, which is tied at two games apiece with Game 5 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). After the Heat, a team that owned the paint after the All-Star break, destroyed the Hornets in the paint in Game 1, the Hornets have turned the tables.

Since Game 1, the Hornets have outscored the Heat, 146-104, in the paint. They’ve slowed down Miami’s attack and attacked more often themselves. The Heat won Game 2 comfortably with a 27-3 advantage from 3-point range, but their perimeter shooting came back down to earth in the two games in Charlotte.

The difference between the first two games and the last two games has been primarily on Miami’s end of the floor. The Heat scored a ridiculous 132 points per 100 possessions in their two wins and an anemic 88 points per 100 possessions in their two losses. They not only shot worse from the outside in Charlotte, they also shot 41 percent in the paint after shooting 67 percent in the paint at home.

But the Hornets’ offense has also evolved as the series has gone on. After recording just 24 drives off pick-and-rolls in Games 1 and 2, they recorded 37 in Games 3 and 4, according to SportVU.

Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin drove a combined 13 times in Game 1. Since then, the pair have averaged a combined 27.3 drives per game. They rank second and fourth, respectively, in playoff drives per game and in the series, the Hornets have scored 1.23 points per possession on Lin or Walker drives.

The point guards have scored 86 of the 116 points on those drives themselves and only have 4 total assists (two apiece) on the 94 drives. Lin’s free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 0.703 ranks fourth (trailing three centers) among 97 players who have attempted at least 25 shots from the field in the playoffs.

The Heat’s defense has cut off the Hornets’ ball movement a bit, and the Hornets have been taking what they’ve been given. After assisting on 59 percent of their baskets in the regular season (17th in the league), they’ve assisted on only 37 percent in the playoffs (last by a wide margin).

Only Portland had a bigger home-road NetRtg differential in the regular season than the Heat, who were 9.1 points per 100 possessions better (7.1 better on offense) in Miami than they were elsewhere. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that this series turned when it moved to Charlotte, and location will have an impact on the outcomes of the next two or three games.

But the series will also be determined in the paint.

Heat, Hornets have no interest in playoff dramatics


VIDEO: Kevin Durant got tossed from Game 3 for smacking Justin Anderson in the face

CHARLOTTE — It’s playoff basketball, not professional boxing or mixed martial arts or anything of the sort. It’s just playoff basketball.

So don’t fix your eyes on this first round playoff series between the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets and look any deeper into any of the scrappiness between the two teams. Just because guys have to be separated now and then and words are exchanged, neither the Heat nor the Hornets are interested in any of the playoff dramatics going on elsewhere in this postseason.

“It’s the NBA, there aren’t really any fights,” Heat veteran Luol Deng said. “Not really, not during my time in the league. Guys don’t want to fight. There might be one punch and then it gets broken up. But no real fights. This isn’t hockey.”

Tell that to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook or LeBron James and Andre Drummond or Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder. All of them have been been caught up in the first round dramatics, in one way or another.

Durant was ejected late in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 3 win over the Dallas Mavericks for smacking Justin Anderson in the face. Both Drummond and Thomas will not be suspended for contact against James and Schroder, respectively, that would have seemed to warrant suspension.

Game 3 of the Heat-Hornets series Saturday night featured plenty of opportunities for things to escalate and maybe even get out of hand, but cooler head prevailed time and again.

Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had one heated exchange with Heat center Hassan Whiteside that seemed like it was headed for craziness, only to have players on both sides calm each other down before things got completely out of hand.

“It’s the playoffs,” Walker said. “The intensity is up. Trying to win a series here. Both teams are going to be scratching and clawing, trying to do anything possible to win a basketball game. They have great ball pressure and so do we, so guys are going to get hit. It’s going to be tough out there … anything possible to win a game.”

Walker, however, went to make sure he set the right tone for Monday’s Game 4 showdown at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“I’m not a troublemaker,” he said and then smiled. “It’s just basketball, playoff basketball.”

Hornets looking to match Heat’s “purpose of play” in Game 2


VIDEO: Hornets-Heat Game 2 Preview

MIAMI — The Charlotte Hornets had a lot to think about after getting thumped, 123-91, in Game 1 of their first round series with the Miami Heat on Sunday. And, with Game 2 on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), they’ve had two full days off to think about it.

Most of the thinking and adjusting has been about the defensive end of the floor.

“Our offense isn’t the problem at all,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said at shootaround Wednesday morning. “We’re a top-10 defensive team and we got rocked. We weren’t just bad … rocked. They were great and we were terrible. They’re very tough to guard, but from a coverage standpoint, that was as bad as we were all year, and they took full advantage of everything. They’re going to get that ball in the paint, and if you can’t stop them, you’re not going to beat them.”

The Hornets’ pick-and-roll coverage has to be better. And they have to figure out how to handle it when the Heat send a guard to the baseline to throw their normal weak-side rotations out of whack.

“They play guys down along the baseline,” Clifford said Tuesday, “which is pretty conventional in our league. But they do it with perimeter guys, post guys, which is not done a lot. They do it randomly. So it’s not always at the start of a possession where you can be organized whereas it becomes a read. It totally changes your pick and roll coverages.”

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Numbers preview: Heat-Hornets


VIDEO: Heat vs. Hornets: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Eastern Conference took a step forward this season. It won 48 percent of its games against the West, its second best mark in the last 17 seasons.

Most of the improvement came in the middle of the conference, where teams 5-10 were all at .500 or above, with better records than their Western Conference counterparts.

The Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets were two of the league’s most improved teams. Miami improved on both ends of the floor and was 5.0 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season, while Charlotte took a huge jump on offense and was 6.6 points per 100 possessions better than they were in 2014-15.

Appropriately, the Heat and Hornets finished with the same record and will face each other in the postseason. Statistically, it’s the most evenly-matched series of the first round.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 3-6 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Miami Heat (48-34)

Pace: 95.7 (25)
OffRtg: 104.2 (12)
DefRtg: 101.5 (7)
NetRtg: +2.6 (10)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Charlotte: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_mia_shooting

Heat notes:

20160414_post-break_offrtg

Charlotte Hornets (48-34)

Pace: 97.8 (18)
OffRtg: 105.1 (9)
DefRtg: 101.8 (9)
NetRtg: +3.3 (8)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_cha_shooting

Hornets notes:

20160414_offrtg_impr

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 in both cities)
Oct. 28 – Heat 104, Hornets 94
Dec. 9 – Hornets 99, Heat 81
Feb. 5 – Heat 98, Hornets 95
Mar. 17 – Hornets 109, Heat 106

Pace: 96.2
MIA OffRtg: 100.7 (17th vs. CHA)
CHA OffRtg: 103.6 (14th vs. MIA)

Matchup notes:

  • Three of the four games were within five points in the last five minutes.
  • Joe Johnson and Courtney Lee were only with their current teams for the final meeting, while Al Jefferson missed the December and February games for Charlotte. Both teams only had their current starting lineups for the March 17 meeting in Miami, and the Hornets’ starters played just eight minutes together in that game (because Zeller left with a knee issue).
  • Whiteside had one of his three triple-doubles – 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks – in the Feb. 5 meeting in Charlotte.
  • The Hornets were a plus-38 in 138 minutes with Batum on the floor and a minus-30 in 54 minutes with him on the bench. Wade was a minus-17 and minus-16 in the Heat’s two losses.
  • The Heat grabbed just 14.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, while the Hornets grabbed just 14.9 percent of available offensive rebounds. For both teams, that was their lowest offensive rebounding percentage against Eastern Conference opponents.

Analytics Art: Stars who most improved their 3-point shot


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard powers the Spurs to a record-setting win

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

There’s no denying the robust correlation between a team’s efficiency from 3-point range and their overall success. If the Golden State Warriors’ meteoric rise over the past two seasons wasn’t enough to showcase the significance of that relationship to you, take a look at the PointAfter visualization below. The second tab, plotting every team’s 3-point percentage against their win total, is especially striking.

Premier marksmanship can make up for weakness in other areas. When a star player significantly improves his shooting touch, it adds an entirely new dimension to his team’s offense.

The following five players all increased their 3-point efficiency by at least five percent in 2015-16 while launching at least three 3-pointers each game. It’s no coincidence that four of these players are playoff-bound, too.

5. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

2014-15 3-point percentage: 34.3 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 40 percent

Percent Difference: 5.7 percent

The Hawks have a good problem in that they possess two starting-caliber point guards in Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. The latter might hold more potential as an explosive force off the dribble, but Teague turned his once iffy jumper into a stark advantage over his promising backup this year.
The 27-year-old reached the 40-percent mark for the first time in his career, boosting his scoring rate to a personal-best 19.8 points per 36 minutes. Teague rarely escapes to the corner in Atlanta’s offense, so his improvement on 3-pointers above the break (39 percent) was essential to reaching those landmarks.

Note: You can see Teague’s shooting percentage in PointAfter’s seven zones by hovering over the above shot chart.

4. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

2014-15 3-point percentage: 30.4 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 37.1 percent

Percent Difference: 6.7 percent

For a large portion of Kemba Walker’s tenure in Charlotte, a lack of spacing limited the progression of the team’s offense. The Hornets rarely boasted several above-average shooters who could usher their scheme into the modern style of the NBA.

Thanks to the rapid improvement of Walker’s jump shot (and some savvy acquisitions by GM Rich Cho), Charlotte is home to one of the league’s top-ten offenses by offensive rating. After ranking last in 3-point percentage last season, the Hornets jumped all the way to eighth behind 3-point percentage champ Troy Daniels (48.4 percent), veteran Marvin Williams (40.2 percent) and their star guard Walker.

Walker more than doubled his raw 3-point total from a season ago while exceeding the league average for efficiency for the first time.

3. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

2014-15 3-point percentage: 27.1 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 34.5 percent

Percent Difference: 7.4 percent

Will Barton’s first full season in Denver following a midseason move from Portland in 2014-15 signaled his first with an established role, and he seized the opportunity.

A contender for Kia Sixth Man of the Year and Kia Most Improved Player, Barton took his game to another level in 2015-16 by becoming a bona fide 3-point threat.

The 6-foot-6, 175-pound wing has always been regarded as a good ball-handler for his size. His maturation as a shooter signaled that he can be a weapon without the ball in his hands, too. In today’s NBA, that’s a major plus.

2. Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland Trail Blazers

2014-15 3-point percentage: 27.4 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 36.1 percent

Percent Difference: 8.7 percent

Okay, maybe Aminu isn’t a “star.” But the versatile defender played like one at times for the Trail Blazers, starting all 82 games and enjoying the best offensive season of his career.

His first double-digit scoring season (10.2 points per game) can be tied directly to his marked uptick in 3-point percentage.

With his newfound stroke in his arsenal, Aminu was granted the green light far more often than during his previous three stints with the Clippers, Pelicans and Mavericks. A whopping 49 percent of Aminu’s shots were 3-pointers, up 10 percent from 2013-14 and 35 percent from last season.

As a result, Aminu now has the ability to carry Portland’s offense once in a while. In Portland’s March 31 game against Boston, with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum enduring off nights, Aminu poured in a career-high 28 points on 6-of-11 3-point shooting to guide the Blazers to a 116-109 victory.
If Aminu plays like that during the playoffs, his national profile will surely rise anew.

1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

2014-15 3-point percentage: 34.9 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 44.3 percent

Percent Difference: 9.4 percent

It is true Kawhi Leonard‘s shooting cooled off a bit as the season went on. But there was really nowhere for Leonard to go but down after bursting out of the gates on a stunning four-month hot streak.

Leonard converted at least 47 percent of his 3-pointers from November to February. No other player recorded more than two full months with a 3-point percentage over 47 percent (minimum 20 attempts).

Even with the dip in efficiency as the season turned to spring, Leonard’s overall improvement from 3-point range was staggering. After never eclipsing 38 percent in his previous four seasons, Leonard sustained a truly remarkable long-range run and finished fourth in the NBA with a 44.3 percent clip on treys.
That’s one spot below Curry, whose exploits largely overshadowed Leonard and the Spurs during the regular season. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see those two face off when the stakes are raised in the playoffs.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Blogtable: Predicting the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOHeat solidify their playoff chase with win vs. Pistons

> By this time next week, which teams will be seeded No. 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the Eastern Conference? And which team (if any) is most at risk of falling into No. 7 or 8 territory and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

No. 3: Heat
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Celtics
No. 6: Hornets

This isn’t merely how I think they’ll land — to me, this represents the relative strength and playoff readiness of the four teams involved. Miami knows how vital it will be to land in the third (or sixth) spot, just to avoid facing Cleveland for as long as possible. I don’t think any of the four is in danger of slipping to No. 7 or No. 8. That’s the East’s “green room,” with Indiana and Detroit likely to get bumped fast and asked to return next year.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

Minimal shuffling from current standings.  Boston will beat out Atlanta because of a favorable home schedule and having the critical Jae Crowder back in the lineup.  Also a pair of road back-to-backs will keep Charlotte down in the sixth spot.  I don’t believe any of these teams are in danger of slipping out of the middle of the pack.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

As much as this is the latest opportunity for a lot of people to wrongly overlook the Hawks again, because they are capable of a nice postseason run, it’s tough not to like the Boston defense as a difference maker in this race within the race. The return of Jae Crowder is a big boost. I don’t think anyone falls into 7 or 8.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

No. 3: Celtics
No. 4: Hawks
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

I’d be wary of the Heat, only because they might not feel necessary to press Dwyane Wade into heavy minutes for the stretch run. Miami could falter. Otherwise, this is a four-team coin flip.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Celtics
No. 5: Heat
No. 6: Hornets

This is just a wild guess, because we don’t know what teams (out of this group or their opponents) are going to rest guys in the final eight days. I’ll guess the Hawks and Celtics finish at 49-33 (Atlanta would take head-to-head tiebreaker with a win on Saturday), while the Heat and Hornets finish at 48-34 (Miami wins division-record tiebreaker). And no, none of them are in danger of falling down to 7 or 8.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Celtics
No. 5: Hornets
No. 6: Heat

The hot Hawks have a favorable schedule and can clinch their tiebreaker vs. Boston with a home win against the Celtics. The Celtics, for their part, close their season with three games (two at home) against these rivals — but it isn’t reasonable to forecast a sweep, given the tight competition within this grouping. The Hornets have been terrific on the road lately, which can enable them to hang in despite four remaining games away from home. It has been a month since the Heat has won more than two games in a row, and so a major move is unlikely now.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

No. 3: Hawks
No. 4: Hornets
No. 5: Celtics
No. 6: Heat

The Hawks have a relatively tough schedule remaining (home against Toronto and Boston, plus at Cleveland and Washington), but they’re due to win one against Toronto or Cleveland, and have played Boston and Washington well this season. Charlotte has been playing well, and they’re 10-6 this season against the teams they have remaining. And Miami has three games left against Boston and Detroit, who they haven’t won against all season.

Offensive improvement in Charlotte


VIDEO: NBA Rooks: Frank Kaminsky — Taking Stock

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.

20160325_offrtg_incr

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.

20160325_efg_incr

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.

Blogtable: Are Hornets or Blazers a more dangerous playoff sleeper team?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Are Thunder a great team? | Deciphering LeBron’s cryptic messages? |
More dangerous sleeper playoff team — Hornets or Blazers?



VIDEONicolas Batum and Kemba Walker are driving Charlotte’s playoff push

> The more dangerous sleeper team this postseason: Charlotte or Portland?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Portland. When you have two players who can each get 30 in a playoff game (Damian Lillard has done it three times already; C.J. McCollum did it last spring against Memphis), you have a chance against just about everyone. And the Blazers’ role players (Ed Davis, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, etc.) all stay in their lanes and make themselves available. Lillard, especially, is just about unguardable when he gets space to operate, and McCollum is deadly at the midrange game.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Portland. Damian Lillard is the most lethal player on either the Hornets or the Trail Blazers, and what he’s been doing to multiple opponents since the All-Star break particularly would be migraine-inducing were he to do it two or three times early in the best-of-seven series. Charlotte might have a better chance of winning more games in the first round or even advancing to the conference semifinals because of the quality of competition in the East, but that actually argues against any “sleeper” status. To earn that, you’ve got to bump off or at least frighten top competition — the Blazers likely will get a chance to do that right away while the Hornets might not survive long enough to do so.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Hornets because of their location in the Eastern Conference and they play better defense. Any team in the lower portion (6-8) of the West bracket is going to be very overmatched in a first-round series against Golden State, San Antonio or Oklahoma City. Anybody in the top half of the East could be vulnerable to a Charlotte team that is low in turnovers (ranked No. 2) and high in Kemba Walker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Under the theory, for the sake of conversation, that both get there: Portland. That’s not an easy thing to say right now, with the Hornets going good and the Blazers slightly limping, and I am often praising the work of Charlotte coach Steve Clifford, but it’s easy to see the Hornets having a lot of trouble making shots. That’s the case anyway, but four to seven games against an opponent that could have a top-10 defense (Cleveland, Boston) or a defense better than average (Toronto) could be too much. Plus, Portland would be in the postseason playing with house money as a team very few people expected to be there in the first place. That’s not to say they would play like a team just happy to make the postseason. The team that has played loose in the regular season, though, could carry the same personality into late-April. Double plus: One of the two teams you want us to choose between has Damian Lillard, one doesn’t.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Charlotte, even without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Hornets are deeper and less predictable than the Blazers and Kemba Walker is going nuts at the moment and is almost on par with Damian Lillard. Plus the Blazers will likely see the Warriors or Spurs in the first round, while the Hornets will have an easier opponent by comparison. And get this: Imagine how much better the Hornets would be with a healthy Kidd-Gilchrist and had they kept Bismack Biyombo, who is a shot-blocking terror in Toronto.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Charlotte. The Hornets have a 3-7 record against the top four teams in the East and the Blazers have a 3-6 record against the top four teams in the West. But the Hornets have a better point differential (with much better defense) in those games, the Blazers may struggle if one of their two stars gets taken out of the offense in a playoff series, and teams 2-4 in the East are much more beatable than teams 2-4 in the West.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As entertaining as they have been here recently, I have a hard time seeing the Trail Blazers upsetting the Spurs in the first round (based on the standings right now). Damian Lillard would have to go off for 50 a couple of times in that series to make the Spurs sweat a little bit. But the Hornets and Celtics would be a much more dangerous series for the higher-seeded Celtics. Kemba Walker is having one of the best and most underrated seasons of any point guard in the league. And his supporting cast continues to impress in different ways while also flying under the radar. The Hornets could be a real problem for whoever they match up against in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe top four teams in the West are not going to lose in the first round. Nobody is knocking off the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder or Clippers (so long as they’re healthy, of course). That’s why I’m giving the edge to the Hornets: If there’s going to be an opening-round upset, it’s happening in the East.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogPortland is dangerous, with a backcourt staffed by two capable scorers, and a collection of above-average players who know their role. As we’ve seen, they can beat any team in the NBA, although it may be hard to summon that kind of sharpshooting night after night in a seven-game series. Which is why I think Charlotte is the more dangerous postseason team, if only because they’re in the Eastern Conference and should have a more advantageous matchup than Portland. The Hornets have solid players in the backcourt, wings and in the post, and should be able to find/create mismatches all over the court.