Hornets Wing Shooting Part 2: A Case Comparison


Oct 8, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) jumps and passes the ball back to a teammate during the second half of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The 76ers defeated the Hornets 106-92. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This article is a continuation of an article I posted last week in regards to the addition of Lance Stephenson.  Whereas last week was an analysis of how outside shooting influences a team’s offensive efficiency, this follow-up provides a model for the type of offensive growth to expect with the addition of a perimeter shooter.  I’d encourage reading part one first to help with understanding the context of the argument in this article.  

One of the most prominent match ups in NBA Finals history was the pair of Jazz vs. Bulls Finals of 1997 and 1998.  These two series’ were legendary due to the trios of NBA moguls Jordan-Pippin-Rodman and Stockton-Malone-Hornacek.  The two teams of legends dueled in a competitive pair of NBA finals that gave us the “Flu Game,” and ended with arguably one of the most iconic moments in the history of American sports.  This match up garnered two of the top three NBA Finals Nielson Ratings of all time, and as a fan, it corresponds with nostalgia for a great period in the history of the NBA.

These iconic NBA finals may have never occurred if it was not for an important trade the Jazz made four years earlier during the 1993-94 season.  In 1994, Utah had made the playoffs in each of the previous eleven seasons (since they had acquired John Stockton and Karl Malone), but had only reached the conference finals once in that same time period.  After being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 1993, and a disappointing offensive start in the following year, Utah traded shooting guard Jeff Malone for Jeff Hornacek of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Hornacek was a better compliment to the existing roster, and the results were immediately noticeable.

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Prior to the Hornacek trade, Utah ran an inside-out offense, where a majority of their offense ran through Karl Malone in the low post.  Malone was the focal point of the Jazz offense during this period, which is proven by his 29.4% career usage rate.  Malone was flanked by hall of fame point guard John Stockton, who at the time was a great passing guard with an average three point shot (35.2% for his career up to Hornacek trade).  This Malone/Stockton combo had provided the Jazz with an above average offense for years, but the trade for an efficient third option seems to have been imperative to developing their championship pedigree.

Most “big threes” need their own Dennis Rodman.  Essentially, the less-glamorous team player that is a keystone to the team’s overall success.  Chris Bosh, Manu Ginobili, and Kevin Garnett are all recent examples.  Their play styles had to change to fit an important role for the team’s success, and this usually meant sacrificing part of their individual performance.

Hornacek was this un-glamorous keystone for the Jazz.  He made only one All-Star Game in his career, but he was “the perfect fit” for the Jazz offense. Hornacek was added in exchange for Jeff Malone, who was in fact a better overall scorer in terms of points per game.  However, Hornacek provided Utah with more offensive output with less actual scoring.  It could be argued that good basketball is not the strength of individual pieces; it is about how the individual pieces fit together.

Over the first 53 games of the 1993-94 season, the Jazz had averaged an offensive rating of 108.1.  After the trade for Hornacek, the team’s offensive rating jumped to 111.2.  The team would continue to improve offensively over the next four years until they peaked as one of the most efficient offenses of all time in the 1997-98 season.

The above graph shows a significant improvement in offensive efficiency after the trade.  The new big three also helped the Jazz maintain a more consistent offensive threat from year to year.  This overall improvement in team efficiency coincided with subtle individual improvements in eFG% of Stockton, Hornacek, and Malone.

The individual improvements are subtle, but they are significant.  The most notable difference, however, could be Stockton’s improvement as a range shooter.  Up until the trade, Stockton had been a career 35.2% three point shooter.  Playing aside Hornacek, Stockton became a 41.5% three point shooter.  He benefited greatly from the extra spacing and ball handling that Hornacek provided.

The Jazz’s improvement after the Hornacek trade is a model for offensive growth that could be expected from the Hornets this season.

To be clear, the Walker/Jefferson combo is clearly not as talented as Stockton/Malone, and the Hornets should not be expected to contend for the top offense in the league.  However, the 2013-14 Bobcats and the pre-trade 93-94 Jazz run comparable offenses.  Both offenses are considered inside-out, with a majority of the offense running through a ball-dominant posting big man (USG: Jefferson 29.3%, Malone 28.0%).  The teams ran a similar pace of about 93 possessions per game, and they rank as slow offenses in their respective years.  Walker and Stockton both generate a lot of their offense out of the pick and roll, and both teams have defensive specialists at the small forward position with limited offensive capability.

The offenses are certainly similar, but are Hornacek and Stephenson similar?

The offensive parallel between Stephenson and Hornacek is central to this argument.  Let me start out by saying that I do not want to offend any historians out there.  There are limitations to this comparison, but their respective offensive games are definitely similar.  Stephenson, at this point of his career, is not the knock-down shooter Hornacek was, but Stephenson has more height and size, which he takes advantage of inside.  Their on-court demeanor is another obvious difference, and Hornacek has the higher basketball IQ (1.8 career turnover average, Lance 2.7 last year). However, they do have similar style and production in multiple areas.

Stephenson and Hornacek were both selected in the second round of the draft out of Midwestern schools.  Neither of the two showcase great leaping ability or explosiveness, but they’re both highly efficient shooting guards that score similar amounts of points per game.  Both guards can create off-the-dribble, which is proven by the fact that Hornacek once played a full season as a point guard, and Stephenson assumed ball handling responsibility for the Pacer’s second unit last season.  They also share a knack for flashy, acrobatic layups.  Furthermore, they can both create their own offense, but are mostly catch and shoot players from three point range.  Stephenson was assisted on 42.2% of his field goals last year, but he was assisted on 75.5% of his three point field goals (unfortunately this statistic is not available for Hornacek).  Hornacek was obviously more efficient from three, but he shot them at a much lower rate.  Last week’s article argued that these two factors, ball handling and perimeter shooting, are some of the most important contributions of a wing to an offense’s efficiency.

Overall, Hornacek and Stephenson have some discrepancies in their games, but they arguably provide similar offensive elements that their new teams were sorely lacking.  Even if it cannot be accepted that their styles are similar, their statistical production is certainly similar.

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If all of the previous assumptions have been accepted, then the Hornets should demonstrate similar offensive improvement compared to the Jazz.

In order for this argument to be accepted two different assumptions must be accepted:

  1. The assumption that the 1993-94 Jazz and the 2013-14 Bobcats offenses operated under similar systems with similar key players.
  2. The assumption that Hornacek and Stephenson provide similar offensive components to their new teams.

If these assumptions have been accepted, then predictions about the Hornet’s offense for the upcoming year can be made based off of the Jazz.

From the Zach Lowe article I referenced last week:

“Walker has hit just 32 percent of his career 3s, a below-average mark… the kind of awful shots belched up by a bad offense with a limited number of off-the-bounce creators.”

Stephenson is the missing off-the-bounce creator, just as Hornacek was for the Jazz.  Thus, like Stockton, Kemba should significantly improve his own three point shooting with this addition.  An 84% free throw shooter last season, Kemba has showcased some characteristics that suggest he will eventually be above average from 3.  Kemba has suggested that this was his primary focus throughout the off season.  These results should be very significant on that stat sheet this upcoming season.

Furthermore, expect a significant increase in the team’s offensive efficiency, as well as subtle improvements from Kemba, Lance, and Al in their individual efficiency.  Overall, this should have a definite impact on their playoff contention.  The addition of a third efficient scoring option should bolster their ability to be competitive against better defensive teams.