Charlotte Hornets Vice Chairman Implies A Change In Strategy


Could This Mean That Steve Clifford Is On The Hot Seat?

The Charlotte Observer recently caught up with Charlotte Hornets’ Vice Chairman Curtis Polk, a longtime associate of Hornets owner Michael Jordan. Polk has a tremendous amount of influence on Jordan and there are whispers that he is really the one running things while Jordan hits the links.

If so, then this brief interview revealed a window into the future of this franchise and how they might proceed this off-season. People who have reached that high a level in an organization will never, ever, give the media any real juicy information. Often they speak in generalities or just outright lie. Look at the subterfuge that goes on before the NFL draft as an example.

However, it is sometimes possible to read into a statement to get a glimpse of the machinations of the front office’s inner circle. Let’s go over a couple of the questions and answers from that article, although I highly suggest you read the entire thing:

"Q. What has to happen this summer for the Hornets to improve?There needs to be a continuing priority on developing the young guys we have. MKG (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) has shown tremendous growth and progress in making himself more rounded. At some point we have to make a decision on a longer-term commitment with him coming off his rookie(-scale) deal next year. Cody (Zeller) I think again has made some big improvements. Those guys need to continue to develop and everyone from the front office to the coaching staff would tell you the big development work needs to happen in the summer.Adding a player or two if we’re going to play the same way offensively and defensively. Being able to space the floor with shooting, we obviously need players who can help create that. And the veterans need to come into training camp in as good condition as they ever have. It’s important to make sure the staff in the summer goes to visit them or they’re in Charlotte as much as possible. We need to stay on top of that situation."

Here Polk is just pushing the company line that big time free agents are not needed to grow this team into a perennial playoff participant. This is the same line that head coach Steve Clifford used at the end of the season. Polk explains that development of some of their recent draft selections will be the best bet on improving the play on the court.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did show tremendous improvement this season, but it is hard to overlook the fact that he is a back-court player who cannot shoot a three. That does not mean he cannot contribute, but it does put some stress on the rest of the team if Kidd-Gilchrist’s defender is constantly floating into the paint. The best example of a player like this succeeding would be Grant Hill.

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Hill was a fantastic two way player who had a career three point percentage of just 31.4%. Hill turned himself into an All-Star by using his athleticism and quickness to get into the paint, hoist mid-range jump shots, and make plays for his teammates. He had five different season in which he averaged over six assists per game. So despite being unable to hit a long range shot, Hill still made an All-NBA first or second team an astounding five times.

Kidd-Gilchrist could easily morph into a poor-man’s Grant Hill, but he has to increase the number of plays he makes for his fellow Hornets. Right now Kidd-Gilchrist averages just 1.3 assists per game. That is not good enough. If he cannot space the floor, then he needs to take on more of a penetrator role, getting into the paint and dishing the ball to guys who can make a shot.

As for Cody Zeller, that is a tough one. He certainly showed some flashes this year, and his field goal percentage jumped from a miserable 42.6% to a respectable 46.1%. However, he still cannot finish around the rim. Within three feet of the basket, Zeller makes just 57.4% of his attempts. That is not good for a big man. Al Jefferson, for example, makes 65.7% of those shots for his career.

There is hope, in his second year, Jefferson himself shot only 59.8% in that same situation, so Zeller can improve. Shot selection for Zeller also needs to improve. He takes over 37% of his shots between 16 feet and the three point range. Those long twos are the least efficient shots in the NBA, and Zeller makes just 35% of them. He needs to stop shooting from that area. Either get into the paint, or learn, as Steve Clifford suggested, to hit from behind the three point line.

If Zeller could make 35% of his three point shots, then he would become a devastating offensive weapon, similar to Kevin Love and Ryan Anderson.

"Q. Obviously the injuries were a factor in your record, but is there anything you learned from this season that you have to reflect upon and change?I think we have to maintain flexibility – and I don’t just mean roster and salary cap. We have to be able to adjust to our personnel and who is playing well and who is not injured. At times recognize if Al Jefferson is out and our low-post game therefore isn’t effective, how can we use players who are playing to consistently perform at the offensive end? I think we were inconsistent in our ability to generate offense. We made a lot of changes with five (new) guys, so the beginning of the season was more about getting used to each other. We developed that consistency at the defensive end.We have to develop third weapons (behind Jefferson and Kemba Walker). There were games where we scored 100 points and other games where we were down in the 60s. Crazy."

Judging from the comments from Hornets fans all over Charlotte, even the mild suggestion that the team will abandon the post-up, grind-it-out offensive style will be met with wild celebrations. Fans constantly complain about Al Jefferson holding the ball and the team walking up the court. Polk, in answering this question, seems to stress that the team cannot always play the same style regardless of the personnel on the floor.

When Jefferson was out with his knee injury, the Hornets still tried to slow the game down. The problem was that instead of Jefferson commanding a double-team on the block, there was Jason Maxiell and Bismack Biyombo, two offensive zeros. That meant lots of tough, contested two point jump shots and wild drives into traffic. The team’s back-court was constantly trying to shoot over or drive through multiple defenders.

The offense would stagnate, and the team would have trouble scoring. Nevertheless, Clifford would insist on slowing the game down rather than give his smaller, speedy guards a chance to get some easy transition buckets and early offense. Polk clearly saw that as well, and is intimating that Clifford needs to be more flexible with his style or he may find himself unemployed.

Clifford is a good coach, be he is not a great one. A great coach would have recognized that his big low-post threat was out of the game, and that the best opportunity to score would be increase the pace and let his athletic guards and wings run the floor. This answer also makes me question Clifford’s future with the team. Reading between the lines, I do not see a ringing endorsement of the job Clifford did this season.

Overall, the interview was fascinating to read, and gave fans lots to ponder as we move closer to the NBA draft and the start of free agency in July.

Next: Hornets Should Revist Joe Johnson Trade