Charlotte Hornets Look to Reignite Offense Under New Head Coach Charles Lee

Before enduring two challenging years filled with injuries, the Charlotte Hornets boasted the NBA’s eighth-best offense (113.6) during the 2021-22 season, the highest mark of any non-playoff team at the time. Now, with new Head Coach Charles Lee at the helm, the Hornets are set to rekindle their offensive prowess by emphasizing movement and spacing, areas in which rising second-year guard Nick Smith Jr. excels.

One positive from last season was the increased playing time for the 6-foot-2 Smith, surpassing the team’s initial expectations. Alongside seven G League appearances, Smith played in 51 NBA games, averaging 5.9 points on 39.1% shooting and 1.2 assists in 14.3 minutes per game, primarily splitting time between the shooting guard (56%) and point guard (39%) positions.

Smith particularly shined in three-point shooting. Among the 22 first-year players who attempted at least 125 three-pointers, Smith ranked first in efficiency at 43.2% (63-of-146), edging out Oklahoma City’s Cason Wallace by 1.3%. Remarkably, only one other NBA rookie has achieved this level of efficiency at age 19 or younger: Jayson Tatum in the 2017-18 season (43.4%).

“The first thing that I’ve noticed about Nick is his overall love for the game,” said Coach Lee after a Summer League workout in Sacramento. “He’s always one of the first guys in the gym and one of the last to leave. His dedication is evident. Any opportunity for a young player to get NBA minutes is valuable. The Summer League reps in an NBA environment will be crucial for his development heading into training camp and the regular season.”

Most of Smith’s three-point attempts came from above the break, where he converted 43-of-108 (39.8%) shots. His performance in the corners was even more impressive, ranking fourth in the NBA among players with at least 35 attempts at 54.1% (20-of-37), trailing only Jrue Holiday, Tyrese Maxey, and Norman Powell. Additionally, Smith made 50-of-107 catch-and-shoot three-pointers, ranking seventh in the NBA for efficiency (46.7%) with a minimum of 100 attempts.

Despite his shooting proficiency, Smith recognizes areas for improvement. “People left me open a lot last year, probably because I wasn’t a primary focus on the scout,” Smith said. “I definitely have a lot to work on, like my dribble three and finishing around the rim.”

Coach Lee aims to expand Smith’s offensive arsenal by incorporating more movement threes. “We talked about transition threes in his player development meeting. We want to play fast, and I want him to recognize opportunities when the defense is backpedaling. He’s one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, and he should shoot with confidence. If he misses, I want him to keep shooting. Each miss brings him closer to a make.”

Lee has already begun implementing changes to the Hornets’ offensive strategy, focusing on floor spacing, tempo, and ball movement. In their 97-65 victory over San Antonio in the California Classic opener, the Hornets attempted more three-pointers (44) than two-pointers (40) and dominated the fast break, 16-2. Last season, according to Cleaning the Glass, Charlotte ranked last in points added per 100 possessions in transition play (1.5), 29th in percentage of possessions starting in transition (13.1%), and 26th in points scored per 100 transition possessions (123.2).

“Coach Lee really emphasized spacing during our Summer League minicamp,” Smith explained. “There’s definitely more movement, and we’re playing faster.”

According to NBA shot type data from 2023-24, Smith took 289 total shots, making 10-of-24 ‘running’ attempts and 3-of-9 from behind the three-point line (2-of-6 on running jump shots, 1-of-3 on running pull-ups). His average speed on the court was 4.55 miles per hour, just behind team leader Ish Smith (4.58). This speed is ideal for transition play and can be utilized in various ways.

“I see Nick as a competitor who can play multiple positions,” Coach Lee said. “His versatility stands out. He’s had to play point guard, shooting guard, and guard different positions during Summer League, and he’s done it at a high level. We’ll continue to evaluate and put him in the best positions to succeed.”

Smith’s journey is marked by resilience. After being limited to 17 games in college due to knee issues, he faced numerous challenges as an NBA rookie. Now, with Coach Lee’s guidance and support, Smith is poised for a breakthrough season.

“During our scrimmage yesterday, I passed up a few open shots,” Smith recalled. “Coach Lee told me, ‘Don’t pass up those shots. We need you to take them every time.’ His confidence in me is motivating. He’s been a great leader, and I’m excited to keep working with him. My plan is to improve every day and refine my game.”

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