CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Steve Clifford sat behind a table in the Hornets arena lamenting his team’s defensive struggles in what he deemed a “disappointing” 2016-17 season.
The disappointment stemmed from Charlotte’s porous defense.
Which is ironic, considering Hornets owner Michael Jordan hired Clifford because of his defensive coaching skills. Not to mention add Charlotte’s great defense is what the Hornets hung their hat on in Clifford’s first three seasons – two of which resulted in playoff appearances.
But defense disappeared this year, particularly late in games. Now the Hornets will be watching the playoffs from home.
“Our offense is not the problem, it was the defense,” Clifford said. “The defense didn’t get better.”
It figured to be the other way around after the Hornets lost Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee and Al Jefferson to free agency last summer and returned top defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from a shoulder injury.
Instead, the Hornets fell to 13th in points allowed – although that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.
Clifford points out Charlotte dropped from fourth in 2015-16 to 27th this season in “clutch defense,” a statistic used by the NBA to measure a team’s productivity in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime in games decided by five points or less.
Charlotte’s 1-on-1 defense was a huge problem, Clifford said.
Teams routinely got past Hornets defenders at the point of attack and found easy kick-outs to the wing for open 3-pointers. Charlotte’s 3-point defense was among the worst in the league.
“I felt like that when the game mattered last year we might not be scoring, but the other team didn’t score either,” veteran forward Marvin Williams said. “This year we were able to score but we weren’t able to get stops.”
Some other learned during the Hornets season:
LOSING TIGHT ONES: Losing close games became contagious, said reserve forward Frank Kaminsky. Charlotte was 0-6 in overtime games and 0-9 in games decided by three points or less. “There were…