Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford still plans for center Al Jefferson to be a major scoring option, but Jefferson won’t be the beginning, middle and end of the team’s offense.
Clifford said at a media luncheon Tuesday that he needs to strike a balance between Jefferson’s low-post touches and the more balanced way the team played when Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker were hurt in January of last season.
“Hopefully more five-man movement and quick decision-making,” Clifford said of his offensive goals 10 days out from training camp. “If we can combine that with a good post game, ... (Jefferson) is by far our best offensive player. He’s 10 years of 19 (points) and 10 (rebounds). But we can’t play where every play is to Al.”
Moving in that direction, the Hornets’ major offseason acquisition was trading for Portland Trail Blazers guard-forward Nicolas Batum. While Batum was probably the fourth option in Portland last season, Clifford intends to run much of offense through him the coming season. That’s similar to how the Orlando Magic used forward Hedo Turkoglu when Clifford was an Orlando assistant coach.
“He’s in a similar place to where Turkoglu was in Orlando as far as size and exceptional feel for the game,” Clifford said of Batum. “If he’s open, he shoots it. If he’s not, he’ll drive. He’s as instinctual as you can ask of a player, and you can’t coach that.”
Batum, 6-foot-8 and entering his eighth NBA season, hasn’t arrived in Charlotte because he’s playing for France at Eurobasket, the European basketball championship.
Clifford said one of the side benefits of acquiring Batum is he’ll draw some defensive attention from small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They are both strong defenders, but Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t been a big factor offensively in his first three NBA seasons.
“Mike will have some nights with a smaller guy (guarding) him. He’ll take them into the post and crush them on the glass,” Clifford predicted.
Having said that, Clifford acknowledged Kidd-Gilchrist will never be an elite scoring option.
“Mike is never going to be a 20-a-night guy, and that’s fine,” Clifford said. “Guys can’t reinvent themselves. You’ve got to play to who you are.”
Training camp starts for the Hornets on Sept. 26 at Time Warner Cable Arena. Clifford addressed a number of issues in a question-and-answer session with Charlotte-based media:
On last season’s disappointment
“We’ve got to be more ready to start the year. ... Last year I did a poor job of getting the team ready for the season. We were bad (initially) on offense and bad on defense.”
On turning over half the roster
“The trick or challenge is figuring out who plays with whom.”
On rookie Frank Kaminsky
“The kid has a chance to be really something as a player, (but) right now he’s a kid and they’re beating up on him (in scrimmages). They’re 28 or 29 and he’s 22.”
On getting Cody Zeller to take 3-pointers
“He doesn’t have to shoot 35 percent from 3. But if he shoots 32 percent it opens up his game.”
On Jefferson’s conditioning
“He lost considerable weight. He’s where he should be.”
On managing the depth
“We have a lot more depth this season. The subbing thing is tough. You have to get to a team game that works against everybody, then try to get that better.”
Note: The Hornets signed two free agents for training camp Tuesday: former Ohio State forward Sam Thompson and former Utah center Jason Washburn. Those additions bring the camp roster to 18.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell