The premise: Steve Clifford has done wonders on the defensive side of the ball with the Charlotte Hornets over the years, that he’s one of the more underrated coaches in the NBA, and might be part of a package that convinces non-other than Stephen Curry to leave the Golden State Warriors and join the Hornets.
An interesting idea conveyed by Jonny Auping on Real GM suggesting that the kind of defensive numbers the Hornets have been able to force teams to over the last few seasons, even with players like Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson in the lineups, not exactly known for their stopping abilities, goes to show how good Clifford is at teaching defense and implementing it at a level that could help attract such a high caliber player to a team that struggles when it comes to reeling in top free agents. The other lure being Curry growing up in Charlotte.
Sounds reasonable? Likely? Not very much. Jefferson didn’t feature all that much on the Hornets last season due to injury and showing signs of aging. Walker was a prominent figure all season long, and the defense had to make up for that. The idea behind the article isn’t just about why Curry could join the Hornets, but also why Clifford is great at creating a system that can work with any player, no matter how individually talented he is from a defensive standpoint.
One thing that might suggest that is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missing from almost all of last season, and the Hornets still making the playoffs. But one thing not mentioned is players like Nicolas Batum, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin playing for Charlotte. Marvin Williams deserves a lot of credit too. Not that Clifford didn’t teach them anything; he certainly knows his defense. But all three of them are very good perimeter defenders, whose own on court intelligence and athleticism helped anchor this defense, and overall help this team cover for the things Walker can’t do, helping them into the playoffs and one game away from winning the first round series against the Miami Heat.
One thing that’s not mention is how conservative Clifford is offensively most of the time. One of the main reasons the Hornets failed to convert a 3-2 lead in that series against the Heat was Clifford forsaking creativity and going with his actual best playmaker, and letting Walker run wild, which is never a good idea. Obviously, there’s the Heat in all of this, and others on Charlotte disappointing, but in games 6 & 7 of that series Clifford went away from a lot of things that helped win three games in a row and dig them out of a 0-2 hole.
If, and that’s the biggest if in the world, Curry does arrive, he obviously makes things a lot easier for the Hornets offensively. His mere presence on the floor makes it so much easier for everyone else. But a lineup of Walker and Curry together isn’t that easy to manage on defense. Walker played with good defenders next to him in the backcourt last season. The fantasy lineup of Curry/Walker/Jeremy Lamb/Nic Batum/Kidd-Gilchrist might not be the kind of death lineup the Hornets succeed with. Death lineups don’t come around that often in this league, and small ball isn’t the answer to everything.
Hey, maybe there’s something we don’t know about Curry and his love for Charlotte and his appreciation for Clifford. But Curry joining the Hornets in 2017 seems unlikely. Clifford being capable of making any kind of lineup work on the defensive side seems unlikely too.