Bobcats Season 10 – Week 5 Review

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The Bobcats go 1-2 on the week, facing off against one terrible team, one great team and one average team, a completely respectable stretch that included:

  • Another beat-down of the hapless Bucks – this time at home, 92-76.
  • A blown 14 point fourth quarter lead against the two time defending champs in Miami, 98-99.
  • Another blown double digit second half lead against the mediocre Mavs in Dallas, 82-89.

Decision Time

The Bobcats flashed their potential Sunday night against the Heat. Miami played a very good 48 minutes yet needed an improbable Chris Bosh back-to-back-to-back three point barrage in order to trump Coach Clifford’s swarming defense. Kemba Walker hit some tough shots (27pts, 10-22 from the field) and Al Jefferson gave the team just enough post offense to force Miami’s vaunted defense to open up a little. Tragically, the Cats’ defensive rotations deteriorated in the last few minutes – combined with the roster’s inexperience and some questionable officiating, a huge victory was transformed into a moral one.

Two nights later the Bobcats flew into Dallas with chips on their shoulders, taking a double digit lead into the fourth quarter and looking every bit the part of a legit Eastern Conference Playoff team. Then MKG breaks his hand. The lead vanishes. The Cats have no answer for Monta or Dirk. Game over and big questions loom.

Out 4-6 weeks, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence is a major cause for concern: not only will the Cats be without their best perimeter defender but his 26 minutes per game will likely be divided up between Anthony Tolliver and Ben Gordon (professors emeritus at the Nash & Calderon Security Academy). Barring a Jimmy Butler-esque mid-season breakout by Jeffery Taylor, this 8-11 Bobcats team is about to get demonstrably worse. So what happens next?

Two Paths: Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em?

The Bobcats’ front office must not only decide which direction they want to go but also the feasibility of either direction given the state of the league and their own roster. This year’s Lottery is stacked with potential and the Cats lack a surefire All-Star prospect, so why not throw in the towel and stink it up for one last season before breaking out the teal & purple next Fall? Not so fast. The Bobcats’ pick MUST fall between 1-10 next May or else they lose it to Chicago as the final piece of the Tyrus Thomas trade. With the Eastern Conference stinking so bad and the West beating up on its own dregs, there’s a great chance Charlotte finishes in the 8-9 range at the very worst – dangerously close to that 11th Draft slot.

This kind of worst case scenario was surely discussed before the team signed Al Jefferson in July – that the Bobcats could improve just enough to lose their pick in a loaded Draft while still not making the Playoffs. Competing might be the team’s safest option.

Trade Targets

Charlotte’s needs are obvious: they need a floor spacer who can (ideally) create his own shot and won’t kill them on defense. Preferably this player won’t tie up any major long term money or cost prospects or draft picks in return.

Group One – Big Money, Big Name, So-So Game: Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Wilson Chandler.

I did have Luol Deng in this group but since Chicago is incapable of being bad enough to grab a high pick, my gut tells me that they’ll stay competitive despite losing Derrick Rose for the season. Of the remaining three, Granger is an expiring contract who hasn’t been healthy in two years and no one knows what he has left in the tank. Gay could certainly help and Toronto would basically give him away in a salary dump but there’s that whole $19 million player option next season. Chandler is due $6.7 million next season and would likely cost the Bobcats something of minor value in return – but he can hit the three and is a solid defender.

Group Two – Low Risk Stop Gaps: Vince Carter, Travis Outlaw.

Carter’s in the last year of a reasonable $3 million per season deal. He can still stroke it from the arc and can occasionally pull off a Vinsanity throwback for a quarter or two at a time. Nearing age 37, Carter could wind down his career not far from where it all began in Chapel Hill. Outlaw is a younger option, less dynamic of scorer overall but a very good three point shooter (33% over his ten year career). It’s likely Sacramento would give him away just to dump the $3m cap hit next season.

Group Three – Pricey with Upside: Harrison Barnes, Marcus Morris.

Spare me the advanced stats minutiae for a moment, it’s obvious to anyone who watches basketball that these two teams should’ve swapped SFs from Day One. Barnes gives an offense-starved Bobcats team a volume scorer/floor spacer in the making, while MKG is exactly the sort of hard-nosed glue guy the high octane Dubs could ride to the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, with MKG out for 20 games or so, the Warriors would have zero interest making this deal now – especially with Andre Iguodala sidelined indefinitely.

The Cats showed some interest in Phoenix’s Marcus Morris before the 2011 Draft and could try and buy high now that the elder Morris twin is putting it together for the Suns. Marcus is shooting an insane 41% from downtown – and has played well at both forward spots. If the price is right, Morris could be the ideal fit.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

 

 

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 4 Review

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The Cats finish the week 1-3, a disappointing stretch which included:

  • A flat and unfocused loss at home to the surprising Suns, 91-98.
  • A twenty point beat-down of the Eastern Conference doormat Bucks in Milwaukee, 96-72.
  • Another flat and unfocused loss at home to the lowly Celtics, 86-96.
  • Three good quarters and a horrific fourth in a blowout loss at home to Indiana, 74-99.

The LEASTERN CONFERENCE

We’re approaching the quarter season mark and it is already quite apparent that the Eastern Conference stinks somethin’ fierce. Incoming commish Adam Silver may crave parity but right now he has the AL East. Indiana and Miami might both get to sixty five wins playing amongst this ragtag group. Atlanta, currently the Conference’s third seed, is 8-8 and sports a negative point differential. Tied with them is Chicago, who just lost Derrick Rose for the season (again).
Washington, Detroit and Charlotte have had a few nice moments over the past month but they aren’t going to keep either the Pacers or Heat up at night. As for the rest of the lot…ugh. Fair warning: We’re in for a long stretch bad basketball, folks.
All this terrible play in the East has me scratching my head, trying to decipher how good the Bobcats actually are. I mean, has Charlotte actually improved or did the rest of the conference just lower themselves the Bobcats’ level?

Kemba Walker: The Scoring Guard Whose Shots Don’t Fall

Sure, he’s been shooting a little better over the past week (26-62, FG50% over 4 games) but Kemba seriously needs to get consistent with his shot or his future may not be as bright as we once hoped. Wanna hear something frightening? Kemba is shooting 37% from the field this season. He shot 36% his rookie season. We could be looking at a regression to the mean. I was hoping to see Kemba blossom into top tier NBA point with a low block presence like Al Jefferson to run the offense through but the opposite has happened. Walker’s averaging 1.5 less assists per game on the year, consistently has trouble feeding the post and is laying a ton of bricks in the process. I never bought in to the narrative that Kemba would be a third guard on a good team but if he can’t get that shot to fall regularly, he may not be the third guard on a bad team.

Rich Cho Must Love The Home Depot…

…because he sure love projects (ZING!).

In the midst of watching the Pacers loss, I realized that the team is going to need a lot more than what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can currently give if they want to be relevant. MKG had trouble defending Paul George all night and wasn’t exactly matching George’s output on the offensive side either. There he goes again turning the ball over in transition, losing his dribble for unknown reasons and/or committing odd turnovers. I find myself having Biyombo Season Two flashbacks with MKG and that’s not a good thing. Gilchrist will likely be able to stay in the league for a while as a lock-down defender (ala Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Tony Allen) but I’m kind of done expecting much else on a nightly basis.
Biyombo and MKG are case studies in why The Jalen Rose Rule of Drafting (a prospect must be able to: shoot, pass, dribble) should never be broken. How many player development minutes, millions of dollars and highly valuable draft picks must a team spend on guys who might top out as “The Next Samuel Dalembert” or “The Next Gerald Wallace”? The NFL already has this figured out: you take projects in the late rounds, sure things in the early ones.
Again, I think Cho has done a very nice job in aggregate – especially in free agency and with the cap – but drafting woes have handcuffed this franchise from the beginning. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue that way.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

 

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 3 Review

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Another week, another .500 split for the league’s (fourth) best Defensive team. A heckuva stretch that saw the Bobcats:

  • Storm back for a win in Cleveland after scoring just 12 points in the first quarter, 86-80.
  • Play three solid quarters against the world champion Miami Heat at home, only to fold in the 4th, 81-97.
  • Battle the title contending Bulls down to the final buzzer in Chi-town, 81-86.
  • Beat up Brooklyn’s aging All-Stars in a big win at the TWC, 95-91.

Defense is Forever

You have to hand it to Steve Clifford. In the past week, his Bobcats have played full-throttle, basketballs to the wall defense for nearly every possession. At 92.8 points allowed on the season, Charlotte has entered an elite group that includes Indiana, Chicago and San Antonio. Remember that last year’s squad averaged a whopping 102.7ppg against – good for 29th overall. That’s a ten point swing that’s been accomplished with a nearly identical roster.

Clifford’s secret sauce isn’t much of a secret strategy-wise. You can see it just by watching the games: sacrifice the offensive rebound to prevent easy transition buckets, protect the paint area in the half court (even if it frees up a three point shooter) and swallow up as many defensive boards as possible. Meanwhile, let your team’s defensive position of strength (hyper-athletic wings) pester opposing perimeter players for 48 minutes a night.

The Bobcats are communicating, hustling and executing on D like they were the Chicago Bulls – which shouldn’t be that big of surprise considering Clifford and Tom Thibodeau’s shared coaching history. It’s only been twelve games, but if Charlotte can continue as a top 5 defensive team and get their best offensive player (Al Jefferson) healthy for good, we might be looking at a 40+ win squad. As last year’s Derrick Rose-less Bulls proved: You can live by the jumper and die by the jumper but defense is forever.

Kemba Breaks Out

Last week we fretted over Kemba Walker’s post-shoulder contusion shooting slump. The fretting was soon upgraded to full-on Regression Alert after Kemba dropped a 14 for 51 stretch over the next three games, dragging his FG% dangerously close to sub-30% levels. Mercifully, a 12 for 20, 31 point performance against the Nets has us hoping again that the slump was an anomaly brought on by Metta World Peace’s thigh.

To Walker’s credit, he never once lost a gear defensively during the slump – highlighted by an amazing 5 steal performance in the Cleveland comeback. Kemba might not be the prototypical NBA point guard but he’s certainly in possession of a prototypical NBA mentality.

High Ceilings?

At least a few times a week, I get a snark-flavored tweet about how the Bobcats are playing their way out of a superstar in next June’s Draft. I understand the fear. I mean, even if Charlotte surprises everyone and makes the Playoffs, just how high is the team’s ceiling? Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will both likely make the All-Star team at least once in their careers. MKG is a jump-shot away from being a multiple time All-Star (but that jumper may never come). Jeff Taylor and Cody Zeller are both likely to become very good NBA starters at some point, at least on the level of their teammate Gerald Henderson. That’s it. That’s the “core”. It’s not very sexy but it’s solid, with room to grow.

And next summer, regardless of how the Lottery shakes out, the team will have around $19 million in cap space to bring in another difference maker. Gordon Haywood and Lance Stephenson are game-ready, under-24 restricted free agents who could immediately upgrade the team’s long distance shooting. The mid-first round picks owed by Detroit and Portland could produce a Dario Saric or Andrew Harrison off the bench. That’s a very good NBA team. One that can win a lot of games for quite a while. And winning for a while breeds a winning culture. That’s called Stage One.

The Miami Heat organization experienced this Stage during the Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway/Eddie Jones era of the late ’90s. Were they good enough to win a title? Nope. Not even on paper. But the culture they created eventually led to the franchise drafting Dwayne Wade and knowing HOW to build around him for their first title in 2006. Not a single NBA champion since 1980 has gone directly from perennial doormat to Larry O’Brien in one Stage.

The Charlotte Bobcats are transitioning from terrible to not bad. The Charlotte Hornets will go from not bad to very good soon after. Let them build a winning culture that knows what to do with talent first, then we can talk about tanking for Lottery saviors later.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 2 Review

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Charlotte finishes a strange week 2-2, a span that saw the team:

  • Successfully complete the second half of a back to back with a victory against the Raptors at TWC, 92-90.
  • Waste a near sell out home crowd in a (surprisingly) uninspired loss against the Knicks, 97-102.
  • Play exactly one great half and one terrible half against a mediocre Hawks squad in an unnecessary loss at home, 94-103.
  • Regroup to outlast the upstart Celtics in Boston for a Conference road win, 89-83.

A Week of Disruption

Just a day after presiding over Charlotte’s back to back wins against New York and Toronto, head coach Steve Clifford checked himself into the hospital, returning to the bench a few days later with two stents inserted into his heart. With former Panthers and current Broncos head man John Fox and Texans skipper Gary Kubiak missing time with similar ailments, it was a tough week for pro coaches.
Associate head coach Patrick Ewing stepped in as Clifford’s replacement, ironically coaching his first game against the team he starred for fifteen years. The New York media had a field day with the storyline but the ensuing results were less than newsworthy. Ewing’s rotations were off all game and his team lacked any sort of emotion. Ewing’s demeanor on the sidelines is reminiscent of Jeremy Lamb’s perpetual sleepy-time expression. While I think the Bill Self-style histrionics are out of place in the NBA, your head coach needs to at least give the impression that he’s engaged. Fortunately, Clifford missed very little time and all things seem to be business as usual just a week later.

Hello: My Name is Big Al

The Bobcats encountered another form of disruption on Monday night in the form of Al Jefferson. The team’s offense was clearly off balance in the second half against the Hawks, which incidentally was the part of the game that Al’s shots started to fall. In fact, the Atlanta loss felt like a microcosm of this team’s greatest challenge going forward: How to integrate the screen ‘n roll heavy free-wheeling style that the team has had a little success with the more traditional, more mature – and I’d argue – more sustainable inside-out offense Jefferson allows for.
The formula worked a little better in Wednesday night’s road win in Boston but that had more to do with Jefferson’s dominance inside (22 points, 11 rebounds) than an efficient team effort. We’ll surely be keeping an eye on this transition in the weeks ahead.

Kemba’s Struggles

When the Bobcats signed Jefferson during the offseason, they likely fantasized at the pairing of he and the quick penetrating AND suddenly sweet shooting Kemba Walker. While Kemba got off to a fantastic start over the team’s first four games, his shooting has taken a nosedive (29% over the last 5 games) since running shoulder first into Metta World Peace’s thigh last week. And it’s not just the jumper. Kemba has morphed into DJ Augustin around the rim, a spot he excelled in last season. In the Boston win, Kemba finished a disastrous 1-13 (including four misses in the paint) that would have sunk the team pre-Jefferson.
Let’s hope that this is just a temporary setback due to the shoulder contusion and not a full on regression.

Missing Shooters

Talk about clairvoyance. Clifford and the front office should be patting themselves on the back for having the foresight to sign Anthony Tolliver in what was then seen as an offseason afterthought. A 5 year veteran “stretch four”, Tolliver (44% 3PFG) and has been the team’s only consistent spot-up shooter in lieu of Jeffery Taylor’s long distance struggles and Ben Gordon’s demotion to 15th man. Barring a mid-season trade or an off the radar free agent signing, Tolliver is the team’s only consistent long-ball threat – a fact that could undermine the team’s offense for the remainder of the season.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 1 Review

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What’s this?! A Charlotte NBA team fielding an actual competitive NBA roster?! Is that a qualified NBA coach with a real deal playbook and sensible rotations? Are those Bobcat Draft Picks doing things??!! Are the Byron Mullens days really behind us for good???!!!

Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of rough edges to smooth out for this young team but the first week of the FINAL BOBCATS SEASON shows plenty of promise – and promise has been in very short supply over the past few years at the TWC.

Charlotte finishes the week at 2-2 after:

  • Losing the season opener to a loaded Rockets team in Houston, 83-96.
  • Edging the playoff contending Cavs in the home opener, 90-84.
  • Laying an effortless stink bomb in New Orleans, 84-105.
  • Shocking the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-97.

UPON FURTHER EXAMINATION

Clifford’s Impact

We still don’t know what the Cats’ offense is going to look like once Al Jefferson is fully integrated (he’s been nursing an ankle since the opener) but the safe money is on Charlotte continuing with heavy pick and rolls and off-ball screens for their point guards. Gerald Henderson, the team’s lone wing who can create his own offense, has been dreadful from the field (30%) during first four contests, meaning that the Bobcats’ only real chance at opening up good shot opportunities is through out-hustling or confusing opponents via screens.

Here’s how 99% of Bobcats offensive possessions have gone during the past week:
IF PG = “Kemba Walker” THEN:
PASS BALL TO “Josh McRoberts”;
LOSE DEFENDER ON BASELINE SCREENS;
RECEIVE HAND OFF FROM “Josh McRoberts”;
SHOOT.

IF PG = “Ramon Sessions” THEN:
YELL AT “Cody Zeller”;
FIND PICK SET BY “Cody Zeller”;
DRIVE AND GET FOULED.

The “SHOOT” option hasn’t really been working out as the Bobcats rank second worst in the league in FG% at 40%. They’re in the bottom ten worst in every 3PT shooting statistic and second worst in FT%. Coincidentally, Charlotte’s 89.8 points per game is third worst overall.

Now for the positive: The Bobcats have been getting to line like a team full of 2006 D-Wades, averaging 33.0 attempts per game – good for third in the league behind the star-powered Rockets and Clippers.
Take a quick guess at who’s ranked 10th in the NBA in FT attempts, one spot ahead of Lebron James? None other than “Razor” Ramon Sessions at 32 freebies in just 96 minutes played. Dude is averaging a free throw attempt every three minutes; just an insane number to start the year.
Another positive: Clifford’s Bobcats are only allowing opponents 95 points per game – tied for seventh best overall. That’s up from second worst overall (102.7) last season. Let’s hope the small sample size holds up.

The 21 And Under Club

Prospects Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller all had some fine moments during the week but it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who tapped furthest into his UPSIDE with a defensive master class against Carmelo Anthony in New York. Anthony ended up with 32 points but most of that damage was done with MKG out of the game. After getting his nose busted by Kenyon Martin on a hard foul early in the second half, MKG returned midway through the 4th quarter and went full lock-down on Melo, constantly harassing the superstar on and off the ball. In just 26 minutes, Gilchrist dropped 16 points, grabbed 8 boards and swatted 3 shots, including a Gerald Wallace-esque breakaway block on Carmelo that ended in a coast to coast layup. I’ve publicly questioned MKG’s selection as the 2nd pick overall pick in last year’s Draft but if he can build on this type performance consistently, I’ll be proven absolutely wrong and loving every minute of it. Keep it up, young fella.

“A Ben Wallace Type”

Know this: without perennial NBA castoff Jeff Adrien, the Bobcats would be 0-4. With Jefferson nursing a sore ankle and backup Brendan Haywood out until February, Clifford needed someone to step up and provide size and toughness in the middle. With 24 boards and 4 blocks in the past three games, Adrien has certainly delivered.
Ironic that his teammate Biyombo, a Lottery pick, was projected by experts as “a Ben Wallace type”, when it is Adrien who is the perfect heir apparent to Big Ben. Officially listed at 6’7″, the former UCONN Huskie looks to be no taller than 6’4″ Gerald Henderson in person sans mohawk. Like Wallace, Adrien was undrafted and floated around the league for a couple of seasons before finding a home. Big Ben hit his stride with Detroit at age 26. Adrien seems to be doing the same with Charlotte now at 27.

Kemba Walker

From Rick Bonnell’s excellent Knicks game story:

“Every day I’m around him, I’m more convinced he’ll be the leader of a really good (NBA) team,” Clifford predicted.

Tell us something we already didn’t know, Steve.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 Preview: Michael Jordan Has(n’t) Figured It Out

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As we enter the final “Bobcats” season, perhaps no one in the organization has more to prove than owner Michael Jordan. Throughout the summer, League pundits and comment-thread snarks have been quick to point out that MJ’s latest offseason was yet a further demonstration of his ineptitude:

  • Nepotism Part 1: Jordan promoted his brother Larry to “Director of Player Personnel” back in July. MJ’s son, daughter and a host of other long-time friends are already employed by the team in various capacities.
  • Nepotism Part 2: Jordan brought in old friend Patrick Ewing to serve as the team’s associate head coach, continuing the Bobcats tradition of using their bench as courtside seats for friends & family (J.B. Bickerstaff, Stephen Silas, Charles Oakley, Cory Higgins).
  • Coaching Carousel: Jordan hired the team’s fourth coach in five seasons in June.
  • Draft Dunce: Jordan ignored two highly touted prospects, Ben McLemore and Nerlens Noel, and instead “reached” for Indiana’s Cody Zeller with the Draft’s fourth overall pick.
  • Free Agent Foibles: Jordan over-paid an offense-only, aging free agent, forgetting that his young team was the worst defensive squad in the league the season before.
  • Tank Timing: With an super-hyped 2014 Draft Class looming, Jordan picked the wrong offseason to improve the team and lower their Draft Lottery odds.
  • Perpetual Screw Up: Jordan presided over a tone-deaf, scattershot Hornets re-brand announcement that left just as many confused as excited.

     

While I can’t defend MJ’s continued fascination with nepotism, I believe the other accusations to be mostly pre-conceptions in search of evidence. Pretend for a moment, that Jordan didn’t have the decade-worth of “bad owner” baggage and look at it from another perspective – MJ might be figuring this ownership thing out:

  • Quick to Learn: Jordan owned up to his mistake of hiring the inexperienced Dunlap and moved quick to bring on highly respected veteran NBA assistant Steve Clifford.
  • Outside the Circle Part 1: Jordan hired Clifford even though he wasn’t part of or recommended by someone from MJ’s inner circle (Larry Brown, Dunlap via George Karl).
  • Outside the Circle Part 2: Jordan further committed to another outsider by supporting GM Rich Cho’s decision to draft Zeller – an EXTREMELY risky position for someone with MJ’s draft reputation.
  • Shrewd Businessman: Jordan fought hard for the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement back in 2011, then leveraged the new economics in his team’s favor. MJ immediately re-invested the revenue-shared funds back into the team, amnestying PF Tyrus Thomas ($16m in off the book salary).
  • Free Agent Closer: Jordan signed former Utah center Al Jefferson, who, outside of being a nightly double-double machine, is also the biggest free agent signing in Charlotte’s 25 year NBA history.
  • Populist: Spotty announcement aside, Jordan had the insight to Bring Back the Buzz, an incredibly popular move in the region that has re-invigorated a large part of the Hornets’ dormant fanbase.

Long time NBA fans probably remember MJ’s killer fadeaway jumpshot – the one he rode to six Larry O’Brien trophies. Some may have forgotten that Jordan didn’t have that shot until he’d been in the league for ten years. There’s a good chance that MJ is at it again.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 Preview: New Developments

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Wednesday marks the beginning of Season Three of the Rich Cho era. Let’s take a look at how his Draft picks have improved over the offseason.

Bismack Biyombo – 2011 Draft, 7th Overall

Aside from learning how to properly secure a basketball and get yoked, #biznation has used the offseason to string together the individual defensive skills we saw over his first two seasons. There have been long stretches over the preseason in which Biz has looked like a legit defensive force. Most obvious is the enhanced rebounding. After Al Jefferson went down with an ankle injury, Biyombo returned to the starting lineup and racked up 19+ boards on three separate occasions, finishing at 10.6rpg in just 28.8 minutes per. That’s up from 7.3rpg in similar minutes last year. Perhaps more impressive has been Biz’s defensive awareness. He’s not getting lost on pick and rolls or when the ball swings hard to the other side of the court – a key skill for a rim protector.

Now for the bad news: Outside of surer hands and a vicious tomahawk slam, Biz’s offense is still a ways away. He also continues to go for the off-ball shot-block instead of boxing out. I’m not worried. With Ewing/Clifford’s continued guidance Biyombo can only improve. Al Jefferson will return to the starting five opening night but look for Charlotte to use Biz much like the Bulls uses Taj Gibson as a change of pace 6th man defender off the pine. Also, Biyombo just turned 21 in August and considering that he would’ve been at the bottom of this list last October, chalk the progress up as a massive improvement.
GRADE: A

Jeff Taylor – 2012 Draft, 31st Overall

How much more can be said of Taylor’s offseason? The confidence and aggressiveness that began in Summer League continued into Eurobasket and the Preseason. Quite simply, Taylor looks fantastic and if not for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s draft position, Jeff would be starting for the team opening night. Taylor’s three point percentage dipped during the preseason but the stroke is smoother and he’s looking to shoot it more. Taylor’s improved his handle, off the dribble shot and is getting better squaring up against defenders one on one. Love what I’m seeing.
GRADE: B+

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – 2012 Draft, 2nd Overall

Mixed results. The jumper looks as broken as ever and he’s still hopping while shooting free throws. Guess old habits die hard. The good news is that Clifford has started mixing in more ways to get MKG post-up opportunities and the 20 year old is making opponents pay when he gets in the paint. Rebounding is obviously a strength, as is on ball defense. He’s still a ways away from being 2010 Gerald Wallace and I hope the team continues the patient approach with him. A couple more seasons under assistant coach Mark Price’s tutelage will hopefully move things in the right direction.
GRADE: C+

Kemba Walker – 2011 Draft, 9th Overall

The guy with the least to prove this preseason has had an absolutely forgettable one. His shooting percentage has dropped to rookie year levels (36%) and he seems less comfortable overall running the offense. It’s the Preseason and it’s Kemba so there’s probably no need to worry. Between learning a new system, experimentation and saving his intensity for the regular season, expect Walker to turn it on once the games start to count.
GRADE: C-

Cody Zeller – 2013 Draft, 4th Overall

It’s only his first preseason so the young big is just figuring it out. The good news: he’s a smart player who always seems to be in the right position and is drawing a ton of fouls (31 attempts in just 183 minutes). He’s got a great motor as advertised and the mistakes he makes are all in the flow of the game, so there’s only an adjustment or two to be made in order to correct it. Also, he’s been solid on the offensive boards (2.5 ORPG in just 22 minutes), collecting put-back attempts often.

The bad news: He’s getting to the line but shooting an abhorrent 55%. When Bismack Biyombo has a 5% FT shooting edge on you, you might have a problem. Also, as @BaselineDrE pointed out before the Draft, Zeller tends to make himself “small” when getting into the lane. Not sure if that’s a trait he picked up as the runt of the Zeller NBA litter but in this league, seven footer’s with wingspan problems can’t play like Iverson. Let’s hope he learns to use his height and vertical leap to his advantage in the paint as the season progresses.
GRADE: INCOMPLETE

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz