Greatest Bobcat Ever

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BEST-EVER-COVER

The Charlotte Bobcats/Neo-Hornets have been to the post-season twice, being swept both times by a Florida team. They’ve had a single All-Star representative in their 10 years, 1 All-Defensive 1st Team member, 1 Rookie of the Year, 1 All-Rookie 1st Team member, and 5 All-Rookie 3rd Team members. That’s not many accolades for a team that just celebrated its 10th year of existence with a complete rebrand. Reflecting on 10 years of consistently not good basketball naturally leads to debating who has had the best season in that 10 years.

The majority of players that have worn the orange and blue (and the other blue, then the next blue) can be ignored. Tamar Slay (props if you didn’t have to look him up) didn’t exactly set the NBA on fire. The list can be trimmed pretty quickly. A quick Family Feud survey on who the best players in team history are and will return some mix of Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Kemba Walker, and Al Jefferson. Jason Richardson’s name will rightfully show up with 1 or 2 votes. If Stephen Jackson showed up, just no. He might make love to pressure, but that stat doesn’t seem to exist anywhere.

The goal is to identify who had the best individual season, regardless of overall team performance. Impact on the team as a whole does matter, just not the final win/loss record. Players won’t be penalized for unluckily ending up on one of the many bad Bobcats rosters or reward Stephen Jackson for being on one of two playoff teams. Individual seasons can be compared using composite ratings such as PER and points per 100 possessions, plus-minus information, tempo adjusted performance rates, and individual play type performance. All stats come from ESPN.com, NBA.com/stats, basketball-reference.com, 82games.com, and mysynergysports.com.

During the research process, it became apparent that it wasn’t fair to single out one season as the best. Too many good and often underrated performances would go unnoticed and since the Bobcats no longer exist (or won’t soon? It seems nobody knows the timetable on this)* they deserve some recognition. Apologies to any that have been missed.

Honorable Mentions

Charlotte Bobcats, 2004-2005

In honor of the re-brand, the entire team gets some space. Brevin Knight led the team with an 18.2 PER, followed by Jason Hart at 16.91. Yes, Jason Hart was an above average NBA player by PER on this team. Jason Kapono shot 41% from deep. Emeka Okafor began his career with an impressive 16.39 PER and Rookie of the Year award. Aside from gaining cult status over time overshadowed by only Walter Hermann’s hair, Primo Brezec had the best career of his season with a 16.19 PER while averaging a career high 31.6 minutes and 13 points per game. Melvin Ely was on the team. Apparently Steve Smith was too, shooting 42% on three and 87% from the line then calling it quits because NBATV money is better than wearing yourself out on an expansion team. Eddie House posted a 15.88 PER while averaging 11.1 points and shooting 41.4% from downtown (this team sure had a lot of shooting… that must have been nice). Jahidi White had a 17.5% usage rate for some reason, along with an 18.2% turnover rate. Bernard Robinson scored 18 points in Madison Square Garden, the ultimate King Maker Arena. Gerald Wallace began his ascension, posting a 14.12 PER in more than triple the minutes from his previous season. Tamar Slay finished his final NBA season with a 1.49 PER which may be the lowest in team history if it was worth looking up. And orange jerseys. Because just look at them.

okafor-profileEmeka Okafor, 2008-2009 Season

The adjective for Okafor’s tenure in Charlotte is solid. Never spectacular, never terrible, just consistently solid. That being the case, it’s tough to single out an individual season as the stand-out but, as the onlyRookie of the Year amongst a plethora of failed lottery picks, he deserves to be recognized. Forced to p
ick just one, 2008-2009 comes the closest to a marquee Okafor season. Posting an 18.01 PER, the second highest of his Charlotte tenure, and an offensive rating of 102.2, his highest over that same time period, with a .581 true shooting percentage and a .561 effective field goal percentage, this was his best offensive season. Defensively he was solid as ever with the Bobcats being 4.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. While he pales in comparison to Dwight Howard who was drafted just before him, Okafor was a solid rim protector and a decent offensive option, something Charlotte could definitely use behind Al Jefferson right now.

Jason Richardson Illustration by Mike SJason Richardson, 2007-2008

Richardson’s tenure in Charlotte was (too) short, but merits a mention. With a PER of 18.6 and an offensive rating of 103, he was one of the best offensive players the Bobcats have seen. He got torched on defense, but a player that shoots 40.6% from 3 has been a rarity in the Queen City over the past 10 years. It would have been interesting to see that team develop with a decent coach. Instead J-Rich got shipped out to Phoenix for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw and the rest is painful, eye gouging, Larry Brown hating history.

Adam Morrison, 2006-2007

Haha. Just kidding.

kemba-sketch-01

Kemba Walker, 2013-2014

Kemba is a key piece of the Charlotte Hornets moving forward and has been worthy of the 9th pick in the 2011 draft. It would be easy to select 2012-2013 as his best season as he improved his shot selection and had easily his best shooting percentages in his (extremely) short career thus far. It’s hard to disentangle Kemba’s performance from Al Jefferson’s in 2013-2014, but that’s the beauty of what he’s done this past season. Walker has been the number one option on every team he’s played. He’s been expected to create shots for himself first and involve his teammates second. This is delving into “intangibles,” but Kemba’s ability to change his mindset and learn to play with a post player was impressive. While his shooting percentages regressed, his assist ratio improved and turnover rate dropped. Defensively he had his best season with a 99.1 rating and 3.3 defensive win shares, continuing to block shots and get steals with his quickness and athleticism and rebounding well for a small guard. His biggest defensive concern is his size, yet in isolation plays the opposing player scored .73 points per possession on 31.6% shooting. He’s doing just fine. Plus/Minus stats aren’t particularly helpful here because Luke Ridnour was the backup for 1/3 of the season and Ramon Sessions is a known terrible defender. Kemba’s future is bright as he had arguably his best season yet even if it wasn’t a massive statistical improvement on his 2nd season.

Al Jefferson illustration by Mike S.3. Al Jefferson, 2013-2014

Jefferson came to Charlotte and made an immediate impact, leading the team to the playoffs and even receiving MVP votes. This speaks to the dearth of centers in the league and the massive improvement in the Bobcats record from 2012 to 2013, more than doubling wins. This is not to diminish his accomplishments. Jefferson is a low post savant that found a way to be competent on defense in a way he hadn’t been at any other point in his career. Jefferson posted the highest PER in team history at 22.7. He was the focus of the offense and the main focus of defenses every night, allowing other guys to find their spots. Despite all that attention, his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage were the 3rd best of his career at 53.2% and 51%, respectively. Jefferson had the highest assist percentage in his 10 years at 12.8%, a welcome improvement in his game. All of this while posting his highest usage percentage ever at 29.3%. He also had his best defensive rebounding percentage at 28.2%, an important part of finishing defensive possessions. Defensively he was solid, helping hold opposing players to less than 1 point per possession in all significant play types (play types run more than 40 times). He struggled with stretch 5’s like Chris Bosh as they shot 40.7% on 3’s in spot up situations, but that’s a concession that has to be made given Al’s physical limitations defensively. All in all, Al Jefferson had an excellent season relative to both his career and the Bobcats history, with defense being a particular bright spot considering his reputation.

2. Gerald Wallace, 2009-2010

The 2009-2010 season was the year of Crash. He earned the Bobcats first and only All-Star appearance (including a lackluster, at best, appearance in the dunk contest) while earning All-Defensive 1st Team honors and finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He also lead the Bobcats to their first ever playoffs appearance. He had no chance at an All-NBA team due to the glut of quality wing players in the league, but that shouldn’t take away from a great season. Based on accolades, this was easily Wallace’s best season and the best individual Bobcats season. He was a defensive beast, averaging 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 10 rebounds per game with a defensive rating of 100. Overall, Charlotte was a great defensive team and with Wallace on the court they were 1 point per 100 possessions better than when he rested. Offensively, Wallace was solid. He averaged 18.2 points per game, the highest of his career, while shooting 37% from three, a major outlier in his career, and 48.4% overall to go with 10 rebounds and 2 assists. All of this playing a career high 41 minutes per game, often at power forward (not his preference). In the team context, Wallace was a net positive on both offense and defense, though not significantly so. The team was .7 points per 100 possessions better on offense and 1 point better defensively, as noted previously. Why is this not the best season in Bobcats history?

BEST-EVER

1. Gerald Wallace, 2008-2009

While the awards came in the 2009-2010 season, Wallace’s reputation in the league was established in the prior season. That season he had the second highest PER of his career at 18.64. His offensive rating was 101.7, better than his All-Star season.  While his raw stats aren’t as impressive as that season, he played 3.4 minutes less per game, averaging 37.6 minutes. Efficiency is what sets this season apart from that season. Per 36 minutes his scoring average was almost identical at 15.9 in ‘08-‘09 and 16.0 in ‘09-‘10. Despite the unexpected 3 point efficiency the next year, his overall shooting efficiency was also close with true shooting percentages of 58.5% and 58.6% and effective field goal percentages of 50.4% and 51.1% (this is where the 3 point shooting shows itself). He was able to make up for the 3 point shooting by being better at the free throw line, 80.4% to 77.6%, and better from 2 point range, 51.5% to 50.3%. Wallace also had a 12.4% assist rate in ‘08-‘09 but only 9% in ‘09-‘10, all to go with a better turnover rate in the prior season at 12.8% vs 13.1%. All of this offense came at a slightly higher usage rate, going from 20.5% to 20.3%. If these minor differences seem like splitting hairs, it’s because that is exactly what differentiating these 2 seasons is.

The defensive side of the ball is the real clincher.  In that season the team was 7.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court. While individual defensive efficiency can be noisy, that difference is enough to have merit. The defense was anchored by Emeka Okafor who posted a solid 102.3 defensive rating with a defensive +/- of -4.3, but the effect Wallace had from a wing position is extremely impressive. On the court, the Bobcats had the 7th most efficient defense in the league. With him off the court, they had what would have amounted to the 29th best defense. Wallace posted a better steal rate (2.5% to 2.0%) and equivalent block rate (2.1% to 2.2%) in ’08-’09. This was a significantly worse defensive team overall, ranking 14th overall as compared to 1st the following year, but Wallace certainly wasn’t the problem. While the ’08-’09 and ’09-’10 seasons could essentially be combined in regards to defensive and offensive performance, 2008-2009 wins out by virtue of the “doing more with less” axiom. This all comes down to a matter of opinion. You can’t go wrong with either season. Just know that Gerald Wallace is the King of the Queen City. All hail Crash.

*Sadly this joke died as the Charlotte organization has announced the name change will take place on May 20th.

-Bradford Coombs

 


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Bobcats Season 10 – Week 9 Review

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The Bobcats finish a grueling week 1-2, the back end of a West Coast road swing that saw the team:

  • Get hammered by the Clippers at the Forum, 85-112.
  • Get ABSOLUTELY hammered by the sweet shooting Trailblazers in Portland, 104-134.
  • Regroup a little in Sacramento to sweep the season series against an all-time “bad energy” Kings squad, 113-103.

Hanging In There

Charlotte finally returns home Tuesday night after a tough 1-4 road trip. They stand at 15-20, good for 7th in the Eastern Conference and will, with any luck, get starting SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back mid-month. That’s great news because over the next eleven games, the Bobcats will play eight dates against mid to low level Eastern Conference opponents. By the end of the month, we should all have a much better understanding of just how good this Charlotte team is and where they’ll ultimately finish in the pack.

Range Shooting Woes

Wanna know what happens when you combine an elite three point shooting offense and a porous three point defense? Go back and watch Charlotte at Portland for the answer. The Blazers went 21-33 from downtown in that game, with their starters going an amazing 13-16. By comparison, the Bobcats hit 22 three pointers in their last three games combined, taking (a respectable) 52 attempts to do so. Teams have been trouncing the Cats from long range all season and what happened at the Rose Garden Thursday night was the nadir.

A mediocre Bobcat three point defense has gone terrible since losing perimeter defenders MKG and Jeff Taylor to injury and Charlotte doesn’t have anywhere near enough shooting of its own to counteract. The Western Conference is a dangerous valley filled with long distance snipers and returning East with a healthy MKG will help but in the long run, Charlotte must reverse the three ball deficit to get to the next level.

Al Jefferson = David Lee?

In a somewhat controversial move, Western Conference coaches voted David Lee as the upstart Warriors’ lone All-Star selection at last year’s break. Lee was having a career year, sure, but anyone paying attention could tell you that Steph Curry was the engine that made that team go. Unfortunately, with last year’s Western Conference PG position stacked with talent, Curry would have to wait.

A similar situation may present itself this year in the East as Jefferson and Kemba Walker co-lead the upstart Cats. As long as Charlotte stays around .500 and in the Playoff race by the end of the month, the chances for one of those two to get in are very good. Kemba is unquestionably the team’s leader, its heart and soul, but a crowded East PG situation hurts his chances. Kyrie Irving leads the fan vote and will get the start. John Wall is a near lock and with Al Horford out (more on that later), Jeff Teague’s status as leader of the third seed Hawks will be tough to pass up. Kyle Lowry is arguably out-Kemba-ing Kemba with his recent explosion north of the border and don’t forget rookie Michael Carter Williams’ Magic Johnson impersonation in Philly.

Does Kemba deserve an All-Star spot? Absolutely – he and Big Al are the only consistently above average players on the Cats roster – but the coaches may find it easier to give the third PG slot to a Raptor (Lowry) and award Jefferson the Bobcats’ spot. Horford and Brook Lopez are out with extended injuries. Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh and Andre Drummond are the only other legit big men having good years. If the Cats can stay decent, Big Al’s first All-Star selection is as good as guaranteed.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 7 Review

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The Cats finish a nearly perfect week 3-1, a span that saw the team:

  • Beat up the talented Kings in the Queen City, 95-87.
  • Win a stunner at the buzzer in Toronto, 104-102.
  • Play the greatest quarter in Bobcats history in a comeback victory in Detroit, 116-106.
  • Drop a disappointing home gimme against the Jazz on Hornets Reveal night, 85-88.

Still Growing Up

After the Jazz loss, Coach Clifford broke down the current state of the Bobcats succinctly:

  • They are executing on defense and taking the right shots on offense.
  • Effort isn’t the problem.
  • They give up too many “ranged” – aka three point – shots on defense.
  • They are challenged by their lack of “ranged” shooting on offense.

As usual, Clifford was frank and generally upbeat about the team’s progress towards becoming a consistent winner. He didn’t throw anyone (including the front office) under the bus and his point about the team learning to win was accurate. As much as we would like for a nineteen year old NCAA freshmen to save the day, in the NBA there are no shortcuts. Clifford and his staff are instituting the type of system and culture of responsibility that the Bobcats haven’t had in a decade; one that will eventually allow for the team to properly develop and maximize future draft prospects to their utmost. The Jazz loss, like the Magic and Lakers losses before it, was tough but with 13 wins in late December, we can already see progress happening in real time.

#NBA Ballot Kemba Walker

After an abysmal November in which he shot a 2011-like 36% from the field, Kemba Walker has absolutely erupted in December. In eleven games this month Kemba’s shooting 40% from three, nearly 51% overall and averaging 22ppg, 5apg, 4rpg. There’s a legitimate argument that he’s having a better season than either Kyrie Irving and John Wall – both of whom have had a lot more offensive talent around them yet sport fewer wins. With Derrick Rose out for the year and Derrick Williams perpetually nursing an ankle, the East’s PG slots will come down to Wall, Irving, Kemba, George Hill and Jeff Teague. If the Cats enter the break around .500 with Walker leading the way, expect him to earn a spot as the second All-Star in Bobcats team history.

The Greatest Quarter in Bobcats History

Detroit. December 20th, 2013. Charlotte was playing on the road against a physical team that was somehow nailing every three pointer they launched (even JORTS went 2-3 from deep). They lost their backup-turned starting SF Jeff Taylor to season ending achilles injury six seconds into the game. Nothing was going their way. Then the bench trimmed a twenty point lead to thirteen points at the end of the third. Then to eight on a Cody Zeller strip ‘n slam. Then the starters checked back in and Al Jefferson went off, dropping 15 points on a series of And-1’s and twenty footers that played like a YouTube highlight reel in real-time. Charlotte scored 41 points in that quarter while only giving up 17. It’s the kind of quarter you’d expect from a contender like the Spurs or Heat. It was magic. The comeback obviously took its toll the next night against Utah but long-term, the Cats can use that experience as proof that it’s not over until it’s over.

Expect a Trade

 


Clifford talked up Anthony Tolliver and Chris Douglas-Roberts’ work filling in for Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but I guarantee you that behind the scenes, the front office is searching for a “range shooting” wing who can play some defense. Tolliver is best used in spot situations, not the 25+ minutes he’s logged in the last two games. Douglas-Roberts is a decent enough end of the bench guy but there was a reason he started the season in the D-League. The Cats could either go big name (Luol Deng), mid name (Wilson Chandler), or no name (Brandon Rush) in their pursuit depending on what they’re willing to give up. One thing is for certain: in order for Charlotte to have any success long-term, they CANNOT start two non-three point shooting wings. I’d be shocked if both Gerald Henderson and MKG are on the roster this time next season.

The Bugs Are Back

The TWC went absolutely insane during the Hornets Logo Reveal on Saturday night. Hats off to the organization for delivering a fantastic halftime show MC’d by Michael Jordan and four original Hornets (Dell Curry, Muggsy Bouges, Rex Chapman, Kelly Tripucka). The video package debuting the logo was good enough but it was the BUZZZZZZ sound effect and the sea of teal glow sticks that moved the crowd into a frenzy. If this is a preview of the new Hive’s decibel level, the Hornets are going to have a helluva home court advantage next season.

-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