Jump Shot Ratings

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With the draft come and gone, summer league concluded, free agency past its height, and training camps a couple weeks away, we are officially in the worst part of the NBA calendar. Seriously, you can only read so many player profiles, preseason rankings, and projections before they all just start to say the same thing. Zach Lowe already has the eccentric NBA rankings market cornered, this year tackling court designs. Finding a topic worth covering without feeling redundant is a challenge in September. So, as your stereotypical short, un-athletic white guy I decided to tackle an important topic: ranking Charlotte Hornets jump shooters. This is a purely subjective, aesthetically based ranking. Results are irrelevant. Hornets fans need to know who has the Mona Lisa of jump shots, and whose jump shot belongs in the garbage (I hate to pile it on, but we all know where this end of the spectrum is headed).

Rankings take into account mechanical soundness and the “Eff You” factor. The “Eff You” factor is a matter of stylistic flair that demoralizes an opponent as soon as the shot goes up. The kings of the jump shot “eff you” are Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. To rate highly by this metric, consistent results are required, but being a consistently great shooter doesn’t necessarily grade out in style. So, without further ado, your 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets Jump Shot Rankings, in reverse order.

14. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

This has been covered. Nobody knows what MKG’s shot is going to look like this upcoming year, but the photo evidence isn’t encouraging to me.

MKG reconstructed jump shot

MKG is my favorite Hornet. But someone might want to call a priest to exorcise the demon living in his right elbow.

13. Bismack Biyombo

I wanted to like Biz’s shot more than I do. I love the guy. Who doesn’t? He obviously finds so much joy in life that I can help but feel my spirits lifted. But the jumper just doesn’t have it. First of all, he suffers from gangly limb syndrome. His arms and legs are so long he can’t seem to figure out what to do with them. His feet are spread way too wide, feet all pigeon-toed, knees appearing to buckle. The ball comes from the left side of his body, shooting elbow flared out, off-hand way too involved… I will say this, he has a nice high release point that helps corral his arms a little bit, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

12. Gerald Henderson

This might be a personal preference thing and probably isn’t fair at all, but Hendo’s jumper is sneaky ugly for me. Let’s start with the feet. I hate the “one foot (way) forward approach.” A shooter’s strong-side foot should be a little forward, say 6 inches. But a full step? It completely throws off your alignment. You can see how it opens up everything else (hips, shoulders). The release is fine, but there’s a mechanical slowness to the entire shooting motion. He never looks comfortable shooting, and I’m never comfortable watching.
What bothers me most is that there’s no reason for any of these issues. Henderson doesn’t have abnormally long arms or large hands. He grew up in a basketball family. And if he had a reliable 3 point shot with a quick release, he would be a completely different player. Alas, it looks like he has one more year as a Hornet before he opts out and moves on to a new team.

11. Marvin Williams

I’m not actually sure how to refer to Marvin Williams. One name? Both names? Marvin seems too personal. Williams is too generic… I digress. He’s expected to be a stretch 4 for the Hornets. Hopefully it works out but when it comes to my personal rankings, Marv here commits a cardinal sin. The leg kick. I’ve spent the past 2 years trying to eliminate the leg kick from my son’s jump shot (he’s only 11, so it’s probably too soon). Other than that, everything looks good. Balanced, a nice quick release, good follow through. But those feet…

10. Al Jefferson
Should Al be higher than Marvin Williams and Gerald Henderson and maybe even Biz? Nope. Why is he? Let’s check the tape.

9. Cody Zeller

Cody’s shot is exactly what you would expect out of an Indiana boy. Fundamentally and mechanically sound, balanced, elbow tight, full extension, follow-through… it’s also epically boring. I could fall asleep watching Cody Zeller jump shots. On a side note, Eric Gordon may have the most boringly effective jump shot in the league. Imagine that. Another Indiana guy.

8. Noah Vonleh

Vonleh is an interesting shooter. There’s not a lot of tape for his shooting, even if I had the patience to dig through college highlights. Another guy to play at Indiana, another mechanically sound shot. He beats out Cody with a little more “eff you” (love the extended follow-through) and his ability to maintain solid form despite having long arms that could get in the way and huge hands. The future is bright with this guy.

7. Jeff Taylor

I’ve covered Taylor’s shooting (here) extensively so I’ll keep it simple. Points for form and a little bit of style. Negative points for a snail-like release.

6. Kemba Walker

I like Kemba’s 3-point shot for the most part. He’s got solid balance, a nice compact release, good follow-through. I don’t love how he doesn’t fully extend his legs, but I love how quickly he gets his shot off. I think he’ll improve as a 3 point shooter over time. Things fall apart a little bit in the mid-range, something he loves a little too much. While he has an uncanny ability to find his balance using jump-stops, he doesn’t consistently follow through with his legs and arms once he gets inside the arc. As a fellow mid-range short-armer, it bothers me more than it probably should. Extra points for flair though. All of the flair. Putting Kemba above Jeff Taylor speaks to my soft spot for quick releases, high arc, and swaggy jumpers.

5. Lance Stephenson

Now we’re cooking. Quick release, no hesitation, consistent form, deep range with no effort… The results aren’t quite there, knocking him down a peg. But I see it getting better as his career progresses. I don’t need to say anything about the swag factor. Born Ready indeed.

4. Jannero Pargo

Pargo is the ultimate street ball gunner. When he gets the ball, shots are going up from anywhere and everywhere on the court. I love it. I have to dock him for doing it in garbage time. It’s one thing to drop 3’s against the Blazers when you’re already down 30 points (that game still hurts). It’s another to do it when it matters.

3. Brian Roberts

Roberts is a lot like Pargo, except he did it in games where it actually mattered. A quick trigger with an equally quick release and deep range. Charlotte has been lacking in overly aggressive shooters and Roberts is a member of the newest platoon of long range assassins, along with the next 2 guys. We need more pull-up 3’s in transition.

2. PJ Hairston

Not a lot of video here, so we’ll just roll with the NBA.com highlights (while giving my weak video editing skills a break). The D-League stuff isn’t high quality and I refuse to include anything in my posts involving that hideous shade of blue. The mechanics aren’t perfect, but this time I don’t care. It’s so fun to watch PJ jack shots up from all over the court. Quick and confident, unlimited range… Hopefully Coach Clifford can clean up the rough edges and turn him into a 3-and-D monster.

1. Gary Neal

Gary Neal was the inspiration for this list. I was recently watching clips for something else I was working on and I realized I had never recognized how great his shot looks. I’ll let the video do most of the talking. Just look forward to the constant movement, flying around screens and along the baseline, popping out for gorgeous 3’s. The form isn’t necessarily perfect. But it’s quick, it’s balanced, it’s consistent, and it has a flair about it that lets the defense know they’re in trouble. Lance, Brian Roberts (he needs a nickname that’s NOT B-Rob. Let’s be better guys), PJ Be Shooting, and Gary Neal are going to bring something this team desperately needed.

-Bradford Coombs
@bradford_NBA

Josh McRoberts Sad Face

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McRoberts-Gone

Josh McRoberts has agreed to join the Miami Heat and a tear forms in the eye of every Hornets fan. After being misused at Duke (Coach K misusing a big? No way!) and wandering the league in various states of hair growth, Steve Clifford finally unlocked the McBeast that had been lurking all along. By moving him to the perimeter, Clifford allowed McRoberts to take advantage of his play-making skills, facilitating the offense and being just productive enough as a shooter to keep the defense honest. By almost every metric (plus/minus, RPM, WARP, EWA) McRoberts was one of the most productive and important players on the team. Losing him hurts. But there’s no value in dwelling on the past, so it’s worth looking at how this affects the team for the upcoming season. We’ll approach it on a mostly individual basis. It should be noted these are just my opinions and don’t reflect any sort of insider knowledge. For whatever reason Rich Cho and Steve Clifford won’t return my phone calls and I was recently delivered a strange piece of mail that says something about a restraining order and being within 100 yards of either of them. I need to figure that out… (none of that is true, except that these are just the opinions of an uniformed nobody).

Rich Cho

Cho is all in on the young players. He easily could have outspent Miami to retain McRoberts. This is pure speculation, but it seems a player option on the 4th year rather than something like a team option or a partial guarantee was the sticking point. Cody Zeller has 3 years left on his rookie contract after which he’ll be getting a raise on his salary. Kemba Walker has one more year and MKG has 2. Cho’s specialty is managing the cap and failing to meet Miami’s offer is, in all likelihood, a matter of doing that aand preparing for extensions to kick in. This is the first real gamble of Cho’s tenure. Betting on Biz, Kemba, MKG, and Zeller in the draft wasn’t making a bad team worse if they didn’t work out. Losing an essential member of a playoff team for the sake of future financial flexibility, just as the team is gaining momentum, is a bold and potentially dangerous move. If the young guys turn out to be what he hopes and the flexibility gives him a chance to make a move down the line he comes out looking great. If the picks are all busts and the team takes a massive step backwards his job might be on the line. Cho will also need to find a 5th big to go with Zeller, Vonleh, Jefferson, and Biyombo. Kris Humphries’s name has popped up and Jeff Adrien is always a welcome addition to the roster.

Steve Clifford

McRoberts was Coach Clifford’s safety blanket. He facilitated the offense, opened up the floor, and allowed Al Jefferson to operate on the block without clogging the lane. He made hustle plays and was always willing to do the dirty work, as LeBron’s throat can attest to. With him moving on, Clifford is going to have to find a way to craft a post heavy offense that lacks elite shooters. He’ll have to find ways to take the burden of creating off solely Kemba’s shoulders. Most importantly, he’s going to need to bring Cody and Noah Vonleh along and make them productive players on offense and defense sooner rather than later. This is an area where Gregg Popovich excels and is part of what sets him apart from other coaches. If Clifford wants to prove himself as one of the elite coaches, this is a time to do it.

Cody Zeller

Zeller will be affected more than anyone else on the team. He seemed to be in line for similar playing time to last year. Clifford started experimenting with playing him and McRoberts together towards the end of the season. He averaged 22.2 minutes per game in April and that looked like it would continue. He will now be forced into the starting lineup, most likely absorbing all of McRoberts’s 30 minutes per game. He should look to stretch himself as a shooter and as a playmaker. Clifford has been very deliberate about how he has brought Cody along, but there is no longer time for that. The first thing he will need to do is cut down on the turnovers. McRoberts turned the ball over 8 times for every 100 possessions. Cody turned it over 13 times per 100 possessions. That number needs to go down. A lot of those turnovers were on destination-less drives to the basket. Hopefully a strengthened core and more experience will help him keep his balance on such drives or he will look for an open teammate more often. The other are for improvement is his shooting. This is an area that almost assuredly will be better. In March and April he shot over 50% from the field as he got more comfortable in his role. The key is to add more range to his shot. With his smaller frame, he is going to have to develop a 3 point shot in order to be effective, especially with Al Jefferson on the team. That development may not come this season, but he does need to start shooting them. The only way to get comfortable in game situations is to do it in game situations. The coaching staff will need to be patient as he adapts to the longer shot and he will need to maintain his confidence even if he struggles some. He doesn’t need to go all Channing Frye this season, but he needs to let it fly when he is open to start the process. Zeller will have to take a step forward for this team to be effective again.

Noah Vonleh

The rumors surrounding Vonleh’s drop were centered mostly on the amount of development he required and his work ethic. The Hornets’ players are a hard working group without question, so they will be there to help him stay focused. The lack of NBA preparedness is going to be a much bigger problem, especially now. Steve Clifford is not Larry Brown. He sees the value in young guys and gives them appropriate time while not necessarily hurting the team. Vonleh probably wasn’t going to see a lot of time this year. Somewhere in the 5-10 minute range. That’s now going to be closer to 15-20 as the only legitimate power forward on the bench. Nobody knows what to expect from him. He was billed as a shooter, but his college sample size was tiny. He didn’t dominate at Indiana, but Tom Crean wasn’t doing a lot to help him out there. He can be inattentive and needs to develop a better feel and IQ for the game. For now Clifford will probably expect him to focus on rebounding, defending the basket, and stretching the floor. In all likelihood he won’t be asked to create or facilitate the offense. He probably won’t have any plays run for him outside of the pick and roll where he will be expected to roll hard to the basket. If he can focus on the basics he should be able to be a neutral presence on the floor. That sounds harsh, but for a project big man with limited experience not hurting the team would be a big win.

Bismack Biyombo

Biz looked dead in the water going into next season. He played only 14 minutes per game this past season. While he improved significantly overall, his development hasn’t been quite what the team had hoped and management seriously considered not picking up his option. Towards the end of the season Clifford started using Zeller as a center with McRoberts on the floor at the same time rather than going to Biz. Don’t plan on seeing a lot of Zeller and Vonleh on the floor together. Instead, Clifford may choose to do what he was doing with McRoberts, subbing him out relatively early and letting him stabilize the bench unit. Biz’s responsibilities won’t change. He will still expected to rebound and defend and to try to stay out of the way on offense. This may be his last chance. He needs to take advantage of it.

Gerald Henderson & Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

With McRoberts gone, the wings are going to have the ball in their hands more with an opportunity to create for themselves and others. For Henderson, this means a couple things. The first and most obvious is that he needs to unshackle himself and start shooting the 3 ball. No more taking one dribble in for a mid-range shot. There is a banner up in the Hornets’ practice facility that says, “Quick Decisions: Shoot It, Drive It, Move it.” If anyone needs to take this motto to heart, it’s Henderson. He has a tendency to catch, turn, face, and survey. Then look some more. Look a little more. Then drive to the right baseline and shoot a fade-away jumper. The surveying needs to be done before the ball comes. He should know where guys are on the floor and where the defense is and make a decision. This will keep the defense on their heels and all the team to generate offense out of more than just Jefferson post-ups and Kemba Walker dribble drives. Henderson is not a great passer, with an assist ratio lower than JR Smith and Caption Iso-Joe Johnson, and gets tunnel vision when he gets the ball, another reason he needs to be more decisive on the catch. If the jump shot isn’t there and the lane isn’t open, make the simple pass and get the offense going.

MKG’s approach shouldn’t change as much as Henderson’s. He will still be expected to score off cuts and offensive rebounds. His shooting can be addressed elsewhere. The change MKG will experience is tied to Gerald Henderson. Clifford could look to play more small-ball, moving Henderson to the small forward position and MKG to the power forward position with Jefferson or Zeller at center. Assuming Vonleh doesn’t have much to contribute as a rookie and Biz hasn’t magically replaced his hands with something other than stone cut-outs of hands, going small would be a way to get Jefferson and Zeller rest without a massive drop-off offensively. Clifford didn’t throw small-ball lineups out there at all last season according to 82games.com. He might have to out of necessity this year.

Kemba Walker

Kemba’s adjustment will be simple, but heavy. He will have to accept even more responsibility initiating the offense. Plays often began with Kemba bringing the ball up on the side of the court. McRoberts would cut to the top of the key to receive a pass, Kemba would cut through and get to his spot, and the offense would begin from there. Zeller will do this some, but he’s not nearly the passer McRoberts is yet. Clifford may choose to use more pick and roll to initiate the offense, taking advantage of Zeller’s speed and athleticism and Vonleh’s shooting ability. But it will likely be Kemba’s job to get the offense going more than he did last season. Ideally, Cho would be able to find a backup point guard with the size to play with Kemba to help alleviate some of that pressure but as presently constituted, it’s all Kemba.

Al Jefferson

Similar to other players, Jefferson will need to be more of a play-maker out of his spots. While his passing has improved over his career and his assist ratio was right in line with other back to the basket centers like Brooke Lopez and Dwight Howard, he still has a tendency to attack double and triple teams on the block. He’s successful far more than one would expect but without McRoberts’s shooting and passing Jefferson will have to assume some of those creator responsibilities by recognizing double teams quicker and moving the ball, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a basket.

There’s no way around the fact that losing McRoberts is a major blow to the Hornets. He’s a rare player that combines shooting, passing, athleticism, and unselfishness into a productive and essential role player. He can’t be replaced but his responsibilities can be distributed across the remaining pieces. To keep the ball rolling as an organization everyone is going to have to step up and it begins with a clear vision from both Rich Cho and Steve Clifford. Expect a tough start to the season as the players and coach adjust, but with quality leadership from the organization and the players’ ability and willingness to do what is asked of them it should be another successful campaign in Charlotte.

IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, MKG. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT

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MKG sketch by Mike S.

Whenever Michael Kidd-Gilchrist launches one his patented twenty-foot airballs, I’m confronted with three stages of conflicting emotion:

  1. Laughter – as in, “OMFG what did I just see“.
  2. Anger – as in, “This is unacceptable, he’s killing us“.
  3. Sadness – as in, “I feel really bad for this kid“.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that MKG and his selection as the number two overall pick in the 2012 Draft is to me what the James Harden trade is to Bill Simmons. I wrote before the Draft that MKG was a questionable fit on a team both bereft of scoring and saddled with an ugly history of developing projects. Charlotte had just used the seventh overall pick a year before on the one-way, uber-raw defensive prospect Bismack Biyombo. The chances of Charlotte successfully developing and playing them together for any long stretches were next to nil, especially if they were actually trying to win games.

The Bobcats weren’t trying to win at all during their infamous 2011-2012 campaign, a strike-shortened season that led to the league’s all-time worst record. To call it miserable would be an affront to misery. The roster was made so purposefully threadbare that they succeeded in losing their final 23 games – the business end of a 3-34 run.

This was all part of general manager Rich Cho’s plan. You see, the league incentivizes rebuilding teams to be as bad as possible in order to secure the highest draft picks. That’s where all the stars are, if you haven’t heard – at the top of the Draft.

The 2012 Draft had one guaranteed franchise player in Anthony Davis and Cho reasoned that subjecting an already fragile, tortured fan-base to another major dose of embarrassment was worth a 25% shot at getting him.

To the surprise of exactly no one, Charlotte didn’t win that May’s Lottery and instead wound up picking second overall. In fact, the league’s worst team had won the Lottery just three times in 22 years. The look on Cho’s face during the broadcast had me worried: “a guy with both an engineering and law degree, who prioritizes advanced stats above all else — THAT GUY was suprised that his 75% chance of NOT WINNING THE LOTTERY happened?

Instead of rewarding a desperate fanbase with a ready-made star in Davis, the front office settled for his Kentucky teammate MKG instead. HE would be the franchise’s reward for the epic losing. HE would be the future star to push this team into the stratosphere. HE would shoulder the massive expectations…

MKG is by EVERY ACCOUNT an awesome, likable young man. His work ethic and attitude are off the charts and he NEVER takes plays off. Every team needs a guy like that. From the portion of his bio that has been made public, MKG has courageously overcome many obstacles in order to become an NBA player. Notably, he’s struggled with a speech impediment which can be petrifying to those who do not live their lives in the public eye. On the court, MKG is a long, rangy defender who occasionally flashes his potential as a top-tier permiter defender – a valuable skill.

MKG is also an absolute disaster on offense. His shot requires a page one rewrite (if that’s even possible) and he doesn’t have an explosive first step or a refined post-up game – so there’s nothing he can consistently resort to while he’s reworking the jumper. While his on-ball defense can sometimes be superb, he fouls early and often and gets lost on screens like he was Gary Neal, not Tony Allen. And because of his offensive liabilities, MKG is unplayable at the end of games especially when the team is down.

Wanna guess how many times he’s played over 35 minutes in a game this season? Once. One time. Turns out that you can’t lock guys down when you’re sitting on the pine. In other words, MKG is a long-term project. An intriguing one that any team would love to have sitting at the end of its bench or hustling in the D-League, honing his craft.

MKG is also a world-class, terrible Number Two Overall pick – especially given the Bobcats’ circumstances at the time. Leading up to the Draft, Cho didn’t go a day without bringing up his Durant/Westbrook/Harden days in OKC: ready-made Lottery saviors with telegenic personalities who revitalized a fanbase and set fire to the league. MKG, with his raw blue-collar game and camera-shy ways couldn’t have been any different.

Leading up to the 2012 Draft, there were whispers that MKG’s people were hoping he would not go to Charlotte at number two. They knew how much work his game would require and how patient a franchise would need to be. They knew he’d need to be surrounded by big time scorers who could carry the offensive load while MKG did all the dirty work and learned on the job via a strong internal development staff. Basically, the opposite of the team he ended up going to.

Some fans have suggested that we “forget where MKG was picked and evaluate him with fresh eyes“. While a noble gesture, it’s not exactly practical. MKG’s $4.8 million salary this season is nearly as much as Josh McRoberts and Kemba Walker combined. He’s owed $5 million next season and $6.3 million the following. His cap hold will be somewhere north of $9 million once his rookie contract ends in July of 2016. In other words, MKG is making real NBA money. His 26 minutes of play every night are minutes that the team cannot dedicate to other, more polished and productive two-way NBA players.

My biggest concern is with MKG himself. Again, he comes off as a forthright and genuine young man. Heck, he even called up his college coach before the Draft and asked him if he was truly ready for the NBA. It’s a near certainty that he feels bad for not being able to help his team more as they push for a Playoff spot. So if I may, allow me to channel my inner Frank Underwood, turn towards the camera and address MKG directly:

MY PERSONAL MESSAGE TO MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST

It’s not your fault, MKG. It’s not your fault.

Bobcats management put you in a position that did you no favors. Any resentment or impatience that you receive from the fans (this writer included) is aimed squarely at them, not at you. Imagine if Gerald Wallace had been drafted as a Top 3 overall pick? The words “failure” and “bust” would’ve haunted that guy until he was scared out of the league. Don’t let that happen to you. Realize what is really going on and rise above it.

If guys like Crash and Lance Stephenson can do it, so can you. It will take time and it might take a change of scenery but you are a legitimate NBA player who will one day excel despite the challenging circumstances in which you’ve arrived. I’m certain of it. From the little I’ve read about how you got here, overcoming obstacles is without doubt one of your skills that is NBA-ready.

- ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

The MKG Myth

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sketch by Mike S.

Mislabeled MKG

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the skills and potential of an elite defender in the NBA.

That line, or several similar variations of it, has been steadily delivered from the Bobcats organization since claiming the prospect with their top draft pick in 2012. They’ve beaten that drum so consistently, that it resonates down to each generic Bobcats write-up on sports media websites.

Inconveniently, that talking point just isn’t holding up. Perhaps, the organization can be excused for trying to deflect the attention away from MKG’s offensive woes. Or, you can commend them on their focused efforts to prop up the perceived value of the club’s young asset. By labeling him as an “elite” defensive talent and staying the course with that singular message despite his performance, we get to enjoy a bit of political theater with the franchise this season. By now it’s common knowledge that the Charlotte Bobcats have no clue as to how to select a player in the NBA Draft, especially the Lottery. As it’s becoming fairly clear that they honored that reputation by selecting Kidd-Gilchrist in 2012, GM Rod Higgins, Rich Cho, and Coach Steve Clifford have shown great synergy, working in concert to teach us the chorus of the MKG is Actually Really Good song.

MKG vs. Elite Scorers

Kidd-Gilchrist has shown some incredible athletic ability and his strengths appear to lie on rebounding and defensive areas of the game. So, he could really expand his game and become a sound pro player over the next few years. But the myth of MKG as an elite, top-tier, or lockdown defender is starting to fade in his second season. Back in late January, we saw Carmelo Anthony get hot and abuse the Bobcats in New York. Melo’s career-high 62 points came easy on a night where he started with a matchup against the overwhelmed MKG. Surely, the Bobcats locker room did what they could to keep Kidd-Gilchrist from sinking after being stripped of the only weapon he’s got – the label of a lockdown, defensive stopper.

Now, in early March as the Bobcats struggle through a treacherous series of games against the Association’s absolute best, it looks like the team will need to gather around young MKG to help him recover from another horrific beating. On Monday night, Lebron James stepped on the court and immediately got to work, dismantling Kidd-Gilchrist and the Bobcats as a whole. If the Bobcats truly had an “elite” level defensive player on their roster, you would hope they’d put him on the floor with orders to minimize some of the damage. Well, they sent MKG in the game instead. Lebron finished the game with his career high 61 points, and further elevated his own status as a sports legend. This must have been crushing for a young guy like Michael Kidd Gilchrist. Lebron has had some incredible games over his career, but he hadn’t scored this many points until catching fire against such a favorable matchup.

Work In Progress

If the evidence is showing us a player that’s not a once-in-a-generation defender, then what are we seeing? It’s starting to look like a young athlete that’s being mislabeled, and in danger of crumbling under the pressure of wrongly assigned expectations. Let’s hope Steve Clifford realizes what he’s got with MKG, rather that what he wishes he had. It might be best if Clifford gave Kidd-Gilchrist the Cody Zeller treatment and eased him into a proper role with the team and limited him to productive minutes.

Let’s be straight here – this isn’t at all about MKG’s lacking set of skills on offense (an entirely separate story),  this is about the packaging that the team is aiming to sell. They’re trying to convince the fans, the league, and probably their own players on the belief that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is great at doing something on the basketball court. Unfortunately, we’ve heard this tune before when it was called “Bismack Biyombo” and we’ve seen the raw, live performance from a better act named “Gerald Wallace” a few years back.

The Charlotte Bobcats franchise made the calculated and coordinated choice to lose all but seven games in 2011-2012 for the chance rebuild through the NBA Draft. Just about everyone would call that tanking. Critics of tanking usually base their view on the fundamental idea that losing to win has no place in sports. To those folks, the 7-win Bobcats coming away with MKG with their second overall pick in 2012 probably sounds like justice.

- Mike S.

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 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 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