THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS: Jordan’s Approach to Building a Winning Team in Charlotte

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misfits

THE PLAYERS (AKA THE MISFITS):

It starts with the city itself.  Once a shining example of the NBA’s ever-growing popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Charlotte finds itself today as a middle aged divorcee six years into a rebound marriage, unsure if it was ever cut out for this pro basketball city thing to begin with.*

The team’s first All-Star and only remaining original member was a bargain bin castoff selected in the expansion draft.  Young Gerald Wallace was worth less to the Sacramento Kings than shedding $1 million from their bloated payroll.

Even though he is only one of a dozen or so current NBA players who can score twenty points a night while preventing his opponent from doing the same, Stephen Jackson was exiled from Golden State for what amounted to a $5 million expiring contract and a poor shooting, non-rebounding Eastern European caveman.

Once universally revered, hall of fame head coach Larry Brown arrived in Charlotte a tarnished brand.  In a League where head coaching vacancies are filled annually by the same retread Temp Agency, Brown had to practically reach out to an old friend in order to secure a job and begin rebuilding his reputation.

And finally there’s Jordan.  A man who could do no wrong on the court is now the man who can barely do anything right off of it.  Joining the names Ehlo and Russell in the MJ ethos are new ones like Kwame and Morrison.  For the first time in nearly 30 years, Michael Jordan has something to prove in the game of basketball.

A BRIEF, PAINFUL RECAP

Successful small market teams (OKC, San Antonio, Portland, Utah, Orlando) use the same formula and we all know it: BUILD THROUGH THE DRAFT.  Draft stars to cheap rookie deals, treat ‘em well, sign ‘em to big contracts before they hit free agency and keep drafting young talent and signing mid-level free agents to pair with them.  Rinse and repeat.

The Bobcats are currently the worst drafting franchise in the NBA.  It’s not even up for debate.  In six plus years of existence, not once has one of their draft picks sniffed an All-Star game – and the ‘Cats have had more lottery selections than anyone else in that span.  Indulge me for another brief and painful recap:

2004: Emeka Okafor.  GRADE: a solid double. Could have had more picks and taken Big Al or Iggy if Bob Johnson had a clue about running a business, “hmm, buy a pick from Phoenix for $2 million to draft Jefferson, Deng or Iguodala or build a brand new cable sports network from scratch?  What’s the main draw you ask?  Charlotte Bobcats basketball of course!  Brevin Knight every night!”

2005: Ray Felton/Crab Bread May.  GRADE: a sacrifice bunt. Felton a below average starter for a few years, May on his way to hosting Man vs. Food: EXTREME CARBS!
2006: Adam Morrison.  GRADE: whiff.
Not only a whiff but a McGwire Whiff.  The kind where the guy is on ‘roids and whiffs so hard that he blows out both knees in the process.  Embarrassing.
2007: Jason Richardson/Jared Dudley.  GRADE: RBI single. Could have been worse.  At least realized that they didn’t know how to draft and received a couple non-bust assets in return.

2008: Augustin/Ajinca.  GRADE: whiff. Not as bad as the Morrison knee blowout but a close second.  Passed on Brook Lopez and threw away a future first rounder in order to select Freedom Fries.  Jordan was on record as saying that the team sat out the 2010 draft because “Tyrus Thomas was our first round pick.”  No, Michael.  Alexis Ajinca is your 2010 first round pick.  Ugh.
2009: Henderson/Brown.  GRADE: promising single right up the gap.
Henderson looked good in some late season action and is at least athletic enough to belong in the League–although his complete lack of an outside shot scares me.  Derrick Brown has the Gerald Wallace “I’m not intellectually capable enough to realize I shouldn’t be any good” gene – and this is no insult to Crash, look at how the book-smarts have hampered Okatron 2000’s career.  Higher grade for this draft if LB actually plays them next year.
2010: Ajinca by proxy.  GRADE: Freedom whiff.

So there you go folks, somehow with all of this draft day carnage in their immediate past, the Charlotte Bobcats attained a winning record in 2009-2010 and stole the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.  So how in the hell did they do it?

GIVE US YOUR UNDER-PERFORMING & YOUR OVER-PAID

Nazr Mohammed, Tyson Chandler, Gana Diop, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw.  What’s the single thread that ties these players together?  Why, it’s the fact that their former teams handed them massive contracts and then immediately realized that they’d made a mistake.  “Oh crap, we just signed Joel Pryzbilla to a nine year $80 million contract.  Quick, get Jordan on the phone!”

So in a silly season which saw half of the League’s teams trade away wins for cap space, the Bobcats “philosophy” of taking on bad contracts to win now was just wacky enough to propel them into the postseason.  While other GMs plotted for future dynasties, Jordan mortgaged the farm on the more modest and attainable goal of simply making the Playoffs.  It worked.  The ‘Cats finished the season as one of the Association’s top 15 teams.

Could it be that MJ and crony Rod Higgins are sharking their peers by making fiscally questionable deals to upgrade the team’s talent pool?  Have the ‘Cats created a new “Freakonomics” meets “Moneyball” model that challenges the importance of the amateur draft and free agency?  Is Michael Jordan stealthily playing checkers while the rest of the League plays chess?  Or will all of these questionable contracts and draft day screw-ups eventually cripple the team, making future trades difficult and free agent additions impossible?**

If Jordan and Higgins are intent on foregoing the tried and true paradigm for small market success and continue with their merry spending ways, then I present to you, without further ado…

THE SUMMER OF 2010’s MISFIT TOY CANDIDATES:

What makes a Misfit Toy candidate?  Simple: you have to be way overpaid and way underperforming.  If you fit this description then I hope you like pulled pork BBQ ‘cause your probably coming to Carolina!

Ben Gordon 4 yrs: $47 million

Y’think Joey Dumars is just a tad bit regretful for signing a 6’3” sixth man shooting guard to a $60 million deal?  Gordon is way overpaid for his production but could be exactly what the doctor ordered on a team like the Bobcats: Electric bench and fourth quarter scoring.  The ‘Cats are desperate for it.  That said, Dumars is notoriously tough to trade with.  Wonder if a combination of Boris Diaw and Gerald Henderson might get this done.

Monta Ellis 4 yrs: $44 million

We’ve been speculating on this one for years.  Ellis hogs the ball and jacks up shots at an unprecedented rate.  Not good on a team with lots of offensive options like Golden State but could be an absolute godsend for the Bobcats, who spent the vast majority of last season spastically passing the ball around on offense like it was a live hand grenade.  Again, wonder if Diaw and Henderson or Chandler’s expiring could get this done.  The W’s are a mess in the front office right now, Higgins could potentially steal something else in return (pick, prospect).

Baron Davis 3yrs: $41 million

A blast from the past, a former home grown product entering the end of his career.  Still has the size and offensive firepower to occasionally dominate a game.  Couldn’t be any worse than Felton and is so overpaid that the ‘Cats could conceivably unload Diop’s longer deal in exchange.

Al Jefferson 3yrs: $42 million

Not sure exactly why Big Al is being shopped so fiercely this summer.  Who knows what goes on in the mind of David Kahn.  If the rest of League’s GMs are playing chess to MJ’s checkers, then Kahn is playing badminton.  Al would be a huge upgrade at the PF spot for the ‘Cats but not quite sure what the T’Wolves would want in exchange.  I’m praying that Kahn would ok a deal that would send out Jefferson and Ramon Sessions (Andre Miller: The Next Generation) for Tyson and Nazr’s expirings (plus a future first rounder).

Emeka Okafor: 4yrs, $52 million

Tied with two others on this list (see below) for the worst contract in the League.  Obviously, it was the Bobcats who signed him to it.  Was such a poor fit in New Orleans that Charlotte actually won the trade by taking back 6ppg/6rpg, semi-crippled Tyson Chandler in exchange.  Hate the contract but could live with ‘Mek’s 16 + 10 if the Hornets threw in Darren Collison.  Diop/Mohammed/Augustin for Okafor/Collison anybody?

Rashard Lewis: 3yrs, $65 million

Sole possession of 2nd Worst Contract in the League.  He’s paid over $20 million a year over the next three.  Yeah, you read that right.  Rashard should gift half his salary to Dwight Howard every season.  Without D-Ho backing him up in the lane, Lewis’s skinny frame and lack of defensive skills would make him an absolute liability.  Don’t think the Magic would trade him (they’re firmly in “go for broke” mode) but his offensive skills and outside shooting would fill a need for the ‘Cats.

Elton Brand: 3yrs, $51 million

Here we go, a good old fashioned back to the basket All-Star power forward.  Only problem is that Elton hasn’t been the same since an achilles injury derailed his career a few seasons ago.  He’s a round peg in a square hole with fast paced Philly but could regain dominance in Larry Brown’s grind it out half-court offense in Charlotte.  Would Diaw/Mohammed (expiring) be enough to get it done?

Hedu Turkoglu: 4yrs, $43 million

We’ve been hearing this rumor for a solid month now.  Hedu and Jack to Charlotte for Boris, Diop and D.J.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense mainly because Hedu can only play small forward, doesn’t defend or rebound well and is essentially not very good.  He’s basically Boris with a worse contract and poorer defense.  Jack and Ray Felton may as well be the same player.  Dud.  Oh and Hedu is one of the other “Worst Contract in the League”ers.  The other one?

Gilbert Arenas: 4yrs, $60 million

I’ve already written about this in length so I won’t rehash it here.  If MJ could swing a deal featuring Diop, Diaw and Mohammed for Gilbert and an asset (prospect or pick) then do it.  It’d be the biggest gamble in MJ’s tenure but he’s shown that he’s most definitely the gambling type.  An Arenas/JAX/CRASH/Tyrus/Chandler core could win 50 games this year as long as everybody stays relatively healthy.  The team would also retain the young talent on the roster and pick up either a pick or a young player like Javale McGee or Blatche from the Wiz for their troubles.

Allen Iverson: free agent.

We couldn’t leave out good old AI.  He’s a free agent and has declared himself ready take on the League again.  The dude has hit rock bottom.  If you’re gonna take a flyer on him then now is the time to do it.  If he would accept a smaller (possibly bench) role and play nice with his new teammates then I can’t think of a better way for him to end his career than with his old coach in the Queen City.  He’d also come cheap.  Think: Flip Murray Advanced.

IN CONCLUSION

Don’t be surprised if Jordan pulls off a deal for one of these misfits sometime between now and the end of next month.  MJ sat out the draft and one gets the sense that both he and Trader Larry are chomping at the bit to make yet another move for an overpriced toy in need of a new home.

Until then, Enjoy the Offseason Bobcats fans…

-ASChin

*I find it ironic that throughout Charlotte’s twenty plus years of NBA basketball history the vast majority of the city’s successful players have come via trade or as castaways: Monster Mash, Eddie Jones, Mase, Vlade Two Packs, Easy E Campbell, P-Whipped Rice, Curry 1.0, Don’t Tell Me No Bogues, Crash and JAX.  Doesn’t that sort of represent how the city’s success was built as well?  Sure, there are some shining examples of homegrown talent but the vast majority of the Queen City’s brain pool came here from somewhere else looking for a new start.  Buffalo, Rochester, Jersey, Pittsburgh, WV, Ohio, represent BABY BABY!  UH!

**The good news is that the team drafts so poorly that they’ll never have to worry about re-signing their own talent on the open market.  “What’s that?  Raymond is an unrestricted free agent?  He might sign with another team?  Huh.  Anyways, so you’re telling me that a poached egg is actually boiled?  I always wondered how they did that…”

Magic Complete Sweep Of Bobcats

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Charlotte Bobcats vs Magic Game 4, 4/26/10

AP/Chuck Burton

The Charlotte Bobcats were swept out of the first round by the Orlando Magic 99-90 on Monday night at the Cable Box.  Again, the Cats were able to limit Dwight Howard’s minutes due to foul trouble, and again it really didn’t matter.  Again, the Cats got decent play from a couple of starters and one reserve, and again it was not nearly enough to contend with the Magic.

AP recap here |  Box score here

It’s late and the season is over, so I’m going to keep this relatively short and sweet.  The Bobcats came out and competed, forcing Dwight Howard into foul trouble and taking a two-point lead into halftime.  But the rest of the Magic (particularly Lewis, Carter, Nelson and Pietrus) again picked up the slack, while the Bobcats continued to struggle to score whether or not Howard was in the game.

Despite the continued struggles, the Cats were in in this one until halfway through the final period.  After Tyson Chandler hit two free throws to pull the Bobcats to within one at 77-76,  Michael Pietrus drained a three.  On the ensuing possession, Dwight Howard snatched a DJ Augustin layup out of the air.  While the crowd and the Bobcats benched yelped about the lack of a goaltending call, Pietrus drained another three.  The sequence took less than a minute and completely took the air out of the the arena.

And if you were hanging on to any hope that the Bobcats could come back from seven down with six minutes left, two missed free throws by Gerald Wallace, followed by another Jameer Nelson three to put the Magic 86-76 with under five minutes left was enough to convince even the most optimistic Cats fans.

The Bobcats were actually led by Tyrus Thomas, who rang up 21 points on 9-12 FG and added 9 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench.  Tyrus had the baseline 12-15 footer going early and was actually 8-8 from the field at one point.  But just as in the first three games, no other Bobcat produced off the bench.

Tidbits

  • Stephen Jackson picked a terrible time to have a bad night — Jack was 2-11 FG and 0-3 3PT for just 8 points.
  • Seeing the Heat take a game from the Celtics this weekend and the Bucks tie up the Hawks tonight just reminds you how important the regular season is.  Those losses to the Nets and Pacers come back to haunt.

The Elephant In The Room

And now the Bobcats enter what is shaping up to be a very difficult offseason.  Michael Jordan’s mettle as owner will certainly be tested.  We’ll certainly be writing more about this in the coming days and weeks, but here’s a quick primer:

  • Larry Brown, having partially restored his reputation by getting the Cats to the playoffs, is probably gone back to Philadelphia for a front office position.  Let the coaching search begin.
  • Raymond Felton, fresh off getting toasted in this playoff sweep, is an unrestricted free agent.  Hopefully, Miami will come along and make Raymond a Godfather offer with the money they have leftover after resigning Wade and getting Boozer or Bosh and we won’t even be tempted to match it.
  • Tyrus Thomas has shown inconsistent flashes in his couple of months with the Bobcats.  Kinda similar to how he showed inconsistent flashes to the Bulls for three or four years.  He’s a restricted free agent.  Keeper or not?
  • The Cats have no draft picks this year (both were traded away in prior deals) and very few assets that have any trade value around the league.

-Dr. E



POLL : SHOULD CHARLOTTE RE-SIGN RAYMOND FELTON?

  • YES
    (32%, 59 Votes)
  • NO
    (68%, 127 Votes)

Total Voters: 186

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Bobcats Can’t Handle Magic; Go Down 0-2

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Charlotte Bobcats @ Magic Game 2, 4/21/10


The Orlando Magic scored another definitive victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, 92-77, in Game 2 of their first round playoff series on Wednesday night.  Stephen Jackson led the Bobcats with 27 and keyed a fourth quarter rally that briefly made things interesting late, but the Magic ultimately led wire to wire, putting all five starters in double figures.

AP recap here |  Box score here

This one had an even uglier start than Game 1.  8 minutes into the first quarter, the two teams had only combined for 16 points; problem was, the Cats only had three of those.  Fortunately, the Cats got a few buckets to make the count a not-quite-as-embarrassing 18-14 after the first quarter.

But frankly, the damage had been done.  Orlando’s zone-ish defense rendered the Cats offense (not exactly potent to begin with) into a bogged-down, turnover-filled mess.  The Cats finished the game with 21 turnovers, and no one outside of Stephen Jackson ever figured out how to score.

The fact that the Bobcats  play some pretty good defense themselves kept the game reasonable; the Cats were only down 11 at the half, and cut the lead to 8 with 3:15 left in the game before succumbing.

The Magic simply had too many weapons tonight.  Though Dwight Howard was held to a modest line (15 points on 5-10 FG/5-12 FT, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) he was absolutely dominant for a stretch early in the third quarter that set the tone for the rest of the second half.

Vince Carter, infamous for shrinking into a jump-shooter when the going gets tough, had smooth sailing into the paint all night long, resulting in 9-11 free throws.  (As a team, the Magic shot 35 free throws.)

Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson were solid and reliable, if unspectacular, while Mickael Pietrus and Ryan Anderson provided an onslaught of threes off the bench, combining for 5-7 from distance.

There were almost no silver linings for the Bobcats in this one.  The late run that cut the deficit to 8 was intriguing for a minute, but rationally you knew it was too little, too late.  Nazr did show some signs of life (5-6 FG for 10 points in 16 minutes).

But basically, I’m grasping at straws here.  The only one that may be worth a damn is simply that the Cats have played much better at home this year and Games 3 and 4 are in Charlotte.  The Cats had the biggest home/road record differential amongst all the playoff teams this year, for no reason that anyone could logically explain.  At this point, I’d give up trying to explain it if I could just see it for Games 3 and 4.

Tidbits

  • Apologies for recycling my Twitter posts, but is anyone else getting the same feeling they used to get watching Jeff McInnis a couple of years ago when watching Larry Hughes these days?
  • Raymond Felton and Boris Diaw have been frustratingly ineffective, as have Hughes and Tyrus Thomas off the bench.
  • The Cats have a couple of days to stew on this one.  Game 3 is on Saturday afternoon at 2PM ET at the Cable Box.

-Dr. E

Bobcats vs Magic Playoff Preview Part I

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Bobcats Baseline 2010 Playoff Preview: Round One BOBCATS VS MAGIC

Welcome to Bobcats Baseline’s preview of the Bobcats first ever playoff series.

First, some general stuff.  The Magic finished the year 59-23 (34-7 home).  They posted the best overall point differential in the league this year: +7.5.   Hollinger’s formulas have them ranked as the second best in the league in terms of offensive efficiency (behind only the Suns) and tied with the Bobcats for first in defensive efficiency.

Head to head, Orlando won the season series over the Bobcats 3-1.  The Magic took the first game in Orlando back on November 10, 93-81.  Game two just six days later in Charlotte turned out to be Stephen Jackson’s Bobcats debut, but the game went to the Magic again, 97-91.

The Cats took Orlando to overtime in Charlotte on January 23, but the Magic once again prevailed, 105-95.  Finally, in the last matchup on March 14, the Cats broke through for a 96-89 win, despite playing in Orlando without an injured Gerald Wallace.

Now lets get down to the matchups.  ASChin and I decided to do a collabo for this, and we’ll start by breaking down the battle in the paint.

Dr. E: In the middle, Dwight Howard creates problems for every other team in the league.  He led the league in rebounding and blocked shots for the year. It’s almost universally agreed upon that Orlando could be even more dominant if they made a more concerted effort to get him the ball on the offensive end (which they don’t always do, especially in the fourth quarter).

But it’s almost as if Larry Brown knew this matchup was coming.  He’s collected a cadre of serviceable big men to play center-by-committee. Theo Ratliff is like an older, wiser version of Tyson Chandler, who has shown signs of life himself in recent weeks.

Nazr Mohammed has looked rusty in two games since returning from back problems, but was a revelation earlier in the season with his ability to score in the post. And Gana Diop is, well, Gana Diop (or Joey Crawford’s avatar).

Together, they represent four bodies and 24 fouls that could be deployed to wear Howard down.

ASChin: Agreed.  They’ll try to win the war of attrition, throwing 24 fouls at Dwight and making the other 4 Magic players beat them one on one.  The last thing that you want to do is play into the Magic’s hands.  They want you to defend DHO for 40+ minutes, using up fouls at the center spot.  Fortunately, the Bobcats have enough bodies in the middle to combat this somewhat but as you see in the breakdown vid below Dwight can now make you pay for single coverage.

Dr. E: The other way the Bobcats may try to neutralize Howard will be to get him into foul trouble himself.  In this blog post from Rick Bonnell (once you get past the nonsense about how Rick and Gerald Wallace are like peas in a pod) Wallace stresses that the Cats need to take it straight at Howard to have a chance.

Howard averaged 3.5 fouls per game this year, fouling out four times and getting to five fouls more times than I bothered to count.  Of course, if Howard gets into foul trouble, backup Marcin Gortat is more than capable of becoming an X-factor.

ASChin: This is a big deal.  The Bobcats aren’t a great jump shooting team.  They’ll have to continue to go to the hoop to have any chance in this series.  With Dwight down there, it’ll be tough but I’m guessing that Coach Brown will try to run a lot high screen pick and rolls with Chandler and Ratliff to try and get Howard out out of the paint.

Lets move on to the 4 spot.

Rashard Lewis is having far from his best season as a pro.  His FG%, ppg, rebounds and blocks are way down.  Not exactly want you want from an $18 million a year guy.  He still shoots lights out from beyond the arc so the ‘Cats will again have to prevent the Magic from forcing a double team on Howard down low.

I think a platoon of Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw matches up well against Lewis.  Diaw in particular is going to force Lewis to guard him on those little post jump-hooks and when Howard comes over for the block, Boris is crafty enough to be able to find Chandler or Mohammed for a dunk or layup with a quick pass in the paint.  Also, look for Crash to play some minutes at the four if Brown decides to turn the tables and go small.

Dr. E: By the way, was it ever fully explained what Lewis’s 10-game PED suspension to start the year was all about?  Ironic that he’s clearly fallen off this season, isn’t it?  Some may write it up to missing training camp and never getting in the groove, or missing Hedo Turkoglu’s point forward drive-and-dishes, but has anyone measured his head circumference-to-testicle ratio serially over the years?

No?  Okay, jussayin.

Anyways, yes, between Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw, the Cats are better suited than most teams to guard and switch out onto Rashard Lewis at the three point line.

Alright, that covers the bigs.  Next up, we’ll discuss the wings and guards.  After that coaching and intangibles.

ASChin: Wait, did you just mention Rashard Lewis’s testicles?

-Dr. E & ASChin

Bobcats Defeat Magic For Sixth Straight Victory

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Charlotte Bobcats @ Magic 3/14/10

The Bobcats defeated the Magic in Orlando 96-89 on Sunday night to earn their sixth straight win.  The Cats improved to 34-31 overall and maintained their hold on the 6th spot in the East.  Though Dwight Howard finished with 27 points on 12-14 FGs, the Bobcats were able to keep him frustrated and in foul trouble all game.

AP recap here |  Box score here

With Gerald Wallace sidelined by an ankle sprain, the Bobcats looked to Stephen Jackson to pick up the slack.  Jack delivered with 28 points (10-20 FG, 3-5 3PT, 5-6 FT), 6 rebounds and 6 assists.  Most importantly, as the game hung in the balance in the fourth quarter, when the Cats of old wouldn’t have been able to score, Jack had three huge buckets and two free throws to seal the win.

Defensively, the Bobcats played another solid game.  Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Michael Pietrus combined for 70 points on 26-40 FG, but the rest of the Magic only managed 19 points on 7-32 FG.  Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis, in particular, shot a combined 3-17 and 1-9 3PT.

Tidbits

  • Theo Ratliff put in a days work, playing 32 minutes guarding Dwight Howard.  Theo finished one rebound short of a double-double with 1o points and 9 rebounds.
  • Stephen Graham filled in admirably for Gerald Wallace, with 12 points (4-8 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-3 FT) and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes.
  • Speaking of Crash, he is traveling with the team despite the fact that he didn’t play and has already been ruled out of Tuesday’s contest with the Pacers.  When interviewed during the game, Gerald said that he’s been wearing a protective boot over the weekend, but was hoping to take it off tonight.  He also indicated that he’d try to play as soon as allowed, knowing that he’ll be playing through soreness.
  • And speaking of the Pacers, apologies for getting this post up late — I got hooked into the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary that premiered tonight on the Reggie Miller/Pacers vs. Knicks rivalry.  Fantastic stuff.

-Dr. E

Magic Hit Overtime Overdrive

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Bobcats Baseline Observations: Magic @ Bobcats 1/23/10

Orlando marches into the Cable Box and puts an emphatic end to the ‘Cats nine game home winning streak with a 106-95 overtime victory.  AP recap here.  Box score here.

The Good

With their two stars struggling (more on that later), the Bobcats still managed to take the Eastern Conference Champs to OT due to the efforts of D.J. Augustin and Gana Diop.  D.J. brought out his ’08-’09 game tonight going 8-14 from the field with five threes finishing with 22 points – most of them CLUTCH as the Bobcats were making their 4th quarter run.  D.J.’s best game of the year without a doubt.

DIOP-IT-LIKE-IT’S-HOT defended Dwight Howard (10 points) so well in his 22 minutes of work, that Mark Cuban’s decision to offer Gana the full mid-level a couple of years ago now looks quasi-sane.  Diop’s stats don’t look like much (6pts, 4rbs, 2blks) but his presence was felt on defense and his ability to run the floor in transition kept the Magic honest.

The Bad

The Bobcats found themselves down by as much as sixteen points in the third quarter due to a barrage of three pointers by Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter and JJ Redick.  It wasn’t that the ‘Cats were playing bad defense, the Magic were just hitting a lot of ridiculous shots.  Lewis’ 6’10” frame and long wingspan makes his high-release three unguardable; Nelson was having a St. Joe’s flashback with a gimpy Raymond Felton playing tight; Carter dominated early and disappeared late (surprise); while JJ checked in,  got the “Christian Laetner Memorial Greeting” from the fans – then coldly nailed a three.

When the Magic are hitting their trifectas (14 total, 36% behind the arc) there’s not much a team can do other than try to match shots.  Which brings us to…

The Fugly

Eight of Twenty-Nine.  That’s what Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace shot combined.  Add in Boris Diaw’s 2-9 and Raymond’s 6-15 and you have the starters KILLING the team’s chances for victory by anchoring a 40% shooting performance.  Not to take anything away from the Magic (especially in OT when they took it to another level trapping D.J. and Ray on the perimeter and taking away the pick and roll) but JAX and CRASH just couldn’t get anything going.  If Jackson normally “makes love to pressure” then this was a game in need of CIALIS.  JAX launched ugly shot after shot and spent most of the game jack-jawing with the officials.

Same goes for Wallace – who didn’t help his All-Star campaign by registering a DUD while being held in check by defensive maestro Vince Carter (seriously, this actually happened).

The team’s focus seemed to be on the upcoming road trip for most of the game and this was exploited during the OT lay-down that saw Orlando scoring the first eleven points of the extra frame.

Bullets

  • 19,000+ at the TWC tonight!  NICE JOB BOBCATS FANS!  Maybe DR E’s recent crowd pimping really worked.
  • If I had any remaining insecurities about my uber-receding hairline, they are now fully eliminated after seeing HD close-ups of Vince Carter.  Thanks Vince.
  • Raymond didn’t have a great game but his gutsy performance coming off of the ankle sprain was appreciated.  If the team can ink him to a deal of around $6.5 – $7 million per, he’ll be a high value player in the League.
  • As well as Nazr has been playing recently, he still doesn’t punch in those easy 2-footers as consistently or emphatically as Tyson Chandler.  Chandler missed his 14th consecutive game and let’s hope that the team can get something out of him (either on the court or via trade) before the season is over.

Enjoy the Loss Bobcats Fans…

-ASCHIN

Charlotte Bobcats vs. Magic 2/20/09

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1.  Bobcats get blown out at the Cable Box by the Magic on Friday night, 92-80.  AP story here, box score here, PopcornMachine.net game flow here.  The Bobcats drop to 22-33; still just 3.5 games out of the 8th playoff spot, but also still with 5 teams to leapfrog to get there.

2.  The team apparently announced a sellout for this Friday night tilt against Dwight Howard and the Magic, but the arena was probably 2/3 full (OK, maybe 3/4, I didn’t look too hard).  Still an impressive crowd to come out and watch a lottery team in the midst of this recession.

Unfortunately, the home team didn’t give the fans much of a reason to get excited  The Cats were dominated in pretty much every aspect of the game by the superior Magic, and were lucky to claw away at the lead a bit late, making the final score somewhat respectable.

3.  Per Bonnell, Larry Brown called out Raymond Felton and DJ Augustin during his postgame comments for taking too many shots at the expense of facilitating the offense (only 8 assists between them).  But let me offer a dissenting opinion (I am a blogger, after all): there was no offense to facilitate.  Seriously, no one else had it going, so naturally, the guys who have the ball in their hands the most are going to eventually take most of the shots.

Check the game flow or the play-by-play: of Raymond’s 18 shots, only 7 were taken before halftime (and 4 were made).  After the half, when it was pretty clear that the Magic were winning this one and the Bobcats weren’t going to be able to offer much resistance, Raymond jacked up 11 more shots (only making two).

Same thing with Augustin: he was 1-2 FG in the first half; 2-9 in the second half.

I’m not trying to completely dispute Brown’s point.  He’s right; it is the PG’s job to facilitate the offense, and if the team can’t get it going, it’s often primarily due to the PG’s inability to facilitate.  (And Raymond is a terrible shooter who shouldn’t be pulling up for 20 footers off of high screens or taking threes more than once or twice a game.)  But against the Magic on Friday night no one else emerged as a viable endpoint to such facilitation.

4.  Without belaboring the point, let’s take a look at some of the other lackluster performances:

Gerald Wallace logged 42 minutes, but scored only 11 points (3-8 FG) and 6 rebounds.  He was very frustrated guarding and being guarded by the Magic’s big forwards (Turkoglu and Lewis); and on the occasion he could get around them, he was met by Howard inside.  (Howard tallied 6 blocks, and significantly affected at least a dozen others.)

In the second half, Wallace aimed all of his frustrated energy not at the Magic, but at the officials.  He took to flailing around, trying to draw fouls every time he fought through a screen and scowling at the refs.  On a couple of occasions, he was lucky to not draw a tech.  Surprisingly, these antics roughly coincided with the Bobcats chipping away at the lead late; but it was too little, too late.  And all the energy directed at the refs would have been better utilized directed towards the Magic in the first half.

Boris Diaw had another underwhelming game, scoring 15 points (5-14 FG) with 8 rebounds and only 2 assists (vs. 3 TOs).  After a strong first few weeks with the team, Diaw has seemingly settled into the kind of uninspired, lackadaisical play that resulted in him being tagged as “overpaid” in recent years.

5.  And I haven’t even mentioned the Bobcats’ defense yet.  The Cats, probably overly concerned with helping down low to prevent Howard from going off like he had on Tuesday night, did a poor job rotating on defense and identifying Turkoglu and Lewis on the perimeter.  When those guys (and the Magic’s other smalls) are playing well, defending the Magic is an exercise in picking your poison.

So the Magic worked their overall offensive gameplan very effectively and efficiently.  Turkoglu had 24 points on only 13 shots; Rashard Lewis had 18 on 5-9 3PT shooting.  Howard only needed to chip in with 13 points.

6.  Overall, the Magic proved that they are a superior team.  Check this quote by newly acquired PG Rafer Alston, who had 8 assists in his first game with the team:

“Everywhere I looked, I had a weapon to pass it to… I think point guards in this league would love to be in that situation.  Everywhere you turn, you’ve got a guy who can flat-out shoot it or can drive it and finish.”

7.  Speaking of Alston, great acquisition by the Magic.  I had advocated trading Felton to Orlando, hoping to get Mickael Pietrus or Courtney Lee back, but wondering if the Magic were desperate enough for PG help to do that.  Clearly they weren’t, as they were able to get Alston (who is a known commodity to Magic coach Stan Van Gundy from their year together in Miami) for a pittance: sending Brian Cook to the Rockets and the pu-pu platter of Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks, their first round draft pick and some cash to the Grizzlies.

Alston will be a servicable starter for the Magic the rest of the season, and will be a capable backup next year at $5 million — and the only asset of consequence they gave up was this year’s draft pick.

8.  One last note: it’s fun to watch a young super-duper-star like Howard become comfortable in his role as such, while not losing sight of what the ultimate goal of playing in the NBA is.  What I mean is that Howard is comfortable putting on a show for a crowd that he knows came to watch him (as evidenced by the alley-oop exhibition in warmups, the good-natured running banter with courtside fans, and throwing his shoes into the crowd after the game); but clearly knows that the point is to win games and eventually, a championship.  He has improved his game every year, is a good teammate, and plays the game “the right way” in general.

9.  Next game is Sunday afternoon at 5:00 ET in Houston, as the Bobcats embark on a 5-game/7-day Western Conference road trip.  As 5-game Western Conference road trips go, this one isn’t too bad, with Houston, Phoenix, Sacramento, Golden State and the LA Clippers on the docket.

If you’re still holding out hope for the 8th playoff spot, you’re wanting a 3-2 road trip, which is totally possible.

-E