Bargain Bin Ballers

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Common knowledge says that NBA teams, especially small market teams, must build through the Draft if they have any hope at achieving relevance. While it is true that the Lottery offers organizations the best chance at finding impact players, it’s also true – as Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony have recently discovered – that it takes more than a single impact player to win in the NBA.

The Bobcats are on the verge of both a .500 season and a Playoff berth with a hefty chunk of their rotation made up of guys from the opposite end of Draft Day’s glitz and glamour. Castoffs. Street free agents and end of the bench veterans left for dead by their former clubs. Ironically, this dynamic makes Charlotte less Oklahoma City – a team which the Bobcats have explicitly said they’re emulating – and more San Antonio. The Spurs decade and a half dominance of the league has just as much to do with finding guys off the league value rack and plugging them into a system as it does with winning the Tim Duncan Lottery.

Spurs Bargain Bin Hall of Famers: Bruce Bowen, Mario Elie, Danny Green, Malik Rose, Francisco Elson, Marco Bellinelli, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw…

The confidence gained from consistently uncovering low-cost, hidden gems has emboldened the Spurs front office to gamble on uncertain talent in the Draft: Tiago Splitter was stuck in Europe for a few seasons. Kawhi Leonard couldn’t shoot. Tony Parker was a long term project and it was no sure thing Manu Ginobili’s game would translate to the NBA. None of this stuff mattered to San Antonio’s immediate future. They knew high level temps were just around the corner.

Bargain Bin Ballers aren’t going to be the centerpiece of any contender but they do fill in the gaps and give a team’s stars occasional breaks during the regular season. And if enough of a team’s periphery catch fire at the right time – as Dallas fans witnessed in 2011 – they could swing a title. Best of all, these types of players provide tremendous value in terms of contract/performance and most importantly don’t require a franchise to waste precious first round picks on filling out a roster. The Draft is where you go to find stars (which is why drafting for need in the NBA should be considered a cardinal sin) - the bargain bin is where you go to fill in the gaps.

Charlotte’s Bargain Ballers

Josh McRoberts
Salary: $2,652,000
Acquired: via Trade, February ’13.

“Don’t Call Me McBob” arrived via trade last February for virtually no cost and just a year later is beloved by both teammates and fans as a key facilitator on offense and a hustler on D. Josh’s unique skill-set (his 4.2 assists per game are second most amongst power forwards) allows Kemba Walker to play off the ball as a scorer and McRoberts is just good enough from three (36%) to open a little more breathing room for Al Jefferson to operate down low.

Future: McRoberts has a player option next season at $2.7 million which he’ll opt out of. If Charlotte offers him a fair deal, he could likely return next season. Two years, $10m or three years $15m, sounds about right. Cody Zeller may take over the starting job eventually but McRoberts is still a fine rotation big at that number.

Anthony Tolliver
Salary: $884,293
Acquired: Street Free Agent, August ’13.

Tolliver’s shot has been missing in action for most of the last month but there was a stretch from December thru February where AT was absolute money from downtown (44%+ 3PT), at one point ranking in the league’s Top 5 3PT shooters. His defensive shortcomings are well known but he’s played ok as a system defender in Charlotte – Tolliver’s on/off court defensive numbers are basically dead even.

Future: The front office brought Tolliver in before camp at Steve Clifford’s request for more floor spacers. Since then the Cats have added a couple guys who can do that and more. AT’s deal expires in July and it’s a tossup on whether he returns next season as a Hornet.

Chris Douglas-Roberts
Salary: $535,288
Acquired: Street Free Agent, December ’13.

CDR is this season’s McRoberts. A slashing, tough defending and surprisingly sweet shooting (40% 3PT) wing, Douglas-Roberts has revitalized his NBA career on a team that didn’t have a reliable two-way SF before he arrived. And really, could the Cats have asked for a better intermediate sub/mentor for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Not only are they somewhat similar players, but the two actually have long history going back to MKG’s middle school days in Jersey. CDR’s work ethic and humble demeanor (he’d been struggling just to get back into the league) fit right in the with the team’s “Grit and Grind East” ethos.

Future: The big question is if CDR’s three point shooting will hold up. From 2008-2010, Douglas-Roberts had never shot higher than 32% from downtown – and rarely even attempted them. The Cats could offer him a “show-me” contract similar to the one signed by McRoberts last summer – something like 2yrs, $4m with a player option for year two. If CDR proves the stroke to be no fluke, Charlotte may have found itself their own Bruce Bowen.

Gary Neal
Salary: $3,250,000
Acquired: via Trade, February ’14.

Neal is a classic all or nothing guy. If he gets hot, Gary can single-handily swing a game your way – just as he did for the Spurs in the NBA Finals last year. He’s both a solid deep shooter (39% 3PT) and a creative off the dribble player. He gets lost on screens a lot and is an overall liability on D but there’s a reason San Antonio had him on the roster for three seasons. On a team that often finds itself desperate for points, Neal’s scoring is a major plus.

Future: Gary signed a two year contract with Milwaukee last summer before being traded. He’s on the books next year for the same salary – a relative bargain. Unless he gets dealt again, Neal will rock the teal and purple next season.

Ultimately, the success of Bargain Bin Ballers can be traced to the Bobcats’ new found culture and coaching system. Put this same group of guys on the Kings or Pistons and it’s unlikely that they’d replicate their success - highlighting yet another hidden bonus of finding the right coach and a key reason why I think we’ll see coaching take a higher priority over the next few seasons in the league. A trend the Hornets are thankfully already out in front of.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Veteran Spurs Too Professional for Bobcats

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Oh, to be a Spurs fan.  Year after year of professional execution on and off the court: drafting top European talent in later rounds, finding NCAA collegiate castoffs, under-paying for overlooked role players and retaining homegrown stars.  It was that dedication to excellence, to the minutia of the game, that defeated an otherwise solid effort by the Bobcats 95-91 Monday night in Charlotte.  ‘Cats fall to 1-6, Spurs move to 5-1.

AP Recap | Box Score

OBSERVATIONS

  • Gary Neal is this year’s George Hill. Fifteen points in fourteen minutes on five three pointers, the 26 year old “rookie” from B-more via Europe killed the Bobcats this evening from beyond the arc.  Neal set up camp outside and never hesitated, often finding himself wide open until Charlotte decided to cover him in the 4th.  Too late.  Neal and Manu Ginobili were the difference makers in this one, combining for 10 threes and total of 41 points.
  • Manu is back. Ginobili looked like his old self, leaving his man in a trail of screens and ferreting himself free for numerous putbacks and second chance opportunities.  Combined with the outstanding depth of quality youngsters on the roster (Neal, Hill, Splitter, Blair, Anderson), a healthy Manu might keep the Spurs’ title window open for yet another season.  They look good.
  • Stephen Jackson is on the Verge.  If I’m Larry Brown, I’m putting a call into the highest levels of the League Office.  The refs have been openly baiting Jackson for an ejection all season.  Tonights 4 free throw attempts were JAX’s first in three games and he should’ve had at least a half dozen more.  I swear I’m not being a homer, the no-calls are near egregious and it is only a matter of time until Jackson has some sort of mental breakdown either on the court or off.  You can see it in his body language.  Something is brewing and the officials know it.
  • Both Jackson and Gerald Wallace were held out of the game late.  Jackson didn’t seem hurt but Wallace left in the third with an undisclosed injury.  Brown may have pulled JAX simply for his performance: another 6 Turnovers for Stephen to add to his 3.5/game average.  Again, the refs agenda seems to have distracted him to the point were he’s openly forcing passes and dribble drives that aren’t there.
  • Nice games by Tyrus Thomas, Boris Diaw and Gana Diop. Tyrus continues to hustle on every play, blocking shots and going for loose balls.  His skill level is still low but you gotta love the effort.  Diaw looked good again despite the added bulk, going for 15pts, 6rbs, 5asts.  Let’s hear it for Gana Diop! He’s gone from being an absolute joke and salary cap albatross to “an overpaid backup center.”  Gana really defended Tim Duncan well during his 15 minutes of action, looking much more fluid and mobile this year and while he’s no Brook Lopez offensively, he’s not killing the team on that end anymore.  Those fortunate enough to watch the game may have witnessed Gana’s first (and possibly last) turnaround fadeaway twelve footer from the block.  Nothin’ but net.

Yeah, the Bobcats are 1-6 but I’m still not panicking.  One through twelve, the roster has never been as solid and I have to believe that Brown and MJ are working the phones to upgrade the PG position soon.  Nothing against D.J. — he’s doing as well as we could have hoped — but he’s simply not the long term answer at the most important position on the floor.  ‘Cats are much better than their record and I fully expect them to make the Playoffs come April.

Until Next Time…Enjoy the Loss Bobcats Fans,

-ASChin

Breaking Trade News: Theo Ratliff To Bobcats

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theo

So much for Rick Bonnell’s guess that the Bobcats wouldn’t be participating much in the trade deadline madness today.

After completing the Tyrus Thomas deal (initial post here, more analysis still coming) and engaging in talks about a DJ for TJ Ford swap, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting, via his Twitter feed, that the Bobcats have obtained shot-blocking veteran center and Larry Brown favorite Theo Ratliff from the San Antonio Spurs.

At the time I write this, all we have is Woj’s initial Tweet.  We have no idea who (or what) the Bobcats are giving up — or even really if this trade is official.

Ratliff is a 14 year veteran of the league after being drafted by the Pistons in 1995.  He had his glory days in the late 90s/early 00s with the Philadelphia 76ers and then Atlanta Hawks, respectively.  With the Sixers, the tough and defensive-minded Ratliff was a favorite of then-coach Larry Brown.

However, in the midst of his best season (2000-01), while averaging 12.4 points and an astounding 3.7 blocks per game, Ratliff suffered a season-ending wrist injury and was traded to the Hawks for Dikembe Mutombo.  The Sixers would go on to make the Finals with Allen Iverson as the centerpiece in one of Brown’s finest coaching achievements.

As his career has wound down in recent years, Ratliff has become a true journeyman, playing for the Blazers, Hawks, then Blazers again, Boston, Detroit again, Minnesota, then back to Philly.  Ratliff was humorously dubbed “Theo Ratliff’s Expiring Contract” by ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons due to all of the trades, rumored and otherwise, that Ratliff was a part of in recent years.

This year, he was signed by the Spurs to a one-year deal for 1.3 million.   Though he still appears to be in great shape, he’s only appeared in 21 games for the Spurs, averaging less than a bucket, but still one block, per game.

For Charlotte, this clearly means that some of the very recent injury concerns among the bigs are significant.  Tyson Chandler has been battling foot/ankle issues since last season that appear to still be problematic, Gana Diop has a sprained knee that may keep him out for two weeks, and Nazr’s been bothered by back spasms this week.

Rick Bonnell is reporting that all three of those guys may be held out of Friday’s matchup with the Cavs, so we may see Ratliff move from the end of the Spurs bench to the Bobcats starting lineup in the matter or a little over 24 hours.

UPDATE:  Since I started composing this post, Wojnarowski has Tweeted that the Bobcats have given up a protected/conditional future 2nd round pick that the Spurs “will probably never see.”  Cool.

-Dr. E

Wallace, Diaw, Bobcats Defense Dominate Spurs

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Charlotte Bobcats vs Spurs 1/15/10

6 Straight Wins At Home

The Charlotte Bobcats defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 92-76, on Friday night at the Cable Box for their record sixth straight home win.  The Cats improve to 18-19 overall and 15-4 at home.  AP recap here, box score here.

This game was close and rather ugly for two-and-a-half quarters.  In a role reversal, though, it felt as if the Spurs were the team that was really working hard to stay close, while the Bobcats seemed to be sizing their opponent up.  Tim Duncan, who I expected to be fresh after sitting out the second night of a back-to-back earlier this week, might as well have sat out again tonight.  He looked to be playing at about 60%, and looked so slow and unengaged at times that I have to wonder if there isn’t some undisclosed injury.  Or is Duncan just running on fumes in general?

Anyways, midway through the third quarter, the Bobcats stepped up the defense.  Check out the play-by-play: after a Tony Parker layup with 6:16 left in the third quarter, the Bobcats would hold the Spurs to just 3 free throws and no field goals for over 9 minutes — well into the fourth quarter.  Over that stretch the Cats were able to get to the rim and open up a double-digit lead that they wouldn’t surrender the rest of the way.

It was truly an impressive stretch, with the Cats forcing turnovers, blocking and harassing shots, and generally dominating things.  It was shocking to watch the Spurs lose their composure as the game slipped away from them.  At one point early in the fourth quarter, Popovich furiously called a full timeout after a Boris Diaw layup.  Less than 90 seconds later he was furiously calling another after a Gerald Wallace layup.  With 5:28 left and the Bobcats up 15, Pop pulled his starters and conceded.

Boris Diaw had one of his best games of the year with 26 points (10-14 FG, 4-4 3PT), 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.  Boris’s lack of production this year has generated much wringing of hands among Bobcats fans, with some wondering whether Stephen Jackson’s arrival had rendered Boris’s strengths superfluous.  But Larry Brown has made it a point recently to get Boris involved, and it seems to have worked.

Though Boris was the big story and high scorer, I actually thought that Gerald Wallace dominated the game.  He went for 21 points (9-14 FG), 7 rebounds and 3 assists; on the defensive end he tallied an insane 4 steals and 5 blocks.  He was the main fly in the ointment (or glitch in the matrix, if you’d rather) for the Spurs’ offense tonight.  Tim Duncan, in particular, couldn’t be blamed for seeing Wallace in his nightmares for awhile.

Bullets

  • Decent crowd tonight that got pretty loud during the game-clinching stretch run.  Get on the bandwagon, everybody!
  • Cable Box WiFi was on point tonight, so my Twitter game was pretty strong.
  • Gerald, just kinda talk about how awesome you were tonight…
  • The Bobcats will get a chance to get to .500 on Saturday night (7PM ET start) against the Phoenix Suns, who will also be on the second night of a back-to-back.  There’s no TV, so get down to the Cable Box.

-Dr. E

Bobcats Road Woes Continue in San Antonio

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Charlotte Bobcats @ Spurs, 12/11/09

More Road Shenanigans…

The Charlotte Bobcats dropped to 1-9 on the road this year after losing 104-85 to the San Antonio Spurs Friday night.  AP story here, box score here.  After a promising third quarter, the Spurs dropped the hammer in the fourth, outscoring the Cats 32-14 in the decisive period.

The first half was a nightmare for the Cats.  Both Tyson Chandler and Boris Diaw got into foul trouble; Gerald Wallace couldn’t get anything going and Nazr was uncharacteristically ineffective.  The Cats appeared to be in danger of being run out of the building when Richard Jefferson opened the third quarter with a three to put the Spurs up 20.  But the Cats would go on to outscore the Spurs 29-10 the rest of the quarter behind strong play from Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson and rookie Derrick Brown to cut the lead to one.

The Cats actually appeared to take the lead on a Raymond Felton layup at the end of the third, but a questionable charge call wiped out the basket and proved to be a harbinger of the fourth quarter.

Bullets

  • Crash ended up with 18 points on 6-9 FG, but was largely kept off the boards and finished with just 6 rebs.
  • Tyson Chandler was resoundingly awful.  Like usual, he got into early foul trouble and couldn’t stay on the floor (only 22 minutes); in those limited minutes he turned the ball over 8 times.  8 times!
  • The Cats were a lousy 3-12 from 3PT and 18-29 from FT — can’t win on the road like that.
  • Despite the third quarter, the Spurs shot 39-66 for 59% from the field.
  • Next game is tomorrow night in Dallas (8:30 ET) as the Cats will get another crack at the Mavs, who they’ve still never beaten.
  • Reminder, follow me on Twitter — sometime this weekend I’ll be giving away two tickets to the 12/19 Jazz game.

Bonus Basketball Blogosphere Links

  • Let’s help Rufus On Fire help Gerald Wallace get to the All-Star Game with some Chuck Norris-style facts.  My favorite: “During the 9 months Gerald’s mother was pregnant with him, she averaged a double-double.”  My contribution: “After Gerald Wallace suffered a collapsed lung last year, he shrugged off the doctor’s treatment recommendations.  Instead, he rebuilt his collapsed lung… himself… from scratch.”
  • ESPN/Marc Stein’s Weekend Dime is usually a must-read.  This weekend is no exception, as Stein details some soon-to-be-trade-eligible players who might be on the block.  Brandon Bass, anyone?
  • CBSsports’ Ken Berger with an awesome look at the some hard attendance/money numbers from around the league.
  • The guys from The Basketball Jones have a solution for complaints that they don’t show your team enough “love”.

-Dr. E

Charlotte Bobcats @ Spurs 3/10/09

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1.  Disappointing loss Tuesday night, as the Bobcats drop one to the Spurs in San Antonio, 100-86.  AP story here, box score here.  The Bobcats six-game winning streak is over; overall record falls to 28-36.

2.  Before I cover the game, have to comment on this great news from Bonnell.  Essentially, the protection level on the draft pick that we have to send Denver from the Ajinca trade is better than anyone thought.  Common knowledge previously had it that the pick was only “lottery protected” in 2009 (meaning that if we made the playoffs, we’d have to give up our pick).  But per Rod Higgins, the pick is protected through #20 this year, meaning we’ll get to keep it even if we sneak into the playoffs.

Now I’m not stupid.  I know that we eventually have to give a pick back to Denver.  And I know that guys drafted in the #12-16 range rarely pan out; and that this draft is particularly weak.  But as handcuffed as we will be over the next couple of years to add talent to the roster (because of all the salary we are committed to), we need every opportunity we can get to add young, cheap talent.

3.  Frankly, this was a pretty boring, grind-it-out game.  Thankfully, it was close enough to stay intersting; much closer than the final score would indiate.  In fact, the game was tied at 46 at the half, at 71 after the third quarter, and at 80 with under 9 minutes left.  But the rest of the way the Spurs dominated, taking advantage of every mistake, crushing any hopes for a big win, and outscoring the Cats 20-6 for the final margin.

The play-by-play of the fourth quarter is pretty depressing.  Lots of “misses layup” and “bad pass” on the Bobcats side; compared to lots of “makes layup” and “makes 25 foot 3-point jumper” on the Spurs side.

4.  What was going right during the first three quarters of the game?   I noted several things.  First, Manu Ginobili was in a suit behind the bench.  That helped.  Diop, who has shown a knack for containing Tim Duncan in the past, did that pretty well tonight and got extra minutes because of it.  Radmanovic played very well early on, and was the leading scorer for the Cats at halftime (unfortunately, he wouldn’t score in the second half at all).  And otherwise, the Bobcats continued to play well-rounded team basketball.

5.  Roger Mason was pretty great for the Spurs tonight.  Once again, the Spurs have shown that they are the masters of sticking to their system and finding diamonds in the rough who will fit in well with it.  He went for a very efficient 21 points (8-16 FG, 5-8 3PT) and 5 assists in 36 minutes for a +16 +/-.  Three of those three-pointers were from the crucial fourth quarter.

6.  Not much stands out from the box score, other than the fact that we were outrebounded 42-32.  The Cats were one Diaw point away from getting all five starters in double figures, though no one had more than 16 points.  No double-doubles from anyone either.

7.  Thankfully, neither Milwaukee or Indiana was able to take advantage tonight.  Both lost, so the race for the 8th spot looks like this:

8. Chicago  (Games Back)

9. Milwaukee (.5)

10. New Jersey (.5)

11. Charlotte (1)

12. Indiana (2)

8.  The Cats don’t play again until Friday night when we host the Rockets at the Cable Box (7PM).  Then they’ll have to hop a plane for a back-to-back the next night in Minnesota.  Let’s get another streak started!

-E