When Michael Jordan officially announced the Bobcats name change on Tuesday, it marked a brief respite from the unending horror of being a Charlotte basketball fan. At least for me. I’ve always hated the Bobcats name, and not just for its narcissistic origins with former majority owner Bob Johnson. I’ve hated it because an actual bobcat is not even remotely threatening as an animal; for me, the immediate image of a bobcat is of a helpless, half-starved, feral creature in a cage, wide-eyed with terror, the product of an animal control team response to several complaints of garbage cans being knocked over in the local trailer park. There’s a reason Lord Cornwallis never referred to Charlotte as a “veritable bobcats’ litter of rebellion,” and so with apologies to Ohio University alumni, “bobcats” is a fearful little quivering nickname that I for one am happy to release back into the wild of college mascots.
I had signed off my previous entry by saying I’d be off until either the lottery or the draft. How stupid of me to forget an annual ritual that’s more regular than Angelina Jolie obtaining a small brown foreign baby: a Bobcats coach firing. My initial reaction to the news that Coach Dunlap was let go like a fart in a junkyard was, “Huh.” But after careful reflection, I realized, “Hmm.”
Actually, I think the most puzzling reaction to have is anything strong one way or the other. I’m equally confused by the “good riddance” people and the “that’s not fair” crowd. I also don’t see how this is an indictment of the Rod Higgins/Rich Cho GM tag-team (or whatever’s the opposite of an indictment—a non-indictment? A Paul Kevin Curtis?). The team spent almost no money on Dunlap, and they signed him for just two years. Throwing him to the curb like a stack of Highlights for Children from 1987 isn’t going to cost anything, nor does it represent some grand failure, nor does it mean the team has suddenly turned a corner. It means nothing. It’s like getting offsetting penalties in football or landing on the “Free Parking” square in Monopoly (assuming you’re playing by the letter of the law and not doing the popular “Free Parking = Win the Lottery” version); it’s a totally neutral move.
I’d like to put a cap on the season much like Marcellus Wallace wanted to put a cap in Butch Coolidge’s ass, and what better way to do so than with awards? (Well, besides just getting really drunk and forgetting the last two seasons ever happened) I know that doing this with a 21-win team reeks of “world’s tallest dwarf award,” but this is our world, Bobcats fans, and this team is our dwarf, so let’s award the poor little bastard:
MVP: Kemba Walker. This one’s not even close. First of all, Walker played all 82 games, which should also qualify him for a purple heart. He also led the team in PER (18.8) and win-shares (4.8—more than doubling up everyone except Gerald Henderson and Ramon Sessions), according to Basketball-Reference.com. From a plus/minus perspective, Walker had the second-highest plus/minus of the core starters (okay, it was -8.2—so yes, go ahead and insert “military intelligence” joke here). The team improved with Walker on the court offensively per 100 possessions (+0.2 points more) and defensively (2.8 fewer points allowed), for a net-rating of +3.0 (courtesy of 82games.com). MKG had gaudier per-100 numbers, as did (randomly) Jeff Adrien, but they obviously didn’t log nearly as much PT as did one Kemba Hudley Walker. The only knock I can give him is that his “clutch” net-rating (his net-rating when there are fewer than 5 minutes to play and the Bobcats are within 5 points of the opponent, per NBA.com) trails several teammates, but the fact that a) the Bobcats were so rarely in clutch situations, and b) one of those teammates he trails is Tyrus Thomas, causes me to dismiss the category. The bottom line is the kid’s a top-10 PG with a handle like a bottle of Windex and defense that is…not much worse than anyone else on the team. Hold me closer, tiny Kemba, you’re our MVP.
Most Improved Player: Gerald Henderson. This could also be Walker, as could most awards other than “Most Likely To Eat His Own Belly Flab Roll” (Gana Diop), but I’ll give it to Henderson on the rationale that Walker’s a second-year player and expected to improve. Hendo’s PER went from 14.0 last year to 16.4 this year, and while his defense slipped, it continued to be adequate (82games.com has him defending 2’s to a PER of 14.3 last year and 15.7 this year). The best thing about Gerald was the way he learned how to attack the defense: on a per-36 minute basis, his 3-point attempts went from 0.9 to 1.7 and his 3-pt accuracy improved from 23% to 33%. At the same time, his free-throw attempts went from 4.0 to 5.3, and his FT% went from 76% to 82%. He improved both from long range and on his drives, which is how you win basketball games (or, at least 21 of them).
Rookie of the Year: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. I mentioned earlier that Walker trailed MKG in the on-court/off-court +/- per 100 possession category. Well, Kidd-Gilchrist made the offense 2.5 points better and the defense 3.1 points stingier when he played, for a net of +5.6. Considering this team finished a league-last -10.6 PP100P, MKG was the one Amish kid who said, “Screw this, I’m getting a damned electric butter churn.” His PER of 14.04 was a respectable 12th among rookies, 8 of whom played WAY less than him (and mostly on WAY better teams). And his Estimated Wins Added (EWA) was fifth among rookies. Again, on this team, that’s like finding Jesus’s image on a skid mark. And contrary to what EVERYONE is saying, he did NOT hit the rookie wall. His post All-Star Game rebound percentage went up, his turnover percentage went down, and his effective field goal percentage went up (all per NBA.com). Even just a basic stat like his points-per-game just narrowly dipped from 9.1 to 8.9, so everyone talking about the rookie wall can go jump off it. The Bobcats might have been Swiss cheese, but MKG was the Swiss army knife—the swingman with the all-around blade/nail-file/tiny scissors/corkscrew combo threat.
In an article on Thursday, coach Mike Dunlap said, “We really want to get to 20 wins. It would be important. We wanted to get around tripling our win rate from last year.” After defeating the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday for their 19th win, the Bobcats are almost there. Technically they already are there, as 19 is “around triple” 7, right? Yes, 7 just goes into 19 twice when you try to divide it, but there’s a big remainder. Either way, Dunlap’s interview was like Rand Paul’s speech at Howard—it probably came from a good place, but it just made everyone feel worse.
Dunlap’s biggest unintended elbow-to-the-testicle was this line: “20 wins would be special if we could do that. It’s something that would be the first step in a long journey to get this organization into the playoffs.” The thought of this year just being the “first step in a long journey” toward the playoffs is like contemplating the number of burning souls in hell. Fortunately, the article ended on an upbeat quote: “There’s process and there’s results. Unfortunately up here the process sometimes is slower than people want and the results aren’t quite what they want. But it’s our job to stay the course.” In other words, fans, don’t pay attention to the process, which is slow; instead, focus on the results, which…aren’t what you want, either. Wait, coach, when you give us one of these lines about “process” and “results,” one of them is supposed to be going well!
The Bobcats entered Tuesday night’s game in Memphis with 12 straight road defeats, while the Grizzlies had 12 straight home victories; nothing had to give. Through three quarters, though, the Bobcats trailed by just 5 points, and Jannero Pargo opened the fourth with a 3-pointer to make it 63-60. But then all normalcy broke loose, as the Grizzlies went on a 15-0 run. The bloodshed lasted just 3.5 minutes of game time, although coach Dunlap frantically called three full timeouts during that span, defibrillator-style. Sadly, the Bobcats couldn’t be revived.
It’s a shame, and a weird shame at that, because all but two of the points during that violent outburst came from Austin Daye, Jon Leuer, and Ed Davis. Prior to that, the Bobcats had done a decent job (at least, defensively) on the Grizzlies stars, who—except for Mike Connelly—all started the fourth quarter on the bench. Marc Gasol went just 4-11 for 8 points and 6 boards, as Bismack Biyombo did a remarkably nice job keeping the fiendish Spaniard in check. I often criticize Biyombo for providing less offense than Johnny in Johnny Got His Gun, so just for the record: good job, Biz. A remarkable job, in fact. I totally remarked on it. Meanwhile, Zach Randolph was pestered all night with double teams and could only fork over 11 points and 13 boards. A frustrated Randolph would eventually retaliate in the only sensible way possible by flipping the ball at an innocent bystander in the crowd (to his credit, Randolph went over and hugged the fan, who probably felt that a simple apology would have been sufficient). Thus when Pargo buried that 3 like drug money to start the fourth, I was psyched.