We’re three games into the season, and the 1-2 Bobcats have already answered a key question: how bad must things get before Ben Gordon is allowed to play? We got our answer Saturday night when coach Clifford pulled the ol’ sub-all-five-starters-at-once move at the start of the third quarter. This was after the Cats committed a 24-second violation and then failed to inbound the ball within 5 seconds. More importantly, it was after a half in which the winless Pelicans handled the Bobcats like a lunchbox en route to an easy 21-point win. In came Gordon, Ramon Sessions, Cody Zeller, Jeffrey Taylor, and Jeff Adrien. Out went Charlotte’s dignity.
Coach Clifford was right to empty the bench like a full bladder, because the Bobcats are failing miserably on offense and need to find some combination of players who can generate some scoring. Al Jefferson’s bum ankle, which has kept him out of games 2 and 3, definitely has something to do with it, but even with him in the lineup in the season opener vs. the Rockets, the team only had a 96.8 offensive rating, which would still just rank 27th in the league. Overall, the Bobcats are sitting in the offensive toilet, generating a pathetic 91.7 rating, good for 29th place, ahead of only the one team they didn’t manage to miss less than, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Who’s responsible for this limp effort? Summer League/Swedish National sensation Jeff Taylor, for one. Taylor’s mustered a .217 eFG% so far, which is colder than an Eskimo’s outhouse. His rather amazing shot chart shows that he’s had just one make outside of eight feet. Taylor at least seems to know he’s contaminated and thus has quarantined his usage rate to just 19.6%, but he can’t afford to be Bismack Biyombo’s mini-me and needs to get his act together. Elsewhere, Gerald Henderson’s .278 eFG% is in need of mouth-to-mouth. Henderson was never exactly Fred Flinstone in a footmobile, but he seems even slower than usual this year; opponents have been guarding him easily and his free throw attempts are down. Finally, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, despite all of the supposed offseason work with Mark Price, still hitches like a wagon when he shoots. Like Taylor, he’s been firing blanks from beyond 8 feet and he’s only roughly average from within. If not for his ability to draw fouls (he’s up to 4.7 AP36M this year), he’d be swapping stories with Taylor and Henderson while mopping up cat urine in the league’s eFG% cellar.
It’s certainly not all bad for the Bobcats—just mostly. Defensively they’re holding a 101.96 rating, which is currently 9th best in the league (and the ’85 Bears compared to last year). They drove Cavaliers’ guard CJ Miles utterly incoherent in their 90-84 win vs. Cleveland: “I think sometimes you dig in that hole and expend so much energy trying to get out of it, and I don’t want say we’re tired, but you don’t want to put yourself in that position where you battle back and then you’re in a real dogfight,” Miles said afterward. That quote really has everything: there’s the flip from 1st to 2nd person, which is always comedic, but more importantly, an admission that the team would rather give up than try, because—if I’m reading it right—if you have to try, then it gets hard. The Bobcats are forcing such rambling non sequiturs by generating turnovers and generally manning up on their guys pretty well. Here’s where MKG shines; as frustrating as he has been on offense, he continues to terrify opponents on defense like one of those feral little kids in Mama.
Finally, there are the two 3-game MVPs, Josh McRoberts and Kemba Walker. Walker is often the only scoring threat on the court and he’s been on some Ender’s Game-level concentration since the start of the year. His stone-cold 3-pointer to close out the Cavaliers was a highly rewinde-able delight. Meanwhile, McRoberts, despite looking like an unusually large member of Foghat, is leading the regulars in PER (21.3). He’s unveiled a 3-point capability like a magic rabbit out of his beard, and even his defense has been credible (97 rating).
Just three games in, all of this is admittedly still a statistical jumble. Cases in point: Biyombo leads the team in eFG% and Jeff Adrien has a 26.1 PER. Plus there’s the looming return of the Big Black Hole, Jefferson, and the question of how/if the rest of the team meshes with him. But no matter what, for Charlotte to have any semblance of offensive competency, the Taylor-Henderson-MKG trifecta needs to start producing buckets, or else the team is going to kick one.
(Reminder: Please don’t forget to check out my e-book at the following link)