It’s a temptation to say that the Bobcats are a ball of confusion entering All-Star Break, a temptation that unfortunately then leads to 4 lost minutes listening to the song “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations before one can proceed further. That’s where I am right now: I’d rather procrastinate than reconcile my severely mixed feelings about the Bobcats season so far. And this confusing ball of a season, this problematic sphere, this conundrumcal globe was encapsulated perfectly by Charlotte’s final two games prior to All-Star weekend. First the Bobcats blew out the Mavericks in delightful fashion, 114-89, then they lost in nearly equally unfashionably, 105-89, to the Nets. In fact, if the Mavs win was a First Lady’s ballroom gown, then the loss to NJ was a fat guy’s plaid Speedo.
All of which leaves Charlotte in a Rorschach test of a situation that’s equally defensible from all angles. In the plus columns are their playoff status (8th place in the Eastern Conference), their defensive efficiency (ranked 6th), their turnover rate (#1 in the league at just 12.1%!!!), and Al Jefferson, whose 22.0 PER so far would be the best in team history (edging out St. Gerald Wallace’s 21.3 PER in ’05-06). There are also the smaller triumphs of Josh McRoberts (4.1 win-shares, trailing only Big Al for team lead!) and Anthony Tolliver (leading the team in net points per 100 possessions while he’s on the court with +1.4, 4th in league 3PT% with 44.2%, and leading the league in Jesus-related tweets, at least on a per-minute basis, with a hyper-efficient 0.5).
In the minus columns are nearly everything else. The 26th ranked offense—though much better than they were in November, when they flatlined at 94.3 points per 100 possessions—will never amount to anything as long as there is no one besides Tolliver and McRoberts to provide spacing while Jefferson clogs the lane worse than the arteries of an Alabama hog farmer. Also, the team’s playoff status is really just a bubble inflated by a schedule that’s tied for 6th-weakest. Meanwhile, rookie Cody Zeller is looking more and more like a human pyramid scheme. Go back and check out his draft report. It’s all right there: though he “looks the part of a high-level prospect on paper,” he has “limited jump shooting prowess,” “below average shooting in the post,” according to one whistle-blower. And even his advocates conceded that he basically had the upper body strength Macaulay Culkin and couldn’t rebound or defend (at least not without the use of a pellet gun and some Micro Machines). Consequently, he’s been a West Virginia chemical leak from the start, with a -0.2 estimated wins added score that is slowly seeping into Adam Morrison County (poor Adam finished with -3.0 EWA in ’06-07).
And it’s the Zeller debacle that ties into the overarching existential crisis of this season: to cheer or not to cheer for this borderline-respectable performance. As long as the Bobcats keep trending upward toward lower-middle class, they’re denying themselves of participating in the greatest draft since God chose Moses #1 overall. They’re also just lining themselves up to be Star Trek redshirts for either the Miami Klingons or the Indiana Romulans. Thus each narrow win over a fellow cellar-dweller leaves us all more emotionally distressed than an AOL employee’s baby. How should we feel?
I’m for cheering them on, and I won’t even bother with all of the obvious emotional reasons and instead I’ll cut right to the analytical evidence. At this point, there’s almost no way the Bobcats will finish the year with a worse record than the Bucks, Sixers, Magic, and probably even Boston. And if you can’t get the top four picks in this draft, then who gives a shit? Chad Ford currently has his 5th-best prospect listed as Julius Randle, whose weaknesses include defense, poor physical condition, and a tendency to fall in love with the jumper. Basically, he sounds like Anthony Bennett with better rebounding abilities. Sorry, but I’m not tanking for that.
And for those of you lamenting the high-priced acquisition of Jefferson before the season instead of just going full-tank ahead, I can help you feel better, too. Bear in mind that Big Al’s on a pace to finish with 6.49 win-shares (and that’s if he plays every remaining game). Take 6.49 wins off the 35.42 victories that Bobcats would finish with if they maintain this .432 winning percentage, and they would finish with 28.93 wins. That would give them a final winning percentage of .353, which would make them 5th-worst in the league, as opposed to right now, when their .432 percentage is 8th-worst. I can’t believe there’s that much difference between the theoretical 5th pick the Bobcats would get (the aforementioned Randall) and the theoretical 8th pick they’re on track to get. I also can’t believe I just did that much math on a Saturday.
In summary, I understand how it feels to be this conflicted. Believe me, I change my opinion on how to feel about the Bobcats more often than my underwear. But I think (right now, as of this particular moment) that the solution is to cheer good play. Just consider yourselves to be the latest in a tradition of great literary figures, including Hamlet and Peter Parker. And after internally wrestling with how to move forward, both of them chose the positive/proactive route, persevered, and eventually went onto greatness! At least Peter Parker did. I haven’t actually read Hamlet, but I’m assuming that’s what happened.
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