So now that we have gone a full week and a half into the new season, the Bobcats have settled into a satisfying, quite ordinary, and very average 3-3. And that’s quite ok. Well, depending on which game you just finished watching. Beating the Knicks in New York and the Raptors on back-to-back nights had many people mentioning the magic p-word, with dreams of joining the end of season NBA tournament for the 16 qualifying teams. And then of course, getting summarily rejected by the Pelicans and suffering a revenge beat down from the Knicks at home has some people uttering the other p-word for our team (“ping-pong” balls of course).
The truth of the matter is that fans’ attention spans and expectations fall into a “what-have-you-done-lately” mindset, with every victory adding to the legacy of a burgeoning dynasty, and every loss proving the failure of every player, coach, team official, and any optimistic fan who dared not to wear their lucky underwear for the last game.
As a public service announcement, fans shouldn’t read too much into these early season games, outside of any alarming trends. There is the adjustment period of getting into the rhythm of the regular season, getting up to game speed, any rookie jitters, and the recovery period for any veterans who received offseason surgeries and procedures. There also is getting used to the hectic pace of the grueling NBA schedule, with back-to-back games and cross country travel becoming a regular part of a player’s lifestyle. The defending champion Miami Heat already have 3 in losses in 7 games, while the 76ers, who all experts believed were commanding the tank brigade to win next year’s lottery, actually beat the Heat on the way to a winning record so far. Extreme variability is expected until enough of a season has been played to normalize all the early stats and trends.
As it pertains to the Bobcats, they’ve exhibited some promising, hard-nosed play in maintaining leads in all their victories, a mental toughness that they were allergic to in previous seasons. But it seems that they still have an adverse reaction to purposefully placing the ball into the hoop with much regularity. As stated in the previous blog, the offense was going to get ugly, which may have been an understatement. But the defense seems much improved, and our guards are making sure to take care of the ball much better.
In this column, Chef and I wanted to take a closer look at the player side, analyzing the point guards that drive our non-explosive offense (proudly sponsored by Tesla Cars, once they finally sign the paperwork) and a scrutinized young scrapper who’s giving fits to some of the leagues best perimeter players.
Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions, two of the leading scorers and assist men on the team, are extremely quick and explosive offensively. Is there much of a difference in their effectiveness and ability to run the team throughout a game?
If you just look at the raw numbers, of course Kemba’s 17.8 points and 5.0 assists a game will be higher than Sessions’ 13.0 points and 3.3 assists, as he is the starter and will play the most minutes. When adjusting their stats to an average per 36 minutes, then Sessions’ numbers take quite a leap to 22.5 points and 5.8 assists to Kemba’s 17.7 points and 5.1 assists. So this means that we should let Sessions get more of the minutes, right?
Absolutely not, unless you’re trying to get the #1 pick in the draft.
Chef: There seems to be a very noticeable drop off in play quality when Kemba Walker rests and Ramon Sessions takes the helm. Observation leads one to believe that Sessions is a terrible passer and a shoot first guy compared to Walker as the offense becomes noticeably stagnant. The statistics show a different story. When compared on a per 36 minute basis, both guards average around 5-6 assists per game. Sessions does turn the ball over at about double the rate of Walker, but other than that, both pace and Team Offensive Rating stay about the same. Walker is a more efficient shooter and better rebounder, but Sessions is far and away better at getting to the foul line. He is the point guard version of Corey Maggette when it comes to getting to the line, averaging 8 attempts in 22 minutes per game. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but as far as passing point guards go, they are both statistically equivalent shoot first point guards.
Your first sentence is very telling – “there is a very noticeable drop off in play quality” when Sessions subs for Kemba. There are various reasons as to why their respective stats may start to converge, but for anyone actually watching the game, you’re literally yelling at the coach to put Kemba back in ASAP so that we can have some semblance of an offense going again. Yes, they both shoot around 40% from the field, but Kemba was shooting near 50% on the season and having an incredible game in the first one against the Knicks until Metta World Peace decided it was past due time to dislodge Kemba’s shoulder from its joint. He’s been understandably erratic since then while trying to work it back into place.
Sessions however lives in the world of Erratic, as he seemingly believes every play begins and ends with him driving recklessly into the lane for an adventurous layup attempt. Except something amazing is happening with Sessions. For a backup, journeyman point guard, he is getting superstar calls. When you look at the league leaders in free throw attempts, you have Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, James Harden, and… Ramon Sessions? Ahead of Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Blake Griffin?? And in half the minutes that they play??? I think we need more question marks???? One of these things is not like the other. But Sessions’ historic foray into the free thrower pantheon is artificially boosting his apparent efficiency and scoring prowess, which I expect to normalize once referees start to realize that “oh hey, that’s Ramon Sessions.”
My explanation as to the assists are that Kemba still hasn’t played with a reliable post up player, since Al Jefferson still hasn’t really played this season, and the rest of the starters are physically challenged in the shooting department. Meanwhile Sessions’ daredevil drives tends to collect so many bodies on the way to the hoop, that once he finally realizes he has nowhere to go, he reluctantly dumps the ball at the last second to a surprised teammate who’s defender may have sagged off to help. But lets not pretend that Sessions even remotely begins to look to set others up before he gets his own shot first, while Kemba seems deliberately trying to run the offense and look for other guys to get going. And that doubled turnover rate that Sessions owns should not be underplayed, as that shows either a huge lack of control or bad judgment, not very good traits for a point guard.
Chef: Well, the single biggest difference between the two (turnover rate aside) is defense. Walker plays defense, Sessions is allergic to it. Walker’s Defensive Rating is 11 pts better (96.7 to 107.8) and the team defense is 13 points better when he is off the court (94.1 to 107.8). If Sessions is to contribute big minutes for the Bobcats this year, he is going to have to start playing defense.
I agree, here is where the stats do bear out the difference between the two. Kemba is a bulldog on the ball, and has some of the quickest hands in the league and best instincts at getting into the passing lane. Sessions does look intense on defense, at least when furrows his brow as he’s watching a player blow by him towards the basket. And despite quick feet, once you beat him with an initial move, he won’t recover back on defense, unlike his counterpart.
Chef: A hot topic amongst Bobcat fans is the debate about whether Kemba Walker is the point guard of the future. With his second year improvement, he has to be the point guard of the future. Sure there are better point guards out there, but as far as those that could be had, most would be lateral moves. Walker is not a tremendous step down compared with Jrue Holliday, Ty Lawson etc.
Chef: The debate I really wanted to wait to open until a much larger chunk of the season’s stats were recorded, is whether Walker sees the passes and is a willing passer or is he a shoot first point guard. From the games thus far this season, he looks as if he is making the right passes and is getting much more comfortable working to get good shots as opposed to poor, highly contested shots. The stats don’t support this. All of his passing stats are essentially at his career average. So, could it be his cast? Is he just saddled with a terrible bunch of shooters, scorers and general basketball players? Could Bismack Biyombo’s stone hands and MKG’s broken jumper be pushing Kemba’s stats into the realm of the combo guard? Well, lucky for us, the good folks at NBA.com have an excellent stat page. One of the passing metrics is Assist Opportunities Per Game. This stat records any pass a player makes to a teammate that attempts a shot. Whether that shots falls or not is irrelevant. Running a filter for playing time (getting rid of outliers and back up point guards), Walker ranks 28th at 9.4. The following players are within +/- 3 of him: Andre Iguodala, James Harden, Kevin Love, Nick Batum, Nate Wolters and Brandon Jennings. He is in the company with a true scorer, two forwards and two score first point guards. If the filter is expanded from 28 minutes to 30.5 minutes, Carmelo Anthony replaces Wolters. The company Walker keeps when using this statistic does not suggest he is looking to pass and distribute. Will this season prove different? Very possible, 5 games is a terribly small sample size, and by watching the games it does look like he is playing under more control and with his teammates in mind. Only time will tell.
Well, as Bill Belichick once said, stats are for losers. Although quoting a cheating coach may not give much credibility to it. But I do think the eye test counts more than stats at this point of the year. We all can see Kemba playing more under control, taking good shots when they’re there, and at least trying to make the right pass for a Biyombo waltz step post-up, another Henderson turnaround, fadeaway jumpshotput, an under construction MKG, or a pass first point forward in Josh McRoberts. Once Jefferson is back, Zeller is fully acclimated, and everyone gets out of their respective early season slumps, we’ll see Kemba’s assist numbers go back up.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be in the midst of launching his campaign as the next defensive terror in the league. Is there anything to back this up, and will this quiet the critics of him being the #2 pick?
Chef: The defensive star of the young season has to be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. His standout game was a very disruptive defensive effort against Carmelo Anthony in a win at MSG. Yes, Melo had 32 points but it was 10-28 shooting from the field. When he was guarded by any other Bobcat, he was very effective and efficient. But against MKG, Carmelo was visible frustrated and seemed surprised when he couldn’t bully him in the post or blow by him on the wing. MKG registered 8 rebounds (4 OREB) and 3 blocks along with 16 points. He is leading the team in PER and is averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His Defensive Rating (Amt of pts per 100 possessions when a player or team is on the court) is 95.1 while the teams is 100.4. The teams DRtg when he is on the floor is 22 points better than when he is off the floor. MKG is looking like he may develop into the player I projected
All you needed to do was actually watch MKG play defense on Carmelo these last two games to see what kind of defensive terror he will become. A quick glance at a box score may tell you that Carmelo averaged 30 points over the two games, shooting over 54% in the second. But if you ask Carmelo, he doesn’t want to see MKG guarding him again anytime soon. That stat Chef mentioned about holding Carmelo to 10-28 isn’t fully accurate, as Jeff Taylor, Henderson, and others were switched on him at times, and were victims to Carmelo’s easy buckets. But when MKG actually guarded Carmelo in New York, he only shot 4-19 from the field. Even more telling is that MKG blocked Carmelo’s shot 3 times in the game, which I’m not sure has ever happened in the career of last year’s NBA scoring champion.
Here’s an example of MKG chasing Carmelo down on a fast break, gathering the ball, and weaving past the rest of the Knicks defenders like traffic cones, including former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler:
MKG Stuffs Melo
Why it works is because MKG has incredibly long arms, and is deceptively strong at almost 240 pounds. Carmelo couldn’t bully MKG down on the block, nor use his speed to get around his quick feet. All he had left were his pump fakes, which MKG is too disciplined to fall for, and fadeaway shots, which is a great job on defense whether the ball goes in or not.
MKG blocks Melo again
What is more, is that MKG holds Melo below his season averages for shots in the restricted area (best sample size).
Awesome find. Well there you go. I think besides the great defensive instincts that MKG exhibits, he actually is a fantastic finisher when attacking the basket, being able to deftly use both hands, with the power to finish through contact. And as bad as his jumper may be at this point, he actually has incredible touch when around the basket, being able to find angles and shooting with a softness that doesn’t translate to a farther distance. That and the fact that he is a beast in transition, I’m thinking he’s definitely worth the #2 pick in the draft, although he may never score as well as other draftees. He’ll just shut those guys down when they play against each other in games.