The Charlotte Bobcats at 4-3. I repeat: the Charlotte Bobcats are 4-3. A team that was a laughing stock in 2011 and really for the majority of their existence, is above .500 and playing some pretty inspired basketball.
Head coach Mike Dunlap is better than advertised, and second year point guard Kemba Walker is looking the part, and then some. A game-winning shot over the Minnesota Timberwolves is the cherry on top of this short season.
But 4-3 isn’t the playoffs, so we have to taper our expectations and start analyzing what this 4-3 start means. More importantly, after a more typical 1-3 start, what does this current three-game winning streak mean for the Bobcats?
Are they suddenly a real playoff contender? Is this a sign of things to come?
While I don’t think this locks in the Bobcats as playoff contenders just yet, I may be in the minority in saying that I do actually believe they’re on their way out of the cellar.
Believe it or not, this is no longer a terrible team.
Kemba Walker just might be an NBA point guard. And even if he never gets his assist numbers much higher than five per game, I think he can at least rival Jameer Nelson in that department, while making a living as a scorer and clutch shot-taker.
The proof is in the pudding for Walker. He was okay as a rookie, but has clearly developed into the offensive player the Bobcats thought they were drafting. The fact that he’s averaging nearly 20 points per game and shooting a quality 43% from the floor (for a guard, anyways) tells us that.
Ben Gordon is inconsistent off the bench, but his 34-point outing a couple of games ago is the high end. You don’t know what you’ll get from him in any given game, but he’ll always have that explosive scoring ability. He stretched the defense out, and he’s a great complement to Walker. Ramon Sessions coming off the bench as a combo guard and helping out at the point is working wonders, as well.
Just think what this guard crop will be like when Gerald Henderson is healthy and effective again. They’re young, but they’re improving and already getting the job done as we speak. That’s what we call positive growth, and it seems to be happening with every passing game.
The bigs still aren’t there yet. Bismack Biyombo has a long ways to go and Byron Mullens seems to show up on one end of the floor on random nights. Sometimes he looks like a star on offense, and other nights nothing is falling. Sometimes he hits the boards relentlessly, and others he gets out-worked.
The big men in Charlotte are a work in progress, but they’re not killing the team.
Last, but certainly not least, is the star power of rookie swing man Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He’s not just a big name with potential anymore. We’ve already seen what his talent can do at this level after he busted out for 25 points and 12 rebounds three games ago. His last game (two points in 16 minutes) brought him and our expectations down to earth a bit. But he’s a rookie. It only makes sense that he’d be a little inconsistent. Some nights his shot won’t fall. He’s 19 and his jumper wasn’t what got him drafted. Other nights he’ll get into foul trouble (three or more fouls in four straight games), and some nights he’ll turn the ball over too much. But from just seven games, I believe we can say Charlotte got a guy worth putting stock in. It won’t all work out as we hope this year necessarily, but MKG is bound to be a huge part of the Bobcats’ future success.
So, what does this all mean for this season and the current three-game roll?
First, we need to understand that this three-game winning streak isn’t all that impressive. The wins have come against the Mavericks, Wizards and the Timberwolves.
Minnesota and Dallas are vastly under-manned. The Mavs are missing Dirk Nowitzki and are still coming together as a team at 4-4 and the Timberwolves are playing without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. In fact, J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger have also dealt with injuries, completely sapping a perfectly good young roster. And Washington is without John Wall, and would either way be a complete mess on both ends of the floor.
The Bobcats went into each of these three games with a clear shot at escaping as the victor. Had they lost, no one would have been too shocked. They would have said they were the same old Bobcats, and that they have “a long way to go”.
On the flip-side, these weren’t the Heat, Lakers or Celtics. They weren’t even the Grizzlies, Clippers or Bulls. These are teams that are basically begging to be beaten.
But the moral here is that the Bobcats won games that they had the opportunity to win. They strayed from their usual history and they got the job done three games in a row. That’s not like them. And that’s a very good thing.