I don’t know. I’ll be the first to tell you, I don’t know. Whether the Bobcats are good, bad, lucky, suckering teams, winning close ones early in the year only to lose them later, a fluke or on to something real and sustainable. I don’t know. All those adjectives or suspicions have definite truths to them. That’s easy to say though. Like I’m standing up on the street corner saying “God exists! Maybe! Repent! Or do whatever you want! He’s coming soon! Or he’s not coming at all! Maybe he’s coming later!” Nothing too bold about saying “I don’t know.”
Just the not knowing, this year is a big deal though. Last year the team was awful. The whole way around, we know that. So, just thinking “Hey, this is great!” is an incredible feeling. My mind is still of the pre-OKC beatdown however. Those were the Bobcats I expected to see. Not the ones who beat Dallas for the first time and were 7-5 until that horrible, worst ever loss to the Thunder. Actually, I can say now, I didn’t know what to expect.
New coach, new players, new jerseys, new floor, new year. I was hoping for 20 wins. Seriously, that was around what I really thought was possible. Being a third of the way there, less than a seventh of the way through the season was very surprising but when you see how it was done, it’s somewhat comforting.
Shocking the NBA by having a winning record early in the year isn’t the trick. The trick is sustaining that progress, that evidences itself in wins, throughout the full 82 game slate and on into the future. I’m realizing that after every statement about the Bobcats you can and should read into it “after the single worst season in NBA history, based on winning percentages.” That cloud hangs still, and it casts a shadow, but far from an all encompassing one.
The moves made in the off-season were pitch perfect for what the Bobcats want to do. Stabilize the important positions or the “anchor” positions on the team. Coach first and foremost, is the largest contributor to the tone you want to set in sports. The Bobcats got a good one in Mike Dunlap. Center and point guard are vital on a team without elite talent at any singular position and Ramon Sessions and Brendan Haywood are holding up their end of that deal. It’s not big and splashy. Trading Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon and a future first round pick adds to what they’re trying to do, which is move on from last season and gather assets.
To me, Mike Dunlap is a coach that makes a plan, puts in the contingencies and then makes contingencies for the contingencies that may and probably will go awry. Rather than resting on the sense that the Bobcats are young and not very good, they are trying to improve with what they have and Dunlap makes me think he knows how to do that.
Right now, you can see the way the Bobcats score and play defense. Good teams are going to adjust to that. Oklahoma City seems like they had it figured out. The Bobcats two leading scorers are the point guards, Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions and against the Thunder, Walker scored 0 and Sessions had 7. It’s like a one note band, they might get a hit with their best one song but they’re all together very weak beyond that. To steal from Bobcats TV announcer Steve Martin, it’s like a running team in the NFL. If you stop the run and put up a lot of points, there’s not much they can do to get back in the game.
So in a sense, the Bobcats are obviously good in several ways. The rebounding, full court defense and the general defensive scheme (switching from zone to man in situations, etc) are solid. The team has figured out what the coaches want to run and they’re having success in it. When Mullens, Walker and Sessions score a lot, things tend to go well. Of course, that’s not a lot to go off of in the grand scheme of the NBA.
The Bobcats are still a pretty bad team. There are only 3 guys on the All-Star ballot and none of them are likely to be selected. They’re in the bottom half of the league in most statistical categories and have played the statisitcally easiest schedule of any team in the league. They’re second from the bottom in field goal percentage. Fifth worst in opponent points per game. That beatdown at the hands of the Thunder was the worst ever for a 9 year old franchise. So there are plenty of things that make you say “Yes, the Bobcats are who we thought they were.”
The trends, for this team, are intriguing. The 7-5 record stands as the best after 12 games for this franchise. However, and this is a big big however, like a full Stephen A. Smith “how-eva!,” the Bobcats previous best start was 6-6 in their 4th season. The 2007-08 season was coached by Sam Vincent and starred the point guard stylings of one Jeff McInnis. That’s a coincidence but it goes to show, early records mean nothing. I do like the sense that I’m getting though. The transparency of showing the draft preparation, the exposure of Michael Jordan, the pre and post game comments of Mike Dunlap, the early play of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions. All that is leading towards something good in my mind. Losing against good teams, that’s also a trend I see working. The rebuilding or starting over (in case you want to make the argument that they were never built, I won’t argue), is in full effect. I’d not say that a professional team tanks, but understanding that a high draft pick doesn’t hurt and keeping two contributors healthy are viable ways to help the building effect.
So the answer to everything, is I don’t know….yet. It’s looking good. Which is to say it’ll look bad some too. The two draft picks, barring whatever, don’t look like busts. The pick-ups are valuable. The coach looks and sounds like the right thing for this team right now. Exceeding expectations? Yes. ”Good?” Ehhh.