Miss me, guys?
Well, the season premiere of our favorite show, the comedy/horror series known as the Charlotte Bobcats, starts in Houston tonight. And though the producers have barraged us with mindless zombies the past couple seasons (Gana Diop, Tyrus Thomas, Byron Mullens), I’ll actually be at the edge of my seat not knowing what to expect this time around. After suffering through the demolition project known as the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons (sponsored by Brand Jordan and Piedmont Septic Tank Solutions) we may finally begin to see the fruits of the labor from our general contractor, Rich Cho, and see if this will be something that can grow from a small cult following into a brand picked up by all the major networks.
Now, for this blog entry, and hopefully a recurring feature a couple times per month (as long as zombie Diop doesn’t come back to eat us) I will be joined by a fellow poster from the bobcatsplanet message boards known as Chef (I post under the QC Thundercats handle). We wanted to try to take a more statistical look at the team throughout the year, observe the trends on offense and defense, and track the progress of the players going forward. As for our views, Chef maintains a tougher, no-excuse outlook, while I tend to give a little bit more slack, giving the benefit of the doubt on younger players and staying on the slightly optimistic side. This way, you’ll get a broader spectrum of views on the team, rather than taking the word of some random, solitary writer who may or may not see the sun during the week.
Its hard to predict what to expect from the Bobcats, given that they have 5 very young rotational players who are improving at variable rates, a real post threat that used to dress as a black hole in his younger days, and then how all this meshes with the 4th new coach in 4 years at the helm. All we have to go on is the preseason, or rather, just the stats from preseason, as most of the games were not televised.
Can we really know how a team is going to perform based on its preseason? For the teams regularly in the playoffs, the preseason is nothing more than a tuneup, getting extra reps and fortifying any new additions or tweaks to a system proven to take a team to the postseason. You normally don’t want to put too much stress on your star players, so you give them a taste of action to get them game ready, but you’ll rarely see them exceed the 30 minute mark. There are also plenty of hungry, undrafted rookies vs. the old journeymen just trying to get one more shot at an NBA contract.
But you can start to see the early trends of a team, what they’ve been working on, and what weaknesses to their system that may have been exposed. As it pertains to the Bobcats, a 5-3 preseason actually seems encouraging. With our history, give me anything above a .500 record, and I’m ready to pop some champagne. But while a 62.5% winning percentage is nice, it doesn’t mean we’ve turned into a playoff team.
The Bobcats have shown an incredible recovery from being one of the worst defensive teams of all time into the return of the hard-nosed, scrappy defensive bulldogs that could even force Larry Brown to uncurl his perma-frown.
This may be the happiest moment of my life!
But the offensive side of the ball might need a little more marinating in Coach Steve Clifford’s kitchen before we can make a conclusion as to what we can become. In the mean time, you may need to cover your kids’ eyes to watch the Bobcats attempt to score early in the season.
As for Chef’s no-nonsense take on this:
“The Bobcats are going to SUCK this year. Maybe not quite to the level of the last two years (28-120, 23%), but my prediction is 25 wins. That is a whole lotta losses! Probably good enough for a top 5 pre-lotto spot. It looks like Philly and Phoenix will be tanking for the title with the Cats, Magic and Kings heading up the second tier…to secure a high lottery pick in the Wiggins/Randle/Parker/Smart draft.
And for this fan, that is just fine. Like I said earlier, I have come to the realization that the NBA is all about being the best or the worst. It absolutely does not pay to be mediocre.”
First, I want to focus on what appears to be the strength of the team, the foundation that they will lean on to get through the rough stretches. The defense during the preseason didn’t just look pretty good, it looked downright nasty and intimidating. For any fans of the Thibodeau coached Bulls, or the Van Gundy teams in New York, Houston, and Orlando, you’re in for a treat, as we now have a fellow architect of the vaunted defense that these gurus employ.
Overall, the Bobcats shockingly allowed the least amount of points per game in the entire league for the preseason at 83.9 points allowed, and forcing opponents to shoot under 40%! This after allowing the second most points during last season at 102.7, and basically giving opponents an extra chance to practice putting up wide open threes during the games (allowing a league worst 8.7 threes made, at a league worst 39%…for 2 years running).
There is more of a focus on getting back in transition on defense, avoiding fouls, and protecting the paint. These may seem like general principles all teams should follow, but last year, the players were actually taught to close their eyes, turn their backs, and ask kindly for the opposing team to not hit shots against them. At least that’s how it looked. Big difference in philosophy.
Here’s where things get…difficult. I’ll be easy and say it’s a learning process, we have a brand new offensive system for the 4th time in 4 years (this actually may be an unprecedented achievement), and with players who don’t quite have the art of outside shooting down pat yet. While former All-Star and shooting prodigy Mark Price is working on the team’s shooting, especially on sophomore project Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s Frankenshot, there are only a couple natural shooters who can hit from outside on a regular basis.
This in turn may clog up the paint for our excellent drivers on the perimeter and with our shiny new toy in Al Jefferson, who may be the first Bobcat to ever accomplish a drop step and an up-and-under move without looking like he’s doing the Harlem Shake and turning it over in the process. Clifford will have to get the guys moving constantly on the perimeter, using high pick and rolls and plenty of back screens to free up some driving lanes, and give our weak shooters a fighting chance with open looks after the ball gets whipped around the perimeter. Clifford likes to stress 3 point shots, as did his mentors, but we may not have the personnel to fully accomplish his goals this season. It may take until the All-Star break to start to see a more consistent offense, but until then, enjoy the defense.
Individual Player Observations
As bad as the team has been the past couple years, and as flawed or raw as some of the players are, I’m actually extremely excited to watch them play this year, to see what they’ve added to their intriguing starts. We won’t go through all the players, so we’ll touch on a few of the young prospects to watch for in this space.
Kemba Walker: Kemba is the most recognizable of our players, and as starting point guard, the de facto leader of the team. Chef will start off on his viewpoint:
“This begins year three of the Kemba Walker era, and I still remain unconvinced that he is the starting point guard of the future. To be fair, Kemba’s first year was the lockout shortened, Anthony Davis tankfest season, and last year he was blessed with first year coach Ichabod Crane..err.. Mike Dunlap whose game plan left much to be desired.
Walker showed a dramatic improvement in points per game and true shooting percentage as well as assists and steals, per basketball-reference. By stats alone, you would think it is a no-brainer that he is the starting point for the future. However, when you watch the games, you cannot help but notice that he frequently misses cutters and roll men and you get the general sense that he doesn’t see the floor as a point guard but as the dreaded combo guard. I have nothing against combo guards IF they are scoring 24-30pts per game and getting me at least five trips to the free throw line. Anything less and I want them coming off the bench playing big minutes as instant offense.
So why am I so interested in Walker this year? Until this year, he has been missing a capable big man. Perhaps the reason Walker does not make the pass to a rolling Bismack Biyombo is because his hands fall somewhere between quartz and diamonds on that rock hardness scale that every state in the country deems as pertinent seventh grade scientific knowledge. In Jefferson, he has a very good big man. Jefferson is a low block monster and presents many new looks for pick and rolls (with or without Jefferson), two man games and drive and dishes. Couple that with a coach who will not be coaching and attending his first regular season NBA game simultaneously, this season should provide clear cut evidence of whether Kemba Walker is an NBA starting point guard or a better version of Jason Terry (6th Man of the Year 2009).”
I don’t share the same sentiment as Chef, as I believe that Kemba, while not a classic, pass first point guard of years past, is in the mold of the new breed of point guard, who have a greater ability to score off the bounce, while also being able to run a team and create for others. I think he does exhibit the proper instincts of a point, rather than the shoot first nature of combo guards like Terry or Jamal Crawford. As we saw in the Team USA scrimmage and the two rookie all-star games he played, he was the leading assist man on his team all three of the times he had talent to play with.
I think Kemba has seemed to shoot a ton so far in his career because he’s been the best option to score on the floor, and a good point guard takes what the opponent gives, while understanding the limitations of others. He actually averaged close to 19 points and 6 assists to close the season, and I think the post additions of Zeller and Jefferson (as well as the elimination of the spaceships that Byron Mullens and Tyrus Thomas rode on) will help allow him to become more of the passer I think he wants to be.
Michael Kidd Gilchrist:
“Believe or not, MKG is a dynamic player worthy of the second pick in the draft. (For the record, I wanted Drummond or Beal at #2) He finishes well in traffic, rebounds well, has a great first step and flourishes in the open court. His per 36 minute numbers were 12.5/8/2/1steal/1bl and he joined Lebron James as the only other player to register 25 pts and 12 rebs two times before their 20th birthday. By all metrics, he is already a disruptive defender individually and from a team standpoint. Eventually, he COULD become a four position destructive defender in the same mold as Lebron or Scottie Pippen.
Before your head explodes Scanners style, I am not saying MKG will be the next Lebron or Scottie Pippen. There is no way in hell anyone can say that when this is what his jumper looks like this.
And this isn’t a case of an unorthodox shooting form that works, say Shawn Marion for instance, and here is the shot chart to prove it.
Dude can’t shoot. The Bobcats did hire Mark Price as shooting coach to start to correct things, but I anticipate small changes to avoid sending a 19 year old second year player into a career killing tailspin. There is plenty to work with and I see good things as an NBA player for Michael Kidd-Gilchrest.
This year I hope to see a more destructive defender and a better all-around rebounder. When teams predictably double off of him to Jefferson on the low block, I hope to see him slashing to the basket for an easy dump off or coming off a backside screen to the catch the ball on the move going to the basket. Bottom line, he needs to become more aggressive and with the rookie wall a thing of the past, making it last all season.”
As for me, I have a soft spot for this young man, as he’s had to overcome a lot in his life to get here. I think that he can do almost everything on the court at a high level – playing tough, hard nosed defense at 4 positions, rebounding at an elite level, handling the ball in transition, and making good passes. And he has an incredible first step to get into the paint, and an underrated post game.
And then there’s the humongous “BUT” that we all know is there. His jumpshot as currently constructed does not work well. I think he can become an average shooter over time, but his form has severe flaws that may take a couple seasons to fully correct. He actually improved, and started to hit outside jumpers towards the end of last year. The one thing I may be a little fearful of is MKG losing his confidence, and hence his aggressiveness, while work is in progress on his shot. He does so many other things well, but if he ever loses his edge, it will be noticeable in his all around game.
Bismack Biyombo: Biyombo has been a polarizing figure for fans, as many are ready to write him off as a bust. I think that having started playing the game at 14, living in 4 different countries, and only having 7 years of total experience, he is a little more behind the learning curve than the stage parents who put a ball in the hands of their kids while in the crib, and send them to yearly summer camps and the AAU circuit to hone their skills. I think Biz is still a couple years away from becoming the player he was meant to be.
In the mean time, he was supposed to be a terror on the boards and blocking shots, but only served as a mere nuisance his first couple years. This preseason, it seems that Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing has been able to reach the young warrior in ways that non-hall of famer/team mascot extraordinaire Gana Diop was unable to, teaching him how to become a beast on defense. Twice he’s gotten 20 rebounds or more in a game, and has generally intimidated anybody who dares venture into his lane. While we can’t say he’s Ben Wallace, he’s starting to resemble that kind of presence on defense, and it will be interesting to see how he applies these lessons into the regular season
Cody Zeller: A rookie that people actually booed at the Bobcats draft party like he was Justin Beiber driving recklessly through the arena. But he actually may have the most all around skill, as well as the highest basketball IQ of all the rookies, not to mention being the most athletic player at the rookie combine.
With his size and quickness, as well as soft touch on his outside shot, he may become a matchup nightmare once he figures out the professional game. It may take a little while to adjust, but I think there’s a strong chance for him to be rookie of the year.
With as bad as the media will tell you that this team is, I think there is a lot to watch for, the development of our exciting young players, a shutdown defensive system, and how the team will generally grow under Coach Clifford. I think they’re moving in the right direction, and I’ll be front and center on my couch to watch us take on the league.