Meritorious Player of the 1st Quarter:
Just going by the stats, Gerald Wallace seems like the clear winner, as Crash is second on the team in scoring, leads the league in rebounding, is second on the team in steals and third in blocks, and has the Bobcats second best PER behind Nazr (more on him to come). Basically, he is doing a lot of everything, including his trademark strong defense, but with even more rebounding than ever. With Tyson Chandler in what seems like perpetual foul trouble, and Boris Diaw slowed by his ankle issues (or weight issues/motivation issues), Gerald is a big part in why the Bobcats are third in the league in defensive efficiency – preventing the opposition from getting second chances by helping the team to the 6th best defensive rebounding mark in basketball despite a starting power forward who does not have more than 5 rebounds in the past 9 games.
But doesn't it seem like Raymond Felton has been a big part of the Bobcats wins? It is not just your imagination – Raymond has been better this year. He currently sports a career best PER of 14.97 and is shooting nearly 44% from the floor and 40.5% from the three point line – besting his career numbers by 4 and 8% respectively. Oh, and he continues his consistent strong defense, holding the opposition to nearly 5 points below their expected PER (10.98 actual, 15.73 expected). That is just outstanding.
So, the Bobcats have two strong candidates (and not really any others, as Nazr has not seen enough minutes and Stephen Jackson has been good but not great since joining the Cats). Gerald is doing unheard of things rebounding as a small forward and Raymond is playing All-NBA caliber D while showing burgeoning shooting skills and a strong grip on the ball (just 2.2 turnovers per game). How to choose?
I took the easy way out: Here is a breakdown of the Bobcats Meritorious Players, summed up to total awards and MPs in wins (note that there are more MPs awarded than games – there have been a few games with multiple recipients):
Gerald – 8 (4 in wins)
Raymond – 7 (3)
Diaw – 4 (2)
Nazr – 2 (1)
Raja – 1 (1)
D.J. – 1
Tyson – 1
Flip – 1
So there you have it, Gerald Wallace is QueenCityHoops Meritorious Player of the first quarter(ish) season (I know, it should have come at half-time of the 20th game – life gets in the way sometimes). No real surprise, but it has been great to see some Bobcats live up to expectations.
Which brings us to the next award:
Least Meritorious Player of the 1st Quarter:
Three names quickly come to mind as being disappointing at this stage of the season: Tyson Chandler, Boris Diaw, and D.J. Augustin. Yes, I just named 2/5ths of the Bobcats starting lineup and the player many expected to have moved into the starting PG position by now – yet the Bobcats are still hovering around the playoff chase: Thank you, Ray and Gerald.
Tyson Chandler has the highest turnover rate in the NBA of players who are playing 20 minutes a night, with 28.4% of the possessions he uses ending in a miscue. It came to a head this past weekend with 8 turns against the Spurs. Tyson seems to be called for an illegal screen on just about a nightly basis – he has 19 offensive fouls already this season. And while Larry Brown may bemoan the inconsistency of such calls – Tyson may be guilty of it more often than he gets called for: On the rare screen where does not shoot out an elbow at the screenee or run straight into them to get the screen set, I feel relief.
Unfortunately, Tyson's foul troubles are not just at one end of the court: Among those players at 20 minutes a night, Tyson is also 7th in fouls per 40 minutes, at just over 6. So, even if Larry Brown was willing to play Tyson once he got in foul trouble, Tyson would still foul out most nights. But the problem is, Larry Brown does not play guys who have foul trouble – so, Tyson is seeing just 25 minutes a night. $12 million a year for a guy playing 25 minutes a night, averaging 6.4 points and 6.3 rebounds, with a PER of 9.20. You're a contender for LMP, TC.
But you are joined by your front court brethren, Boris Diaw. As previously mentioned, Diaw has stopped rebounding this year: He averages just 4.4 rebounds per game and unlike Tyson those numbers aren't hindered by low minutes – Boris gets nearly 35 minutes a night to gather those 4 boards, giving him a rebound rate of just 7.7, the lowest of all power forwards and centers who have seen at least 100 minutes this year. In fact, the next lowest big man is at 8.5, so Boris is all by himself on this one. Additionally, his PER is down to 12.94 this year, after being nearly average last year as Bobcat (he finished last season around 14.5, but he was better in CLT). The only thing in Boris favor is his continued strong defense – he betters Raymond's mark by holding his cover to a PER 5.05 under expectations.
Last of the disappointing trio is D.J. Augustin – who has regressed in every way from last year. His shooting numbers are down, his assists are down, his turnover rate is up, and he has played far more passively, with a usage rate that has dropped to 16.4 (from 20.1 last year). D.J.'s PER is down under 7, less than half of last season's mark of 14.95. Augustin has been so bad (and so passive) that he has earned a handful of DNP-CD after becoming a key component of last season's last push. His struggles have probably been the least expected of the three, as Tyson is coming back from an injury (and an ideal situation in New Orleans with Chris Paul) and Boris has been known to coast previously, with the Bobcats getting the best basketball of his career last year. D.J. was expected to be the future starter at the point for the Cats and now there are questions on whether he will end the season with them.
After laying out their respective cases, I do not feel any closer to picking one of them over the others. D.J.'s struggles have been offset by Raymond's uptick; Boris' allergy to rebounds has been countered by Gerald's overwhelming desire for them; Tyson's struggles have given Nazr a chance to shine – and because Nazr has performed so well, Tyson's problems have not been the issue they otherwise would be. So, the Least Meritorious Player becomes players, and this triumvirate of let-down gets their due.
Having mentioned Nazr twice, this last award I want to bestow will be no surprise: Pleasant Surprise of the 1st Quarter goes to Nazr Mohammed. Nazr's PER has tripled from last year, from 7.7 to 23.4 – that number won't last the entire season, but his strong play has helped the Bobcats stay afloat in the early season. I would have never guessed after last season he would have 2 Meritorious Player awards this entire season, let alone through 20+ games, but Nazr has been great. 7+ points and 4+ rebounds in just 14 minutes a game, Nazr is earning his time and his money this season.
Did I leave someone out? Is Ronald Murray a bigger disappointment so far than the guys I mentioned? Should Raymond have gotten the nod over Gerald? I would like to hear your thoughts, so weigh in.