With 42 games down, we put our heads together to hash out the season so far.
1. Best Surprise: Let’s start with the positive. What’s been the most pleasant surprise for the Bobcats this season?
Brett: For me, it’s Kemba Walker’s improvement, far and away. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Bobcats selecting him where they did in the draft — I thought his stock had been elevated by late season play beyond what he warranted. But the undersized, shoot-first point guard is making it work in the NBA, and Kemba looks like a building block for the future, with his improved shot and decision making.
Mathew: Kemba’s 3-point shot. Through 42 games, Kemba is shooting 34.6% from behind the arc, a critical improvement that has led to much more efficient scoring this season. If only he could find a way to take a few more corner threes (5-13; 38.5%), as the stark majority have been of the less efficient above the break variety (48-139; 34.5%). Although, as the primary ball handler he’s always going to find himself taking a larger proportion of threes from above the break. It’s when he’s off the ball that he’ll be afforded the opportunity to position himself for more opportunities from the corners.
Spencer: The play of Kemba Walker — Kemba has raised his per game averages in just about every single category. +6.6% (43.2%) FG%, +4.1% (34.6%) 3PT%, +1.3 (5.7) APG, +5.6 (17.7) PPG.
Clearly, the improvement has taken place for Walker in his sophomore campaign. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that he has more scoring weapons surrounding him, and part of that is due to the fact that he’s learning and adapting to the NBA style of basketball.
The one aspect of Kemba’s game that still needs massive reconstruction is his ability (or lack there of) to make decisions at the rim. Kemba is shooting 52.1% in the restricted area, so his ability to finish near the rim is good, but it seems as if most of Kemba’s turnovers come from this area as well. Kemba has a knack to always leave his feet with no apparent plan when he gets deep into the lane, near the baseline. With an effective floater, or shooters spaced around the floor ready to fire, this could be a great tool for him. Problem is, many times he doesn’t seem to have a plan and ends up throwing a bad pass while stuck in the air against much taller defenders.
Enough of the negative though — Kemba has made huge strides and that’s a great sign for this franchise.
Greg: The others have touched on Kemba’s development, so I’ll point to the backcourt in general. Despite an unbalanced roster that leads to some awkward rotations, more or less every guard has lived up to expectations:
- Kemba made the leap that everyone was hoping for.
- Ramon Sessions has been terrific off the bench, and is pretty clearly the best free-agent signing the team has ever made.
- Ben Gordon, despite his inconsistent defense, has given the team the three-point shooting and bench scoring it desperately needed.
- Gerald Henderson has expanded his game, adding a three-point shot, and didn’t complain when demoted to a bench role.
- Jeff Taylor has played well for a second-rounder, providing a little versatility and shooting off the bench.
2. Biggest Disappointment: Like Mathew pointed out yesterday, we mostly saw the team’s struggles coming. What hasn’t played out like you thought?
Brett: Tyrus Thomas is the biggest disappointment for me, since I can still summon up memories of his strong play to start the 2010-11 season. At that point, the Bobcats looked like they had made a steal of a trade for Tyrus, as he was around a PER of 20 a month into the season.
But it’s been downhill ever since his injury that year. I had gotten my hopes up that a full offseason to recover from last year’s illness/injuries would bring back the Tyrus Thomas that rebounded respectably, blocked shots frequently, and attacked the basket more often than forcing jumpers. But that Tyrus has been nowhere to be found, so now Tyrus is found on the bench.
Mathew: Tyrus Thomas. Period. As I touched upon yesterday, I have to believe the team is finally done with him after this season. I would suggest moving him at all costs before the trade deadline, but I don’t see any way that’s happening with the size of his contract.
Spencer: The defensive execution. I thought that this team would improve drastically on defense. Coach Dunlap brought in an aggressive mentality on the defensive end and one that I thought would translate fairly well, granted this is a young team.
The defensive inefficiency can be blamed partly on the front office — signing Ramon Sessions and trading for Ben Gordon was never going to make this roster better defensively. Because the Bobcats depend on these two so much for offense, they both have to spend too much time being on the floor/sleepwalking defensively. Don’t get me wrong, Sessions has been quite a bargain for $5 million per year. But that doesn’t mask him being a serious liability defensively. Charlotte is currently 29th in the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed/100 possessions) at 108.2. The 28th-ranked team, Cleveland, is 1.7 PP 100 possessions better at 106.5.
Greg: Bismack Biyombo’s lack of development. Other than a marginal bump in his rebounds and minutes, we haven’t seen much growth from Biyombo from Year 1 to Year 2. He’s still turning the ball over at a very high rate, shows inconsistent awareness on defense, and is good for a few inexplicable plays a game. I don’t want to pick on Biz, since everyone knew he’d take a few years to develop, but a few signs of improvement would have been encouraging.
3. Play Coach: Mike Dunlap has done a decent job this year, considering the roster’s limitations. Is there anything you’d change about the overall gameplan or the rotation?
Brett: If I were the coach, I’d let the young guys (Bismack and MKG in particular) play through their mistakes and fouls a bit more. Let Bismack try to play one on one defense in the post — it will lead to nights where Al Jefferson makes him look foolish, but it will also lead to nights like last season, when Bismack Biyombo played Dwight Howard pretty much evenly. As for MKG, let him foul out of games a little early, to help him learn about which layups to concede.
Mathew: Overall, I think Coach Dunlap has done a very respectable job in his first year as an NBA head coach. For the most part, I’ve felt his juggling of the team’s rotations has been fine. The truth is, the sample size of results for his lineup combinations is still limited, so it’s difficult to fully evaluate many of his decisions until there’s more data available. When it comes to the gam eplan or tactical decisions, I’ll leave the analysis to the coach, Spencer.
Spencer: Coach Dunlap saw this team experience success at the beginning of the season playing a defensive style that had most around the NBA raising their eyebrows. That being said, many quickly figured out this over-helping style of defense that mimics a college philosophy, and began to make the Bobcats pay by spacing the floor and knocking down weak-side shots. The Bobcats are last in the league in defending shots that come from a pass out of a post-up. So, in short, when the ball is thrown in against the Cats and the defense helps/collapses, teams have figured out how to space the floor and beat Charlotte by making their scrambling defense pay.
I’d like to see MKG get more minutes at power forward. Individually, he’s been very good defending at that position, according to 82 Games
; opposing power forwards average a PER of 10.7 when matched up against Kidd-Gilchrist. The effect on the team is a little less clear, as he’s only spent a fraction of his minutes there in a number of different lineups. Finding out which matchups suit MKG best will be very important moving forward.
4. Play GM: Where does the roster need work? Is it worth it to try and make a major move before the deadline?
Brett: The frontcourt remains the glaring weakness of the club. This past draft landed two wings, in MKG and Jeffery Taylor, who look like contributors (and more in MKG’s case). The prior draft landed a starting point guard/instant offense off-the-bench sixth man in Kemba Walker (his size and slight bent towards looking for his own shot may be better suited for the second unit on a contending team).
But the bigs the Cats have brought in through the draft and draftishly (a second-round pick for Byron), Bismack Biyombo and Byron Mullens, have yielded mainly questions. Will Bismack develop enough offensively to be more than a backup, defensive-focused big man — will he be more than a Diop? Will Byron Mullens actually develop the shooting ability he apparently displays in practice to warrant all the jumpers he attempts? And will he learn enough defensive concepts and give the effort required to approach average at that end?
As it stands, combining the two would be a very intriguing player — but that would still leave a starting position open. And that’s what the Bobcats are looking to fill. If I was the GM, I’d be looking to fill it through the draft — though not necessarily directly. Continue to draft the best player available and use those assets down the road to get the big man needed, if he doesn’t come in the draft. Don’t say it can’t happen in trades — Zach Randolph, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol have all been traded at this point, with more possibly on the way for Pau/Dwight.
Mathew: Trade Sessions and Gordon for picks. Both would more than likely fetch a second-round pick, or possibly a first in the case of Sessions if a contender is desperate for a guy off the bench and is confident they’ll be picking in the back end of the first round. For all the criticism of Gordon and his defense, his inabilities on that end could be better masked on a stouter defensive team. He’s shooting 41.7% from downtown and there are always teams looking for shooting, particularly off the bench.
Spencer: I would like to see the Bobcats be a third-team facilitator in a trade that will involve some big names. This has a better chance of happening this season, presumably, because of the weak draft that approaches this summer. Dwight Howard is one of the names that could become hotter and hotter as the Feb. 21 deadline approaches. The Bobcats have a valuable expiring contract in Diop that they could potentially use to help a trade work financially and receive a first-round pick.
Greg: I think it’s pretty clear the frontcourt is the weak link on this roster. Jeff Adrien and Hakim Warrick have done decent jobs as mid-season pick-ups, but the lack of production there has been glaring. The top seven players in PER on the roster are all guards and wings; Byron Mullens, below average at 12.4, ranks as the best big man by that metric.
I wouldn’t necessarily go after a high-priced name like Josh Smith or Al Jefferson. A developing player on a rookie contract would mesh better with this team now and moving forward. While there aren’t too many of those around, one team has a surplus: the Houston Rockets. I’d be happy if they could pry away a player like Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris or Greg Smith without giving up too much. Ramon Sessions could be appealing to Houston, as he’d be a solid upgrade over Toney Douglas without mucking up their cap space too much.
5. Goals For The Final 40: What would you like to see from the Bobcats over the back half of the season?
Brett: With the Bobcats already locking up a better winning percentage than last year, my goals for the second half are relatively simple: Continue competing through the end of the season (I do not believe last year’s team did). And continue improving — that goes for both the players and the coaching staff.
I’d like to see marked improvement in Bismack’s defensive anticipation and excitedness — every pump fake won’t become a shot attempt. I’d like to see MKG improve his FG% on jumpers (without increasing them as a portion of his arsenal). And I’d like to see Dunlap’s defensive strategies continue to throw new wrinkles at the opposition, giving the Bobcats a chance when they’re undermanned talent-wise.
Mathew: Continue to compete and get better. The second half of the season is most likely going to be no easier than the first, so the team will have to persevere and continue to battle while being outmanned on most nights. You want to see this particularly from the young guys, as their approach to the game will forge the culture of the team moving forward.
Spencer: 10 more wins. I really want to see this team eclipse the 20-win mark and for no other reason than it simply tells me that some sort of improvement has been made.
Greg: A little more consistency. Wins are secondary right now, obviously, but I’d like to see the team remain competitive in more games. Right now, they have the league’s worst point differential at -8.3. The next worst is Washington, at -5.8. I’d like to see that trimmed by one or two points by the end of the year.
6. Midseason MVP(s): We’ll end with an easy one. Anyone picking a player other than Kemba?
Brett: Unlike the real MVP voting, no one is tired of voting for Kemba just yet, so we won’t have the issue facing LeBron this year. Kemba has been this year’s MVP and that’s a good sign for the team. If one of the veterans had come in and outperformed him, it would have been an indication that maybe there was even more rebuilding to do. But by taking over this team, Kemba has provided another reason for optimism as the Bobcats continue their turnaround.
Mathew: Nope. Kemba is the only right answer. You could get creative and make a case for Sessions, I suppose. But as I touched upon yesterday, Kemba has unequivocally become the team’s leader, as evidenced on the stat sheet as well as in the huddle. Kemba’s PER of 19.44 ranks eight among qualifying point guards, while his Adjusted PER (which takes into account assisted and unassisted baskets, with the assisted variety considered less valuable) of 20.96 comes in seventh. He’s been a very bright spot on a team that’s looking for them.
Greg: It’s Kemba, but I’ll play devil’s advocate and make a case for Sessions. Ramon actually leads the team in Win Share Per 48, and scores more per 36 at a higher true-shooting percentage than Walker. His size is what makes the team’s small-ball lineups possible, and a willingness to come off the bench shows his professionalism.
Kemba has probably been the team’s best player, but I doubt we would have seen the same improvement without Sessions taking some of the offensive pressure off of him.