Outside view of Bobcat revamp « Queen City Hoops

Outside view of Bobcat revamp

Alec Lepage is a 30-something sports writer and blogger in Denver who got his start covering high school football. He has contributed to multiple sports blogs, and covers the NFL and NBA for Dish.

At a glance, the Bobcat’s roster looks like something out of a sports movie. It’s ragtag. It’s like something out of The Replacements. You could even argue it is the replacements. There’s a guy from the Congo with arms so long they can’t find a suit for him. There are players with birth dates in the 70s and in the 90s. There’s a Swede; guys who went undrafted; a jamaican with a British accent. There are nearly two lineups full of players from powerhouse programs (UConn, UNC, Duke, Kentucky…), as well as international, straight from high school and 2nd rounders filling the roster. Nothing about it really makes sense.

Yes, there isn’t much traditional about it. This isn’t a newsflash or anything. Jordan has taken plenty flack for the team(s) he’s put together — or not put together (however you want to look at it). He’s been accused of pandering to local North Carolinians with picks from local college teams that don’t make sense, or for picking “winners” as though he sees himself in them, regardless of position or roster needs. (And although Kemba Walker is no doubt a “winner” — it’s safe to say from his (editor’s note – alleged? – please don’t sue me) gambling hijinks, Jordan’s never been one to pick winners).

This criticism is warranted; it won’t be rehashed here. The results have been up and down — in the sense that even the worst stock in Nasdaq occasionally goes up and down. Just over a year ago the ‘Cats racked up the lowest win% in league history.
The bottom line is that the national media continues to demand some measure of traditional basketball play from the lineup (to Jordan’s credit according to traditionalists, Al Jefferson’s signing was a positive step). The lesson from a Public Relations point-of-view for any GM is obvious: if you’re going to do things different, or unconventional, you better win — it’s OK to be bad as long as you’re doing things the way we all expect.

Jordan has done things different.

Of course, there have been intriguing bursts of success in MJ’s tenure. Let’s not forget the playoff bout behind Raymond Felton’s lead in 2010. Let’s not forget the aforementioned Al Jefferson signing, or the still apparent good call on Kemba’s drafting. And most importantly, let’s not forget that the ‘Cats are currently sitting at 6th in the Eastern Conference, and should have their sights set on a 6th to 8th place finish (editor’s note – currently in 6th, but only 2.5 games up on 13th. Depending on your perspective on goals for this season, those extremes represent desired outcomes).

Yes. Playoffs. And yes, there is still nothing traditional about the Bobcats roster, or starting lineup, or rotations, or general play. But this seems to be the trend in the league, which is moving faster and faster away from the classic 80s set up with lumbering centers and six-foot, pass-first point guards.

Just look at the two-time defending champs, who run their offense through a 6’8 small forward, and who often guard opposing centers with that same player. Or just look at the Thunder’s rapid rise to fame, on the backs of a 6’10 shooting guard (Durant) and 6’3 shooting guard (Westbrook) who plays point guard for some reason. Heck, the Spurs started three small forwards and a shoot-first point guard in Game 7 of the NBA Finals just six months ago.

We all know what traditional scouts and old-timer writers want to see: conventional 1 through 5 positions and generally well-rounded players. And it’s no secret every college basketball fan in the country thinks players are drafted based on how good they are at all different aspects of the game. But the trend in the league is quite obviously the opposite. Like the NFL (but with the opposite effect), the NBA has become so phenomenally athletic that successful teams have to find guys who can fill specific roles, not positions.
The most clear proof of this is all-american college players who come into the league with fantastic skills, but no elite skill to set them apart (these are the Adam Morrison’s of the NBA).

Long story short, instead of looking for a prototypical power forward, teams might just look for guys who can block and rebound. Instead of looking for traditional small forwards, GMs want a wing who can score, and a wing who can guard plus shoot three-pointers. And coaches just want a point guard who can direct the offense, even if he’s too tall (or short) to guard anyone on the other end.

It’s weird to think of basketball players in terms of fill roles, not positions, but that’s where we’re headed. There’s nothing wrong with being well-rounded (LeBron, Chris Paul, Kobe), but that’s reserved for the cream of the crop these days. In this new age of basketball, guys who can do literally only one thing are phenomenally valuable as long as they can do it well. Just look at Steve Novak, Chris Birdman Andersen, and John Henson.

With that said, here are a few examples of some of those principles at work in Charlotte:
Kemba Walker — It all starts here. Walker isn’t a pure point guard, and has never been sold as one. He’s a combo guard, a bit undersized, and is going to find it hard to ever be a factor on the defensive end of the court. But it doesn’t matter. He’s a playmaker. Period. And Walker also has that unspoken alpha dog mentality when it comes to scoring — every team needs that even if they’re not six feet tall.

Bismack Biyombo — Jordan was denigrated mercilessly for this pick, but it’s looking more and more like Bismack will be a solid rotational player. And remember, MJ was killed for picking someone with a very limited skill set, but that’s the whole point in today’s new NBA. Bismack doesn’t need to fill a total position, just a role: block shots, rebound, make people fear the rim. He’s proven to be able to do all of those things, even if he never learns to shoot. Did Tyson Chandler ever learn to shoot? No, and neither did his Defensive POY Award.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — The Bobcats management no doubt want to see MKG turn into the wing-defender/stretch-shooter role that is everywhere on good teams these days (Battier, Sefolosha, Leonard, Green). And while the shooting may never come, seemingly leaving him without an old-school position, a player with the athleticism and motor of MKG is ultra-valuable in today’s league. In the 1980s, he would have been passed on for his broken jump shot. Today? You have to have guys like this who can guard 1 through 3 on the court, can get rebounds, and can score with tenacity where talent lacks.

Ben Gordon — Well past his prime, Gordon remains the same combo-ish guard he’s always been. There’s not a single pure point guard on the ‘Cats roster, but until Chris Paul makes it past the second round of the playoffs, there doesn’t seem to be much proof anymore that you need one.

Ramon Sessions — Same as Gordon and Walker. Sessions has never been billed as a pure point guard, and never will be. But the least of the Bobcats worries right now is their point guard play.

Of course that isn’t an exhaustive look at the unconventional means at play in the Queen City right now, perhaps we’ll touch on the rest of the roster and gameplay in the next column. But the point is obvious: Jordan hasn’t perfected the formula yet, but at least he’s progressive enough to see what’s coming in the league. He isn’t sitting on his hands. There might be nothing conventional about the Bobcats right now, but there isn’t much conventional about any good team in the league other than San Antonio.

So it isn’t working right now. That’s fine. But things are looking up in Charlotte, and doing things the old way, just because it’s the way it’s always been done, has never been a good plan for anything. Let’s wait for MJ to finish playing this hand.

7 comments to Outside view of Bobcat revamp

  • charlottean

    adam morrison had an elite ability to score the ball AT THE NBA LEVEL problem was……he never got a chance after the injury. NOBODY REMEMBERS THAT. ever. everybody acts like the dude couldn’t play and that’s why he disappeared. no……he got hurt…….and larry brown hated him. and the lakers were contenders who didn’t need a 24 year old who just got ruined by larry brown.

    the editor’s notes were def needed in this piece.

    what was said about biz is spot on – but let’s note that the dude is leading the team in PPP right now. and closely behind jefferson in almost every impactful metric. and i’m not talking about the ones like offensive rating where a guy can be on the floor while others succeed and get inflated ratings.

    dude is turning the ball over and using less possessions and shots to score INSANELY more efficiently than he did his first 2 seasons. and he’s rebounding has increased significantly as well. at age 21….he looks like a helluva 7 pick in THAT draft. he holds way more value than kemba who is completely replaceable by plenty of guys. nate robinson is a better version.

  • connor

    charlottean:

    morrison couldnt defend at the NBA level and that was a big problem.

    you really would rather have nate robinson over kemba walker? did i read that right?

    are you sure biyombo is 21?

    Great article though. im terrified that jordan might be shopping MKG… you don’t get tony allen types on the defensive end that easily.

  • charlottean

    al jefferson can’t defend at an nba level. andrea bargani can’t defend at an nba level. i’m not saying morrison would have been lebron, no doubt he was NOT THAT. but he could have been a 28+ ppg game in this league.

    i wouldn’t rather have nate robinson than kemba. nate robinson is turning 30 in may. nate robinson single handedly willed the bulls to the playoffs without rose last year, beat an incredibly deep brooklyn team (when they used to be decent) and beat miami in a game 1 and made game 3 and 5 VERY interesting. noah was hurting, deng was out, it was dude, boozer, butler, belinelli and gibson against MIAMI. dude balled. he doesn’t get enough credit. he’s playing well for denver. he scores at a far more efficient rate than kemba has thus far. he has all of the balls kemba does, but with more effectiveness on his resume. but yeah i’d rather have kemba for his age, and defense, and hopes that his shooting improves.

    i’m not SURE that anyone is what they say they are (regarding biyombo). but if you’ve seen him out and about with his brothers…….they don’t look like father and son, they look like brothers. and those dudes look like they’re teenagers. and as much as an african birth certificate can be suspicious (nowhere near as bad as dominican) the guys parents are professionals and politicians…..highly unlikely that dude could have made the nba without the entire country knowing if he was older.

    how many 7 footers you know with his athleticism that scouts don’t find by the time they’re 16? you think dude was 25 when he went to yemen?

    in addition to that…..i don’t think cho would bet his career on a guy as his 1st pick with the bobcats if he didn’t believe in the bone density testing and what not. FBI cleared the guy too so i mean…..more evidence to the side of 21 than otherwise. but i mean…..obama was born in kenya right?

    everyone comparing MKG to tony allen is disrespectful to MKG. tony allen became the player he is when he was in his last year at boston/1st year in memphis. dude was 28-29 then. mkg is 20 and he’s already THAT guy. MKG is WAY BETTER than tony allen. and I too fear the idea that a trade is going to happen this year.

  • connor

    al jefferson cannot play NBA level defense. andrea can some nights, i’ve seen it before. most of the time he doesnt though. i dont really know how to respond to the idea that morrison could have averaged 30 ppg in the league. i dont think so but i guess we’ll never know.

    nate has had stretches of brilliance but has mostly benefitted from playing on good teams that let him score efficiently. he came off the bench for 80% of the games in his career! the guy is playing against second units and the stats you are referencing are inflated. kemba hasnt had that opportunity yet but is just starting to adapt his game to become more efficient now that there are other offensive options but has been thrown into being a primary scoring option and a starter very quickly. kemba is already better than nate and in time nate robinson will be thought of as a shittier version of kemba.

    i didnt know all that about biyombo so sounds legit. who started that rumor anyway?

    MKG is basically tony allen right now which is an enormous compliment since he and MKG are the best on ball perimeter defenders in the league. the difference as you point out is that MKG has only started to realize his potential. but he is an elite talent and if we trade him away for omer asik or some stupid playoff push move i will be seriously pissed.

  • charlottean

    the rumor just comes with the territory. a lot of foreign prospects have an asterisk by the D.O.B. just because we as americans don’t trust foreign documentation for whatever reason. even though our FBI and CIA do background checks on everyone applying for visas and citizenship.

    agree on MKG, as for nate robinson……i don’t think the stats are all that inflated. He was the focal point as the 6th man on a lot of bad teams so you could argue that when he was in NYK, other teams keyed their entire defense on him. he was playing 30 mpg scoring 17 points per game. that all can’t come against 2nd units. and what he did in chicago last year was absolutely incredible. way more so than linsanity if we’re all looking at it objectively. he’s a career 36% 3 pt shooter to kemba’s 31.5%. that right there is basically the difference to me. kemba’s the better all around player and has time to improve, but robinson has just flat out shot the ball better in his career. and still maintained that irrational confidence in late game situations.

    on morrison, it’s purely hypothetical, but i mean the guy was scoring with ease in summer league and pre season going into his 2nd year when he got hurt. he came back and showed he could score in bunches off the bench with no regular minutes and larry brown putting him in horrible positions to score. he had a string of games in europe where he went so hard he thought the buzz was going to get him an nba offer and it didn’t because of the stigma attached to his name. he dominated summer league 2 years in a row before retiring. he got hurt, larry brown effed him, and nobody remembers any of that. they just think he sucked.

    his defense was bad. but his offense was dope. at WORST he was ben gordon in a small forward. that’s at worst. you don’t judge a guy right after an ACL tear, look at thomas davis right now. dude is one of the best linebackers in the NFL after 3 tears, but it took him a WHILE to get back to this level.

    easily the most frustrating thing I witnessed as a bobcats fan, along with the dampier trade.

    larry brown was asked in a training camp interview after like day 1 of practice what he thought of adam morrison. and dude responded something in the vein of “i don’t know, that hair cut doesn’t look like a ballplayer to me”…………morrison shows up the next day with the long hair buzzed down and they ask him again and he’s like “who’s talking about haircuts?” like he didn’t make the comment to begin with. dude just decided day 1 he didn’t like morrison. and that happens when you change coaches every year. he once said that matt carroll and adam morrison were the same player. in other words…..to larry brown, all white wing players are kyle korver.

  • NASTAR99

    FBI?

    Produce some FBI evidence, we’d love to see it.

  • charlottean

    apply for a work visa or residence in the US. good luck gaining approval with false identity and or any kind of criminal past elsewhere. I’m not saying people can’t get in the country because that’s obviously happening. I’m saying people gaining legal status as biz has done. like I said, the Dominicans have been known to falsify birth certificates for 14 year olds with some talent to say that they are actually 12. You can’t do that with a grown man and even those Dominicans get caught early on.