With some much wrong with the offense, you probably expect me to rip apart the defense of the Bobcats in a comparable manner. Trust me, I would if I needed to. But, if there was a glimmer of hope that came from this preseason, it was because of the Bobcats defense. It was, well, good.
The Bobcats allowed only 103.5 points per 100 possessions this preseason. Last season, that number was 109.4, good for 20th in the NBA (103.5 would have put them 5th overall, just for reference). An improvement of nearly 6 points per 100 poss, not shabby. However, someone wanting to play devil's advocate may point out that this was the preseason and that number was probably boosted by playing against scrubs. There is some validity to that point, as long as you also consider that the Bobcats bench played minutes too, giving less resistance on defence, perhaps?
To get around this issue of quality of competition, I want to point out that the starters (Felton, Richardson, Wallace, May, and Okafor) played significantly more minutes together than any other group, over 71 minutes this preseason. During that time, they allowed only 102.8 points per 100 possessions – even better than the team's cummulative number. Against their opponents' starters, they allowed 93.1 points per 100 poss – that does include the Lakers starting lineup when Kobe missed the game. If you exclude the final Laker game, it goes up to 98.4, which is still ridiculously good. So, the starters's defensive efficiency was very good, however you disect it.
Now I would like to go back to the team as a whole and identify some of the key areas that allowed them to be so successful on the defensive end of the court. In no particular order:
Their opponents wasted possessions – with some assistance from the Bobcats. Charlotte forced turnovers at a very high rate: 17.8% of opponent possessions ended in a turnover. That is significantly better than last year, when that number was 13.4%. Again you might ask, what about the quality of the opponents? Well, all I can say is that the starters were better than the scrubs, forcing turnovers 19.9% of possessions. Ugly basketball to watch, but it does help keep scoring down.
It was a block party. When their opponents did manage to get a shot off, the Bobcats sent more into the seats than last year. 7.6% of their opponents' attempts were blocked this preseason, up from 6.0% last year. More blocks leads to…
Lower shooting percentages. Part of being a fairly poor defensive team last year was allowing the competition to make their shots, to the tune of 46.6% shooting. In the precursor to the season games, the Bobcats allowed 45.0%. That is the difference of one fewer made baskets per game and 2+ points off their defensive efficiency.
Gerald Wallace contributed more. I am hestitant to single out an individual player, but the numbers make a case for Gerald having a large part in the defensive resurgence. His defensive rebound rate was up nearly 25% from last season, going from 15.3% to 19.2% and his block rate increased by over 40%, from 1.9 to 2.7. His per 40 minute numbers: 9.8 total rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.5 blocks. If he carries that into the regular season, he could push Jason Richardson to be the franchise's first All-Star.
One area of concern: Overall, the team is still weak on the defensive glass, grabbing only 69.4% of available rebounds. It is particularly pronounced with Sean May on the court, as the number dropped to 64.5%. Not too surprising that the team struggled to clear the glass when your power forward is grabbing more opponents than rebounds. For the team to continue to improve defensively, shoring up the boards is going to have to be a focus.
Bobcats Preseason 08-09, Offense Reviewed – A look at the Bobcats offensive struggles in the preseason