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Midway Point – 10 Observations

The Bobcats eclipsed the midway point of the season last night, losing to the Atlanta Hawks for the fourth occasion in as many contests. Through 42 games, the team stands at 10-32. Depending on your expectations, this season has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise, pretty much as expected, or a frustrating disappointment. Given their win total to date is not far off the pace many of us forecasted before the season, I would place myself in the “pretty much as expected” group. Although the team has only won 10 games, some positive developments have arisen over the first two and half months of the season. Of course, when you’ve lost 32 there is room for improvement as well. Let’s take a look at ten things to like and dislike about the Bobcats’ season so far.

Things to Like

1. Kemba becomes the lead dog (or Cat)

Every successful team needs an alpha male and Kemba has undoubtedly become just that for the Bobcats. He’s increased his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) from 14.99 last season to 19.44, a substantial jump that is due in large part to his improved ability to get to and finish at the rim (FGA at the rim up to 5.0 from 2.7 in 2011-12). The work he has done on his 3-point shot has yielded favorable results as well. But it’s about more than the stat sheet. Kemba asserts himself on the court as a leader and it unquestionably goes back to training camp when Coach Dunlap sat him down and told him he was his guy. Kemba has taken the ball and run (or dribbled) ever since.

2. Bobcats get the right guy at number 2 with MKG

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had talent. Everyone acknowledged this. But it was unrefined talent. In a state where basketball coverage is dominated by Tobacco Road, it would’ve been easy for Jordan and Co. to select Harrison Barnes, a more polished offensive talent with arguably just as high an upside. Bobcats’ fans should be glad they didn’t. MKG has shown glimpses of stardom, particularly on the defensive end. And much like Kemba, he is a leader – if not always vocally – whose motor never shuts off. As I touched upon in our ROY discussion, MKG’s first-year contributions stack up well against a number of other players whose initial impacts were felt more often on the defensive end of the floor. Here’s to hoping he develops the type of offensive game many on the aforementioned list possess(ed). At nineteen years old, he certainly has plenty of time to get there.

3. Bobcats score a bargain in Ramon Sessions

Rajon Rondo. Deron Williams. Monta Ellis. All players Ramon has outperformed this season according to PER, and at a much more affordable price. Whether the Bobcats elect to hang on to Sessions for the remainder of the season (or his contract) is another question. It may be time for the Bobcats to sell high on Sessions and recoup some assets that can help them win beyond the 2013-14 season.

4. The young fellas play well together

Per NBA.com, some of the team’s most effective offensive, defensive, and overall 2 man lineup combinations consist of the Bobcats’ youngest players. The Bobcats’ best overall 2 man pairing is Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Taylor, who’ve posted a +1.2 point differential (per 100 possessions) over 354 minutes on the court together. Biyombo is also present for the Bobcats’ most effective offensive duo, this time alongside Byron Mullens. The combination has posted an Offensive Efficiency of 109.0 during 308 minutes of play. Not surprisingly, two Cats’ rookies make up the team’s best defensive pairing as well, as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor have posted a Defensive Efficiency of 99.7 so far this season in 444 minutes. All positive signs for a team which hopes to build around the youth on its roster.

5. Coach Dunlap

For all the comparisons to James Bond or any other sharp-dressed stealth-looking individual, the first-year coach of the Bobcats has done a fine job. After the 7-5 start, national media members were all but set to award him the NBA Coach of the Year Award. Going 3-27 since that point has cooled any talk of that, but what hasn’t stopped is the team’s effort on the court. The Bobcats have been outmanned on most nights, but they have continued to play hard. There’s something to be said for that. There’s also something to be said for the fact that nothing has made its way from the locker room to the media, which is rare for a team that has won less than 25% of its games. That is a testament to his leadership and the level of respect he has already garnered from the team.

Things to Dislike

1. The Bobcats are the worst

According to point differential per 100 possessions, at least. Per NBA.com, the Bobcats are 30th in the League at -9.3 points, trailing the Cavs by 1.7 points per 100 possessions. The Bobcats’ biggest problem is defense, as they rank 29th in Defensive Efficiency at 108.2 and 5.8 points off the League average.

2. Byron Mullens is a terrible basketball player

For now, at least. Feast on these factoids:
– The Bobcats perform worse offensively (Offensive Efficiency of 97.5 vs. 99.9 on/off the court) as well as defensively (112.2 vs. 105.2) when Mullens is on the court.
– Opponent Field Goal Percentage is 4.5% higher when Mullens is on the court (54.1% vs. 49.6%).
– His True Shooting Percentage of 45.5% ranks behind only the slumping Roy Hibbert among qualifying Centers while fourth lowest among all Forwards (63 qualifying at 20 games played and 20+ MPG).
– He is shooting 30.3% from 3-point range and taking 5.2 attempts per 36 minutes, doubly inefficient in terms of Effective Field Goal Percentage (45.5% versus 47.3% in 2011-12) as well as Offensive Rebounding Rate (6.1% vs. 7.3%).

3. Bismack Biyombo is progressing slowly

Biyombo has become less assertive on offense (Usage of 10.6% vs. 13.1% as well as 5.7 FGA per 36 minutes vs. 6.9 last season) in his second campaign, which is disconcerting for a player with Bismack’s talent. His biggest problem is that he still doesn’t understand how to position himself on the court and move without the ball. His hands clearly need more work as well. He may never develop the mid-range jump shot of Serge Ibaka or even transform his post game to the point where you feel semi-comfortable giving it to him on the block, but he has to improve his ability to convert around the rim (shooting 54.8% at the rim this season, 2nd lowest among qualifying PF’s) after coming down with an offensive rebound or after receiving a pass on the doorstep.

4. Tyrus Thomas is officially a lost cause

After returning from injury, Thomas logged respectable minutes in his first four contests, even starting a pair of games for the Bobcats. However, beginning with the January 12th loss to the Indiana Pacers, Thomas was slapped with a DNP-CD in four of six contests, combining for just 12 minutes in the two games he managed to see the floor. Spencer has championed the cause to amnesty Thomas, and I think it’s inevitable that it finally happens this off-season.

5. 2013 NBA Draft class appears weak

Not what you want to hear when you’re a team looking at picking in the top five once again. According to ESPN’s Chad Ford, there are a handful of players that could go first overall as there is no consensus top pick. Therefore, the pick will more than likely come down to team need. In his latest article (Insider only, sorry folks), Ford focused on the Bobcats’ draft needs and who likely would and would not be a good fit for the team should they land the first overall pick. Among those he views as good fits – Ben McLemore of Kansas, Alex Len of Maryland, and Anthony Bennett of UNLV. Not so good – Nerlens Noel of Kentucky, Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA, and Cody Zeller of Indiana. According to League sources, Ford says the Bobcats are very high on UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, who he considers an NBA-ready product who can produce right out of the gate. He even goes as far as to compare him to Charlotte Hornet legend Larry Johnson. If that ends up being the case, I would have to slide this into the “Things to Like” category.