This off-season has been a fairly standard for one for the Bobcats in one facet: Change. As a team, the Bobcats have dealt with roster turnover quite regularly for the last couple of seasons. This summer was no different, as two starters from last off-season are no longer with the franchise. I am talking about Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, two players who helped forge the Bobcats' defensive mindset and aptitude last season and helped lead the team to a league best defensive efficiency mark. Yes, they're gone – and the Bobcats are going to be different.
Today I want to look at the impact of losing Tyson Chandler and some of the things the Bobcats may be able to do to offset his departure. Even during the course of last season, it was obvious what an impact Chandler had on the Bobcats team defense, which can be reviewed here: Tyson's Defensive Impact. That stretch during the middle of the season was a trying time for the Bobcats and it was largely due to their inability to overcome Tyson's absence defensively. The Cats slipped in the defensive rankings during that time, but when Tyson returned it was enough to catapult Charlotte back to the top in defensive efficiency. There will be no such return this year – Nazr Mohammed, Kwame Brown, and DeSagana Diop will be the centers on the roster on opening night, barring a trade (which almost goes without saying with the Bobcats, but nonetheless).
Of those three 5's, Nazr will be getting the bulk of the minutes, as long as his health allows. And while that would seem to improve things for Charlotte – well, looks can be deceiving. Last year, Nazr and Tyson played somewhat similar minutes with the other starters – Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw. Here are their respective results:
|Time With Starters||Offensive Eff||Defensive Eff|
Nothing in that table can be construed as good news for the Bobcats – the team fared 10 points worse defensively with Nazr replacing Tyson, and 11 points worse overall. That expected bump in offensive output didn't even occur. The interesting thing is that when you look at Nazr's individual defensive numbers, you do not see a cause for concern. Nazr held his man to a PER of over 0.5 points better than expected – not great, but solid. However, the team defense took a significant hit – when Nazr was on the court last season, overall the Cats allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions – without him, 100.8 (these numbers include the postseason).
It is clear that while Nazr's individual defense was passable – the team was very different as a whole with him on the court. The Bobcats aggressive man to man defense and the NBA as a whole's reliance on the pick and roll necessitate a big man who can move his move his feet and deter a driving opponent – Tyson is built for that kind of defense and Nazr is, well, less so.
Can the Bobcats not be successful with Nazr on the court? Give Larry Brown time and I am sure they can be. Last year's defense was planned around Tyson occupying the middle (which happened less than they would have liked due to injury). A slightly different defensive philosophy that accounts for Nazr's presence can be surely found – it may not be as successful, but it seems unlikely the Bobcats go from a league best defensive team to a league worst on the strength of one man. What that change might be, I do not pretend to know – Larry Brown, as the cliche goes, has forgotten more basketball than I have learned.
But I do have one thought – maybe we see a bit more of Boris Diaw in the middle this season. Boris played 751 minutes last season as the Bobcats center – and they thrived during that time. The team posted an offensive efficiency of 108.6 while allowing a mark of just 93.7. Is that a viable full-time strategy? No – against most team's starting centers, Boris would be in foul trouble in just a few minutes and the Bobcats would be handcuffed the rest of the night. But when Boris can be lined up against guys like – well, rather than provide bulletin board fodder, let me just say against less offensively minded (and capable) backups, the Bobcats can take advantage of Boris' strong base and defensive savvy.
And rather than going very small with Gerald shifting to the 4 when Boris is at the 5, keep the wings on the wing and pair Boris in the post with the Bobcats' recently re-signed power forward, Tyrus Thomas. The duo spent just 218 minutes on the court together last year during the regular season – but the team was certainly better for it. 107.4 points per 100 possessions for the Bobcats and just 91.8 points per against – limited minutes and all, but nothing to scoff at -and certainly fun to watch two very distinct players utilize their talents. Tyrus and his high-flying, backboard slapping help defense and Boris showing well on screens, managing switches onto just about anyone when necessary, and still forcing a difficult shot. It could provide a few minutes a night of a different defensive look for the Bobcats – and there is at least some reason to think it might be successful.
While Tyson Chandler is not Dwight Howard, he was still a very influential player on the defensive end. The Bobcats will have to take steps to seal up their defense with their ever-evolving team. Boris at the 5 is not the full-time answer – but based on last season's results, neither is Nazr. The team's defense certainly bears watching in the early going – because as it goes, so goes this team. The center is the last hope on defense, the linchpin – and the next time the team defense is discussed, the focus will be on the starting point, the first line of defense – the point guard and the change from Raymond Felton to D.J. Augustin/Shaun Livingston.