These are not your father’s Charlotte Bobcats. Well, your father’s Bobcats did not exist last generation, but these certainly are not last year’s historically woeful Cats.
In a lockout shortened 2011-12 campaign, the Bobcats managed only 7 wins in 66 games for a .106 winning percentage, the worst in NBA history, that included dropping their final 23 games. This season, they have already tallied 6 wins in their first 10 games and look to match their win total from last season at home against the Atlanta Hawks.
Last season, no Bobcat posted a PER of above 15, suggesting the entire roster consisted of below average NBA players. This season, 4 players are above that mark of those with at least 8 games of 10 possible played and 24 minutes a game: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon. In the offseason, the Bobcats let 32 year NBA head coach and former player Paul Silas go and brought in younger but still experienced Mike Dunlap to help communicate to the young players and wash the hands of the dreadful past.
The Cats are led by second year star-in-the-making Kemba Walker, who is averaging 18.8 points per game and 5.5 assists in 36.9 minutes per game this season. His defense has also improved in this short NBA season, stealing the ball 2.4 times per game.
#2 overall 2012 draft pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, coming off a championship season with the Kentucky Wildcats, has come on strong, boasting the highest True Shooting Percentage (.558) on the team and more than replacing the role of one-dimensional slasher Corey Maggette.
Offensively, the Bobcats struggled mightily shooting from long range, ranking last in three point percentage at a paltry 29.5% clip. In effort to bring in more outside shooting, General Manager Rich Cho flipped Corey Maggette for the dead eye Ben Gordon. Both are on somewhat onerous contracts, with Gordon having a player option in 2013 that he will almost certainly pick up as opposed to Maggette’s free agency.
Ben Gordon has responded with a decent year, helping space the Bobcats offense that had poor spacing a year ago. Along side fellow Connecticut Husky, he has even taken to facilitating more, posting his highest assist percentage and assists per 36 minutes in his 9 year career.
Last year, the Bobcats accomplished an incredibly pathetic feat: finishing last in offensive (92.9) and defensive efficiency (107.8). This year, Coach Dunlap has helped the team shore up both accounts, posting 98.9 and 101.9 respectively. There were many reasons for this embarrassing mark last season and its subsequent improvement this season, but the most glaring of these resides at the hoop.
Charlotte gave up the most attempts at the rim, 30.8 per game, last year. The shot amount difference between the 30th ranked Cats and 29th Oklahoma City was equal to the distance between the Thunder and the 14th ranked Pistons, for comparison. Though Dunlap’s group has still given up 29.4 attempts at the rim thus far, for second most in the league this season, their mark has fallen back to the back to the pack at least. This is partly due to stiffer resistance from the small forward position, manned by rookies MKG and 31st overall pick Jeff Taylor, second year Bismack Biyombo growing more into his defensive rim-stopper role, and picking up veteran center Brendan Haywood cheaply on the waiver wire.
Offensive rebounding is another area that has improved greatly. Last season for the Bobcats, only two players had Offensive Rebound Rates, the percentage of offensive rebounds grabbed for all that were available, above 8%, DeSagana Diop (11.2%) and Bismack Biyombo (8.6%). The league average is around 5.5% every year across all positions and about 8% for forwards and centers. This season, four Bobcats are above that mark, including three above 10%: Biyombo, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Haywood. As a team, they have jumped from 27th in the league last year to 6th so far this year.
This makes it imperative that Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Ivan Johnson hit the defensive glass against a larger Charlotte frontline, that may see 6’9” Hakim Warrick at the 3 and stretch center Byron Mullens at the 4. On the flip side, the Cats come in dead last in defensive rebounding rate, so tonight may be a chance to improve on the Hawks ranking of 24th in offensive rebounding rate.
Despite their improvements in longer range shooting, Charlotte still trails the league in three point percentage. This seems like a mismatch against the Hawks’ third ranked 3 point defense and an area the Hawks can exploit on both ends behind the arc. Also, should Larry Drew decide to deploy a big lineup with Josh Smith at the small forward, Smoove should look to improve on his puny .433 eFG% by staying in the post against the overmatched rookie small forwards.
The game will be won on the glass and through the play of the point guards: Jeff Teague, Devin Harris and Lou Williams versus Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions. Sessions, like Lou Williams, has not recorded a start this season, but possesses the second most points on the team beyond Walker.
Do not be fooled by last year’s team. This incarnation of the Bobcats is very formidable.
*All stats per Hoopdata.com and Basketball-reference.com