Bobcats Chronicles

How a young NBA franchise gets it going

Bobcats at the Halfway Mark, Part 1

Posted by Sup on January 28, 2010

Since I started this only about a week ago, I missed all the season preview writing and such. But in order to talk about this season, you have to discuss a little bit of last season and the offseason.

In 2009, the Bobcats made their actual legitimate run to get into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The early season trade of Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley to the Suns for Boris Diaw and Raja Bell brought a visible change to the team. Diaw in particular brought actual ball movement in the half court set, with his unorthodox play at the power forward spot. Raja Bell was the strong perimeter defender at the guard spot that  Richardson was not, even with the decrease in scoring. The managed a nice little 5 game winning streak at one point, and were the dark horse for the eighth spot.

That’s when the injuries started. Gerald Wallace suffered a partially collapsed lung and broken rib against the Lakers January 28. The most serious injury came when Raja Bell endured a pulled groin and then popped his calf, effectively ending the playoff talk for the season.

Preseason talk as all about the Tyson Chandler/Emeka Okafor swap. Though it wasn’t roundly criticized, it was questioned: Okafor’s career scoring numbers were a full 5 points better than Chandler, they were fairly even in defensive capabilities, and Chandler was coming off a serious ankle surgery. Outside observers were quick to point out this move was made to stay out of luxury tax range, and seemed to be the only way to do so while retaining some semblance of a center. The uncertainty around the move and the lack of a real power forward to complement Diaw’s more finesse oriented game led most prognosticators to put the Bobcats no higher than 4th position in the Southeast division, only ahead of the Washington Wizards.

The preseason and early part of the regular season seemed to bear this early ranking out. Chandler remained hurt and unable to play for a few games in, and when he did return, he was woefully out of shape and out of sync with the team. Gerald Wallace was incredibly shooting 31 percent from the field over his first 10 games, a victim of being asked to be the team’s primary scoring threat in the post as well as its best perimeter defender and rebounder. Bell’s injured wrist impaired his play, and was told he needed surgery that could keep him out 4 or more months. Raymond Felton looked like he had taken several steps back after a tumultuous summer in which he signed a one year tender to stay with the team instead of test the free agent market in a down year.

D.J. Augustin looked equally lost, leaving the point guard position as weak as ever. Flip Murry took a few games to come back from a shin injury before being able to provide some semblance of an offensive threat. The bigs rotation outside of Chandler were also struggling, with Diaw also recovering from a serious ankle sprain over the summer, and Gana Diop being Gana Diop. Nazr Mohammed was the only frontcourt bright spot, a nice surprise after a very disappointing 08-09 campaign. A season that looked like it could be the next forward step in the development of the franchise opened with a 92-59 demolition by the Boston Celtics, and a 3-6 record overall. They were defending, but were also last in the league in scoring by a wide margin, and Larry Brown was growing more and more frustrated.

It was obvious something had to change.

On November 16, the Bobcats made the deal that turned the fate of the season around. They traded Bell and Vlad Radmonovic to the Golden State Warriors for combustible 6′ 8″ guard/forward Stephen Jackson and throw-in Acie Law. Jackson had been complaining about the Warriors lack of commitment to winning, and had openly defied coach Don Nelson on the bench. He wanted out, and to a winner, like Cleveland or San Antonio. In what looked at the time to be the ultimate slap in the face to Jackson, the Warriors instead dealt him to a team that seemed to be vying with the New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves for worst in the league for a guy who looked like he would be out for the season in Bell and a hybrid forward the Warriors’ roster looked like it had little use for. In other words, for nothing.

I remember the day of the trade, I actually yelled out “WHAT????” It was a pure desperation move, one a team with no hope and no direction would make. My friends and my wife would tell you I said it looks like the Bobcats have no plan. Visions of “The Malice at the Palace” wafted through my brain. Larry Brown was THERE. How could they take that chance? There were also questions about Jackson’s ability to defend shooting guards at his height, as opposed to his normal small forward position. And how could he possibly mesh with the much more laid back personalities on this team?

I was wrong. At least so far.

As I talked about in the previous post, Jackson has been better than advertised. The team changed focus and direction as Jackson found his footing with the team. There was a negative repercussion as well; Boris Diaw seemed to fall off the face of the earth, being deprived of his secondary role as a ball handler and primary passer (but I don’t think Jackson was the only reason here).  But the results are hard to argue with: 19-16 since Jackson’s arrival, and fighting not only for the eight spot, but potentially as high as the five. Their defensive efficiency is number 1 in the league. They have compiled an 18-5 record at home, better than the Celtics or Mavericks, both leading their respective divisions. They have crushed good teams at the Cable Box, beating the Heat, Nuggets and Spurs convincingly, and pushed the Orlando Magic into an overtime they had no business being in. And everyone on the roster (save Law) have had their moment to shine, either offensively or defensively.

Individually, there are a lot of bright spots. Jackson hasn’t scored in the single digits since he arrived, and leads the team at 21.1 per game. Wallace briefly led the league in rebounding, and though he has slacked off recently due to a tweaked ankle and the fact the team is shooting better, he still remains in the top 10, and is among the most versatile players in the league. Felton has found his inner clutch scorer, and can be counted on for big buckets when the clock is winding down at the end of the game. His defense has been generally outstanding.  Murray has the look of a very good first scorer off the bench, and even Diaw has shown signs of life in the last 5 games, giving the Bobcats another offensive weapon.

The road problems continue: 4-17 as of this writing after a loss at Denver and a win at Phoenix (for the first time in franchise history) on the current 6 game roadie out west. Too frequently, the confidence and spark the Bobcats play with at home completely disappears on the road. And the last few games, they have shown a marked weakness to three point shooting by their opponents. On an individual level, D.J. Augustin still is very up and down, and looks uncertain how to make an impact if his shot isn’t falling. Gana Diop has had his moments, but he’s still taking up a lot of cap room for not much production. Rookies Gerald Henderson and Derrick Brown have gotten a few minutes, with Brown making more of his. Henderson is stuck behind a lot of players at his position, and must bide his time. And yeah….Tyson Chandler. Hurm.

But they are currently 22-22, the latest into a season they have ever been at or above .500. If this team had any of the heart of the city of Charlotte, there would be some buzz. They play like winners most of the time and have a chance to be playoff bound, barring injury and indifference. And honestly, no one thought this would be the case. I’ll take it.

Player by player review in part 2.

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