Ah, a rather poor slate of games this Wednesday. Perfect time to catch up on a good book, sleep in early, or power up the old Netflix. Seriously. The Clippers travel to Boston in the Doc Rivers return game, Oklahoma City and Memphis would be fun if Memphis’ roster wasn’t resembling a medical ward, and if Anthony Davis was healthy, having him in the Pelicans host Andre Drummond and Detroit would be exciting. ESPN has Dallas-Golden State as the late game, but you’ll have to sit through Chicago-New York first.
Any who, I’m going with Orlando at Charlotte as our Game of the Night.
Thanks to a coaching change from Mike Dunlap to Steve Clifford, the Bobcats have made a major leap defensively, jumping from 30th in the league to 3rd, in terms of defensive efficiency. That defensive leap (quantum, when you think about it) has the Bobcats jumping from the bottom of the East, to 6th if the season ended today. Thanks to the trio of Jeff Taylor, Gerald Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Bobcats have three wings who can defend multiple positions, and that allows them to be both 5th in defending roll men on pick-and-roll attempts and 6th against pick-and-roll ball handlers.
The issue with Charlotte, however, is a lack of a consistent offensive game, as the Bobcats match their 3rd ranked defense with the 28th-ranked offense. Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker were envisioned as the team’s two most consistent players on offense, and both struggled on the offensive end thus far. Gerald Henderson and Jeff Taylor can’t buy a basket these days, and rookie Cody Zeller is sporting a true shooting percentage (otherwise known as TS%) of .414. Making it worse, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (an above-average offensive player, sporting a TS% of .541) is now injured, and his ability to score on cuts and in transition hurts Charlotte’s offense even more.
If the Bobcats want to make the playoffs (possible), they’ll need an upgrade on the offensive end, whether that means Jefferson and Walker return to normal production, or, like a looter in a riot, snag someone who can give their offense a different look, while keeping their defense in tact.
Moving over to the opposing Magic squad, it’s hard to look at their roster and not be jealous. Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris (get well soon), Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, and (a personal favorite) Kyle O’Quinn are all under the age of 25, and they have yet to reap the benefits of the Dwight Howard trade. Orlando is still owed a first-round pick from Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Denver, and they still own their own draft picks, creating maximum flexibility moving forward, even with guys like Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson soaking up plenty of their current cap.
All the talk about their young core, but let’s talk about their best player. Let’s talk about Arron Afflalo, who’s playing like one of the top four guards in the Eastern Conference. Currently, Afflalo is averaging 20 points, four rebounds, four assists, and has a TS% of 60. He’s still slightly overrated as a defensive player, but he has his strong suits, handing opposing pick-and-roll defenders, as well as excelling as a team defender. The duo of Afflalo and Oladipo don’t offer the monster defensive tandem one would expect, and the scoring is less than ideal. That being said, Arron Afflalo is playing amazing basketball, and if all goes right, he’ll be an all-star this season.
For now, the Magic are a middling team. They rank 24th offensively and 22nd defensively in terms of efficiency. There are nights where they look fun with Oladipo moving the ball, Vuecvic rebounding and holding his own on offense, but they also have nights where they look like a young team. In the second half of the season, if Afflalo is there, so be it. However, I expect the Magic to flip, and use more of their younger players, and that could be exciting, especially when Tobias Harris returns to the small forward position.
The Pick: I’m going Charlotte. Always trust the strong defensive team. I’m sure going against an inexperienced floor general like Oladipo excites them. Arron Afflalo will put up Afflalo-like numbers, and at times, Nikola Vucevic will have multiple chances to display his dominance on the boards. For Charlotte, I’m curious to see if Kemba Walker can have his way with the Magic guards. Both Afflalo and Oladipo can defend, but Walker is still looking to fight out of a slump, and this a good chance for him to do that. Along with Walker, Al Jefferson’s offense is capable of contributing to another Bobcats win. Bobcats 92, Magic 88.
National TV: None
Local TV: FSFL (Orlando) | TSOH (Charlotte | League Pass
Time: 7:00 pm E.T.