Tag Archives: Charlotte Bobcats

The Futilities of Kitties

The Head Coach position of the Charlotte Bobcats is perhaps the least desired of all head coaching jobs in the NBA. The team’s frontcourt is abysmal, their backcourt shows glimmers of light with Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker, but neither figure to be true stars. Also, they have Ben Gordon. Even with a probable top-3 pick in this year’s draft, the team doesn’t figure to improve dramatically from a talent standpoint. Therefore, any coach who takes the job enters the situation already at a disadvantage. No matter how able a coach is to connect with his players, effort only goes so far. Practice makes perfect, but perfect is subjective, and one team’s perfect may only be as good as another team’s decent.

To be fair to Dunlap, and most Charlotte coaches before him, it seems as if the Bobcats have little patience for “the process.” They want to win, and they want immediate improvement, without taking the steps necessary, albeit slow, steps to do so. Defense takes more than a season to learn, especially for those just entering the league. In the past three seasons, the Bobcats notched Defensive Ratings of 108.9, 107.8 and 104.8, per NBA.com. Personnel clearly contributes to these issues, but so too do the ever-changing defensive schemes  Offensive concepts beyond scoring, such as spacing, cutting and angles, are not inherent traits in most players, and thus must be taught. Development takes time, especially with a young team that features so few promising pieces. Perhaps Dunlap wasn’t the right coach, but the more Charlotte continues this yearly cycle of hiring and firing coaches, the less time players have to learn the concepts so essential to success.

This, then, leads to the importance of Charlotte nailing this next hire. Instability doesn’t breed consistency, nor does it foster team or individual development. It also exponentially decreases the authority of whoever next assumes this mantle. Players are less likely to heed a coach’s advice, warnings or disciplines when it’s highly likely that coach won’t be there the next year, as exemplified by the conflict this year between Mike Dunlap and Ben “ you need to humble yourself” Gordon.

Originally, it was thought that Charlotte could fix their talent issues by luring (read: overpaying a free agent or two this summer. However,  as Zach Lowe points out, they may not have as much cap space as previously thought:

That $20 million in approximate cap space the Bobcats are trumpeting at every chance is also mostly theoretical. Charlotte has about $41 million committed to eight players next season. Henderson’s cap hold takes up another $7.7 million of that space, and the no. 2 pick would eat up another $4 million or so. Toss in charges for empty roster spots, and the Bobcats are looking at something like $8 million in actual cap space — at least before deciding on Henderson’s fate.

Already, this free agent class is lacking in true difference makers. Maybe the Bobcats throw money at Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson or even Monta Ellis, but none of those additions could realistically be touted as franchise saviors. Thus, Charlotte, and whoever their next head coach may be, is once again doomed to toil in the dregs of the league. Given this scenario, coupled with the fact that the position of Head Coach in Charlotte doesn’t exactly lend itself to longevity, is it any surprise that this is one of the least attractive jobs to any aspiring coach?

Statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com

Lion Face/Lemon Face 4/18/13: LAKERS RULE, JAZZ DROOL

Records broke, playoff seeds clinched, and a lot of really terrible basketball. Ladies and gentlemen, the last night of the 2013 regular season!

Lemon Face: Alonzo Gee Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 8.09.21 AM

 

This is brilliant, and it’s how I’m going to answer most of life’s important questions from now on.

Job interview: “Jordan, why should I hire you?” “I’m here.”

Marriage: “And do you, Jordan White, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and health, until death do you part?” “I’m here.”

Birth of my first child: “Mr. White, are you ready to hold your baby for the first time?” “I’m here.”

Lion Face: Stephen Curry

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(Graphic courtesy of the Golden State Warriors)

Not only did Curry break the mark for most three-pointers in a single season (272), he did so while shooting a ridiculous 45% from beyond the arc this season on nearly eight attempts per game.  ANKLES? HE DON’T NEED NO STINKING ANKLES.

Lion Face: Chris Copeland

Last night, Copeland became the first Knicks rookie since 1980 to notch consecutive 30-plus point games.  It’s been a terrific, near-storybook season for Copeland, whose path to the NBA has been well chronicled. Also, his lion’s mane alone is worthy of a Lion Face

Lemon Face: Utah Jazz

 sadjazz1.0_cinema_1050.0

 

Utah, not wanting to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, went with the unorthodox strategy of sewing up the ninth seed in the Western Conference. This bold maneuver paid off, as the Jazz lost to the Grizzlies, gifting a playoff berth to the Lakers as a result. It’s unfortunate that Utah’s most important game of the season came against one of the league’s premier defensive teams, but you still expected a better effort than what was put forth last night in Memphis.

(Photo courtesy of SBNAtion.com)

Lion Face: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers lived up to their preseason hype, securing the seventh seed after defeating the Houston Rockets in overtime.

Lion Face: NASA

Lemon Face: Houston Rockets

You let NASA down, Houston. NASA.

Lion Face: Orlando Magic

I have to admit, you really scared me at first, Orlando. You were actually winning games to start the season, and not by accident! That’s not how tanking works! But you righted the ship, finishing the season at 20-62, and are now the proud owners of the worst record (but highest lottery odds!) in the 2013 season. Tankalicious!

Lemon Face: Rasheed Wallace retiring

Goodnight, sweet prince.

RTOE: ProBasketballDraft bridges the NCAA tourney to the NBA lottery (Part 2)

A very special RTOE for you all today. I recruited the help of the guys at ProBasketballDraft.com to help make sense of some of the choices this year’s lottery teams will have to make from the pool of NCAA talent. Joe Kotoch, Jeffrey Paadre, Jonathan Gordon, and Luka Papalko: take it away for part 2! (Note: Part 1 dropped earlier today.)

1. Hello, my name is the Cleveland Cavaliers. My team has a ton of cap space going into the off-season, not a whole lot of depth, and for some reason or another, there’s a giant, gaping hole at Small Forward. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs and I get their pick, too, what’s my best fit in the first round of the draft?

Joe: The Cavs are a team that still can do in a few directions on draft night. I expect Cleveland to be very aggressive and package picks to move into the back end of the Lottery. In addition to both first round picks the Cavs also own their own 2nd round pick and Orlando’s too. I expect Cavs GM Chris Grant to target a few players on draft night such as Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Otto Porter, and possibly Victor Oladipo. As for best fits, the hole at SF is gaping but a certain former Cav could return next summer and Cleveland could opt to solve that position in free agency or via trade for next year.

Jeffrey: The Cavaliers have easily the most enviable position of all of the teams in the draft lottery this season. Kyrie Irving is a franchise point guard, Tristan Thompson has been very productive, and Dion Waiters has shown spurts of greatness. Anderson Varejao won’t be around forever and if he’s available, Nerlens Noel can become the franchise’s defensive anchor for many years to come. If Noel gets swiped up before the Cavs pick, Shabazz Muhammad, Victor Oladipo, and Otto Porter all should garner interest from Cleveland. Of the three, Porter should be their top priority due to his great size for the position and amazing defense. He needs to put on a little weight but he can be the small forward of the future for Cleveland. If the Lakers make the playoffs and the Cavs get that pick as well, a player like a Rudy Gobert or an Isaiah Austin, two high potential big men, would be a home run for Cleveland later in the draft. Jeff Withey could also be a good fit later in the first round, with a potential Laker pick. He will come in, grab boards and block shots; that’s all the Cavs can ask for.

Jonathan: The first round is going to require you to break out your best undercover investigation skills. With only one predicted SF (Otto Porter) going in the top 10, it’s imperative you land him. Snoop around and see what teams in front of you are planning to do. If Porter will still be available, take Porter and use your later pick to build some depth (any position will do—you’re short-handed everywhere). If you need to trade up, offer some cash or your other pick. A young backcourt of Irving and Porter will be one of the more dynamic, exciting backcourts in the league for years to come.

Luka: Despite the Cavs having improved their team over the past two years, this still isn’t a time to be picky and pick for need. The Cavs still need to go for the best player available with their first pick and follow up with whatever they didn’t get with their second pick. Nerlens Noel is the best player in the draft and while he’s not an ideal fit with the current core, the Cavs would have to take him should they be in position to.

This is a weird draft for the Cavs with there being no true fit upfront for their needs. The only true all-around center who would fill the need is Alex Len, who teams still are trying to figure out. Otherwise, it’s either all offense and little defense (Zeller, Austin) or all defense and little offense (Cauley-Stein, Adams). So if Len doesn’t pass the test, it’s pick your poison and draft according to your philosophy: do you value interior offense or interior defense more.

On the wing, Otto Porter looks to be a perfect fit should the Cavs first pick be in the 3-7 range. He’s a guy who would fit in well with Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving in the backcourt, being a player who can function well with or without the ball and also play solid defense on the wing. While Ben McLemore might not be an ideal fit, he still would be a good pick considering he’s a top talent and would play well off the ball in Cleveland.

In an ideal world, the Cavs get a the top pick and take Nerlens Noel and trade back into the lottery with their second pick to grab their small forward.

2. Hi there, Cleveland. Can I call you Cleveland? My name is Minnesota Timberwolves, and I wasn’t supposed to be here this year, but here I am. I know my biggest problem is injuries as opposed to depth, but I have to figure that out anyway. I guess I could probably use a Shooting Guard, but I don’t know. Like I said, I wasn’t supposed to be here. Who’s my best fit in the first round, as long as I draft in the top 13?

Joe: For the Wolves, you have to look at ways to get better along the perimeter and protect Ricky Rubio defensively. In the top 10 the Wolves should target Oladipo or Ben McLemore. However, the Wolves could be in prime position to draft a sleeper that should be a borderline lottery-pick come draft night, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin. Franklin does so many things well and would add much needed athleticism to a Wolves team that needs more of it. Franklin is not the best shooter but is effective and productive in many aspects of the game. He’d be an excellent fit alongside Rubio, Love, Pekovic.

Jeffrey: The T-Wolves have been brutal from beyond the arc this season. No team has shot worse than Minnesota and their 29.9 percent clip from three point land. For this season, shooting guards like Shabazz Muhammad, Victor Oladipo, and Ben McLemore should all get attention from David Kahn depending on where their pick falls. McLemore would be ideal, but he may not be around by the time the Wolves pick. Muhammad and Oladipo each would look good on the receiving end of Ricky Rubio passes for the near future. Either of them would be a welcome upgrade over Shved, who’s been wildly inconsistent this season. Another possibility, depending on what happens with Pekovic this offseason, could be Maryland’s Alex Len. Len is a legitimate big man who could compliment Kevin Love very well if the Wolves don’t re-sign Pekovic.

Jonathan: With strong players in Pekovic, Love, and Rubio, your biggest need is indeed a Shooting Guard. Lucky you! This year’s class features three premier Shooting Guards all within the top 10. Given your choices of McLemore (Kansas), Muhammad (UCLA), and Oladipo (IND), any pick would be a big improvement at the 2-position, both short-term and long-term. If all three are available, your safest bet is Oladipo. A strong rebounding guard (6.4 RPG), consistent scorer (13.6 PPG), and one of the best defenders available, Oladipo can contribute on both ends of the court. A more experienced player, Oladipo has the maturity to step in and play for a contender. Muhammad needs the ball in his hands a lot, robbing Rubio of his duties, and McLemore has struggled recently (5 points on 2-7 shooting in Big 12 Championship and 2 points on 0-9 shooting in NCAA second-round). Muhammad and McLemore have more upside and “star power”, but you don’t need that. You need a quality player able to contribute immediately. If you fall out of the top 10 and all three are gone, one option would be to draft Zeller (IND) and let Pekovic, a free agent at the end of the season, go. Pekovic will likely ask for (and get) an overvalued contract. Drafting Zeller gives you a premier big man to complement Love and opens up some cap size. On second thought, just draft a doctor.

Luka: What the Timberwolves need most is an instant impact player, which might be hard to do with this draft and with where they could be picking. The Timberwolves are a ticking time bomb as a team: David Kahn could soon be gone, Rick Adelman could too (depending on the health of his wife), Kevin Love is far from being a happy camper, they’ll have key free agents this year (Budinger & Pekovic) and not a lot on the cap for years after that. Moral of the story is if the Timberwolves want to win, they’ll need to do it ASAP.

The T’Wolves need to hope they either magically land a high enough spot to draft Ben McLemore or Shabazz Muhammad falls to wherever they end up drafting. Quite frankly, while McLemore is seen as a better prospect I’d venture to say Muhammad is a better fit for the T’Wolves. Yes his age is causing him to fall like a rock but he does the one thing they need most: score at a NBA level. Muhammad can get his shot, something McLemore is still developing right now. While Muhammad doesn’t contribute in a lot of either areas and is a ball dominant guard, the T’Wolves need his scoring and ability to create. It’s a good fit for player and team, in this case.

3. Hey guys. Orlando Magic here. You guys remember me? We were the ones that drafted back to back #1 picks in 1992 and 1993. We drafted #1 again in 2004… yada yada yada, WE’RE BACK! Did you miss us? No? Oh, ok. Well, we’ve got a LOT of young guys on our roster. Who’s part of our core going forward? Is there anyone at the top of this draft that’ll be complimentary to that core?

Joe: Well I have been predicting the Magic as the winner of the Lottery ever since the Dwight Howard saga began. Rookie GM Rob Hennigan has been masterful in acquiring young talent to build around. Obviously Nikola Vucevic has blossomed for Orlando and combined with Moe Harkless and Tobias Harris the Magic look like they have a promising front court. Going forward the Magic need to find more offense and someone who can create their own shot. Ben McLemore and Shabazz Muhammad are names to watch. However, I would not be surprised to see the Magic have Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart a top their board. Smart would be an instant mismatch nightmare at PG and could blossom into a Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose type of physical marvel at that position. The Magic have some pieces but lack a star to build around right now.

Jeffrey: Orlando has a very nice foundation for the future. Vucevic has been a tremendous surprise and Moe Harkless has really turned it on as of late. They need a point guard at this point. A lot of their young talent is great but many of these guys have trouble creating their own shots. Marcus Smart out of Oklahoma State should be their target. He’s a big point guard with tremendous potential. Jameer Nelson has shown this season that he’s not a point guard to build around, but with Smart, Nelson could develop a little more value as an off-ball shooter.

Jonathan: You must be mistaken. The only team that plays basketball in Florida is perennial powerhouse Florida Gulf Coast University. But, for the sake of this discussion, we’ll pretend you exist. First, let’s take a look at your roster. Starting at the 1 and assuming a healthy roster, you go Nelson, Afflalo, Harris, Davis, and Vucevic. With the exception of Nelson, all five are pretty young. Vucevic has been a pleasant surprise posting double-digit rebounds (11.5 RPG) and leading the team with an 18.0 Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Afflalo has showed the ability to score (16.5 PPG). Harris and Davis have also showed bright spots. While Nelson is an Orlando favorite and has been a tremendous leader, he doesn’t have many years left. Going forward, he’s clearly the odd one out. Draft a point guard, put him under Nelson’s wing, and slowly begin the transition. Smart (Oklahoma State) appears to be the top PG in the draft and the SMARTest pick. Do your best to get him. If not, Burke (Michigan) and Carter-Williams (Syracuse) are also excellent. Then again, you don’t REALLY exist so none of this matters.

Luka: Again, like the Cavs, this is a case where the top of the draft isn’t necessarily conducive to the needs of the Magic. The Magic have a nice developing core but there’s no true dominant player at a position of need for the Magic. There is also no player on the roster that has a long-term hold at their respective starting position (except maybe for Nikola Vucevic), which means no player should be off the table.

What the Magic need most is a cornerstone piece, someone they can build around. While this draft doesn’t really have a true player at the top like that, Marcus Smart is their best bet to do so. I would usually say Nerlens Noel should be the 1st pick, but in this case Smart is rated at a similar level but fills a much larger role for the Magic. Smart would immediately come in and take over as the leader of the team. He would provide them with the ball-handler and shot creator that they need. While there are concerns about his outside shot, he’s got an extremely good work ethic and is a high character prospect. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, if Smart ended up as the best player in this draft 5 years down the road and followed in the footsteps of the new wave of point guards.

4. Yo, Cleveland. Maybe some of us don’t want the Lakers to make the playoffs. Ever thought of that? Jeez. Selfish. Oh, hi. I’m Phoenix Suns. I’m new around these parts. It’s weird to be here. Can anyone help me out? What exactly do I do here?

Joe: The last few seasons the Suns have confused many of us with their moves but they appear to be set on a complete rebuild. So Phoenix’s main issue right now is that Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, and Luis Scola are all at least 27 by the start of next season and considerably older in Scola’s case. The Suns have acquired the Morris twins and Kendall Marshall but have no superstars to build around and lack the youthful talent that brings optimistic energy. Perhaps no team that is lottery-bound is in more need of two top picks than the Suns. Nerlens Noel, Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, and Trey Burke are just a few examples of the type of prospects the Suns need to acquire to help their fan base cope with the beginning of the post-Nash era.

Jeffrey: Phoenix should be going in position-blind at this point. They have very few quality ballplayers and talent should certainly take precedence. It’s probably too early to admit defeat on the Kendall Marshall pick from last year, so Smart from Oklahoma State may be the one non-possibility at this point. Marshall has tremendous court vision, so why not surround him with a wing player who can score? McLemore would be ideal if he’s around but if not, Otto Porter could be a good fit here. Another guy to look at would be UNLV’s Anthony Bennett. Bennett is a hyper-athletic forward who needs to develop his wing game a little bit but has limitless potential. As an added bonus, another wing would likely mean less playing time for Michael Beasley, which can’t hurt the Suns. If they get the Lakers pick, a proven winner like CJ McCollum could be another good fit late in the lottery. He can create his own shot and is a deadly shooter.

Jonathan:

Step 1: Begin (continue?) tanking to ensure a higher draft pick.
Step 2: Justify your tanking by playing “young, unproven rookies who need experience.”
Step 3: Acknowledge that your top three scorers (Dragic, Scola, and Gortat) are all international players.
Step 4: Continue international presence by drafting other international players.
Step 5: Draft Rudy Gobert, a 7-1 French center with a 7-9 wingspan.
Step 6: Draft Dario Saric, a 6-10 Croation small forward with Toni Kukoc comparisons.
Step 7: Rename yourself the “European Suns” and relocate overseas.

Luka: Well, it would be best if Robert Sarver sold the team but we all know the likelihood of that happening any time soon is slim. After forcing him out doesn’t happen, management needs to figure out a direction of the team. Does it want to win now or does it want to build for the future? The moves last off-season (signing Scola, trading for Beasley, and still having terrible contracts on the books) seem to make one believe the Suns thought they could compete this year and we all see how that’s going.

So what they need to do is cut bait, start over and build for the future. There are some decent pieces there but they don’t have any true cornerstone players, just a bunch of okay young guys. They need to be hoping for a top-3 pick and grab a cornerstone offensive player or else they’ll likely be adding to the limited, but decent group of talented young players. A guy like McLemore, Oladipo or Porter could help but doesn’t give them the offense they need.

Anthony Bennett is the guy they really need to be hoping for, Yes they have the Morris twins but neither of them can do what Bennett can do. Bennett will remind Suns fans of Amar’e Stoudemire, for both good and bad. He’s arguably the best, most versatile offensive player and quite the athlete for his size. Going out to Phoenix, he would hope to form a new era duo for Steve Nash and Amare’ with Dragic.

5. Will you guys keep it down in here? Some of us regulars are trying to THINK. Sometimes, guys like us don’t get respect from any of these up-and-comers, know what I mean, Charlotte?

I sure do, Sacramento. Say… what are you guys looking for this year?

… I was about to ask you the same thing.

Joe: It seems like every year you can count on taxes and the Kings and Bobcats to be in the lottery. Starting with MJ’s crew the Bobcats are a league-worst right now but the Bobcat never seem to be fortunate enough to win the lottery. In a year where it is this wide-open the Bobcats can sit back and let McLemore, Smart, Muhammad, Noel, and Bennett all try to impress enough them. Unfortunately the Bobcats really need the one-and-done rule abolished so they can draft Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Julius Randle. None of the top prospects in this draft cycle will give the Bobcats the star they desperately seek.

The Kings have been a mess this year and the ownership is a joke. While Kevin Johnson continues to do an admirable job to save the Kings the issues start at the top and run into the front office, which has become stale. The Kings stockpile the best players every year but have no sense on how to build a team. Having given up on Thomas Robinson in his rookie year I would not feel comfortable with any member of the current front office returning or drafting, if I were a Kings fan. Will Tyreke Evans return? Has DeMarcus Cousins played himself out of Sacramento? What is going on with this roster? So many questions need to be answered. Objectively speaking if Evans is not re-signed than the Kings need to find perimeter scoring and McLemore would be the best fit but Muhammad would bring more baggage, which seems like a must for any potential King under this regime. Marcus Smart would be a great addition here as well.

Jeffrey: First to Sacramento, other than keeping Thomas Robinson for more than half a season? Maybe it’s time to finally grab a point guard. The Kings have relied for far too long with small, shoot first guards like Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, etc. If Marcus Smart is available, grab him and don’t think twice. He’ll help change some of the culture around the team. If he’s not, Michael Carter-Williams would be a great fit. He’s a pass first point guard, with super potential due to his size and court vision, two things that the Kings’ guards have lacked recently.

For Charlotte, Kemba Walker looks like he’s got the potential to help the team going forward, and Gerald Henderson just said he wanted to be a Bobcat next year, so that’s a plus. Nerlens Noel is a great fit for every team, but with Bismack Biyombo, two athletic, defensive big men who are raw offensively may be a bit too redundant. That or it could be the foundation for an up-and-coming defense, but since they’re committed to Biyombo and MKG, a scoring wing to play the two is a must. McLemore should be priority 1, but if they don’t luck out with the one pick, Shabazz Muhammad should be where they look.

Jonathan: Welcome back guys, you two have set a great example on how to consistently get top picks. Two franchises looking for an identity (and, in one case, a new home), you guys have to go big here. Get some top talent, get fans in seats, and get people to remember you exist. While some of these players may be riskier than other first-round talent, they have the biggest upside and could be a franchise-changer. Players to consider: Noel (Kentucky), McLemore (Kansas), Smart (OK State), Porter (Georgetown), Bennett (UNLV), and Muhammad (UCLA). If either of you draw the lucky #1 pick, take Noel. “But he’s hurt!” Yes. But he will be better. Noel provides a stable centerpiece for a rebuilding franchise. Putting Noel in the middle makes everyone else’s job a lot easier. The other five are all premier scorers. Take your pick and hope he goes off for 30+ a night. If not, I’ll see you again next year.

Luka: Sacramento is looking to stay in Sacramento, first and foremost. If they can’t stay in Sacramento, which I think we all hope happens, then this draft won’t matter. But in hoping they do stay in Sacramento, they need to draft for fit more than any other team. Year after year Petrie has thrown together a bunch of square pegs in round holes and hoped it’s worked. So far his plan, which has been doomed from the start, has worked at keeping the Kings in the cellar. In addition to drafting for need, the Kings need to draft a high character, high intangible player. With DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans as the leaders of the team, it’s not hard to figure out why this team has long been a very immature one. Really any one of Marcus Smart, Otto Porter or Victor Oladipo would fit what the Kings should be looking for. But I would be quite curious to see what Trey Burke could do in trying to change the culture out West.

Luckily for the Bobcats, Kemba Walker looks to be developing and worth the 9th overall selection back in 2011. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo look like quite the defensive foundation but the offensive side has seen mixed results for them. What the Bobcats need most is what Michael Jordan never had problem himself finding: scoring. They need an offensive option worth a damn and someone who can get his own shot. Anthony Bennett or Shabazz Muhammad would both fill this hole and give them someone who they can rely on scoring wise. Both have their flaws but they’re flaws you can live with as the Bobcats when you need someone to score a basket, considering they’re near the bottom the league in scoring.

RTOE: ProBasketballDraft bridges the NCAA tourney to the NBA lottery (Part 1)

A very special RTOE for you all today. I recruited the help of the guys at ProBasketballDraft.com to help make sense of some of the choices this year’s lottery teams will have to make from the pool of NCAA talent. Eric PalutsisIan Levy, Fred Katz, and Ryan Glassman: take it away for part 1! (Note: Part 2 dropped later today.)

1. Hello, my name is the Cleveland Cavaliers. My team has a ton of cap space going into the off-season, not a whole lot of depth, and for some reason or another, there’s a giant, gaping hole at Small Forward. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs and I get their pick, too, what’s my best fit in the first round of the draft?

Eric: As tough as it is to believe right now, with the Cavs blowing huge second half leads to Miami and Boston in recent games, it was not too long ago that Cleveland was actually lighting up scoreboards with an offensive rating over 110 during the month of February. Obviously the lack of depth has reared its ugly head with injuries to Kyrie Irving and now Dion Waiters but the larger issue has been terrible defense, specifically an atrocious interior defense. Tyler Zeller just is just not cutting it inside right now. Best case scenario for the Cavs? Win the lottery and draft Nerlens Noel, his shot-blocking and interior defensive presence is something that Cleveland has sorely been missing. If Noel is gone by the time the Cavs are picking in June, I don’t know that there is another big man worth taking that high; I would lean towards someone like Victor Oladipo who can become the lock-down perimeter defender that Cleveland has been lacking since a certain someone took his talents to South Beach. Arguments could be made for a small forward like Otto Porter to take some of the scoring load off of Irving but a scorer like Kentucky’s Alex Poythress or even Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III (assuming they throw their names in the draft) could be had later in the first round with the Lakers pick.

Ian: The continued development of Dion Waiters, paired with the continued brilliance of Kyrie Irving means the Cavaliers have some stout cinderblocks laid in the foundation of their backcourt. There are a couple of intriguing options from them at the top of the draft. Indiana University wing, Victor Oladipo could be a solid fit alongside Irving and Waiters.

Oladipo is an elite perimeter defender with the ability to make an instant impact at that end of the floor. On offense he’s a terrific finisher and has grown into a respectable outside shooter. His ceiling at that end of the floor is probably as a very efficient complementary player, but that’s exactly the ingredient Cleveland is missing. Oladipo is probably a hair shorter than the 6’5″ he’s listed at, but with a wingspan stretchy enough to help defend small forwards in a pinch. Although he probably isn’t the starting small forward answer, his elite defense and complimentary offensive game mean he could be a nice third-guard, playing alongside either Waiters or Irving and stretching into the small forward role when matchups allow.

Another option is 6’8″ wing, Otto Porter, from Georgetown. A defensive prospect equally as intriguing as Oladipo, Porter has the size to fully inhabit the Alonzo Gee shaped hole at small forward. Offensively Porter has the potential to develop a much more well-rounded game than Oladipo and is already a more polished ball-handler and shot creator.

Fred: Well, Cleveland, that all depends on how much you luck out (or unluck out) in the lottery. If you end up with the first or second overall pick, you kind of have to take Nerlens Noel, don’t you? I know Anderson Varejao is a quality player. I know he was having a great season until he went down for the year only 25 games in. I know your fans love him. But is he the guy that’s going to take you to the promise land with Kyrie?

Realistically, next year is still a building year for you. You won’t be “there” yet. Meanwhile, Andy is going to be on an expiring $9.1 million deal with a team option for the next year at $9.8 million. That’s pretty team friendly. A lot of contenders that are one big short would love to take a team-oriented guy, who was averaging 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds before he got hurt this year, on a contract like that. You can get legitimate value back for him. So trade Andy and move on with a core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Noel. That’s pretty strong.

If you fall lower, which you probably will, the small forward route is the way to go. You need rebounding – especially to compensate for Waiters, who is weak in that area. Shabazz Muhammad and Otto Porter would both fit that mold, but since Kyrie is already a natural scorer and Dion goes for more aimless Runaround Sues than anyone else in the league, Porter may serve as a better Cav complement than Shabazz.

Ryan: Cleveland, I love what you’re doing in the backcourt with the scoring tandem of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. Up front, Tristan Thompson looks like he can be a solid forward for a long time, and hopefully you can continue to get some good production from Andy Varejao next season. But before you guys get serious about taking the leap to playoff contender in the Eastern Conference, you need a player to fill in at SF for Alonzo Gee. Gee is probably better suited to play off of the bench than start alongside a pair of scorers in the backcourt, where his shots are limited.

What the Cavs need in that starting spot is a versatile player that can guard wings, rebound, and get his points without having to dominate the ball, a guy like Georgetown’s Otto Porter. In a weak draft class, there may not be more of a sure thing than Porter, a stat sheet stuffer that will contribute consistently on both ends of the ball. Porter has the frame and athleticism to guard elite wings at the NBA level, and also already has a refined midrange game that fits well alongside the perimeter-oriented games of Irving and Waiters. Porter may not have the superstar ceiling of some other prospects, but with one of the league’s best young talents already on your roster, all you need is a player that can contribute from Day 1, and add talent and depth to the team. The Porter pick allows you to look to a scorer in the frontcourt with the Lakers’ pick, where a skilled big like Kelly Olynyk makes a lot of sense.

2. Hi there, Cleveland. Can I call you Cleveland? My name is Minnesota Timberwolves, and I wasn’t supposed to be here this year, but here I am. I know my biggest problem is injuries as opposed to depth, but I have to figure that out anyway. I guess I could probably use a Shooting Guard, but I don’t know. Like I said, I wasn’t supposed to be here. Who’s my best fit in the first round, as long as I draft in the top 13?

Eric: The Timberwolves situation is perplexing, to say the least. Injuries have obviously ruined this season but that means the pieces should still be in place for a dramatic improvement next season, especially with how much better Ricky Rubio has been playing as of late. That being said, Minnesota could certainly use an improvement at small forward and they would love to have a shot at Otto Porter if they were drafting in the top five. However, it is highly unlikely that the Timberwolves will be drafting that high a perimeter scorer like Shabazz Muhammad could be in play. Muhammad’s ability to play the 2 or the 3 would also allow Minnesota more lineup flexibility, shifting him to shooting guard in order to put a Derrick Williams-Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic frontcourt on the floor.

Ian: The Timberwolves shooting guard rotation has definitely been a steaming pile of Shved this season, ranking near the league’s basement in both offensive and defensive competency. A player like Oladipo could be a nice fit, as could one of the more-scoring focused guards like Ben McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad or Gary Harris. However, looking into the not-too-distant future, the challenges of keeping Kevin Love happy and Nikola Pekovic affordable mean that shoring up depth in the front-court may be more important.

A healthy Nerlens Noel would be a dream. Actual Nerlens Noel, with an unsettled medical chart, would be exciting but certainly not settle any stomachs at the Target Center. Either of those scenarios would probably require moving up significantly in the lottery. If the Timberwolves stay in their slot and decide to chase size, a project like Alex Len or Rudy Gobert could make sense. Gobert brings a sloppy swirl of tightly wound energy and athleticism, with a significant amount of polish standing between his present-day self and an extended NBA career. Len has a broader foundation of skill to fall back on than Gobert, but needs just as much development to reach his true potential.

Fred: Your best bet might be taking someone out of med school. Or maybe you should trade for Pau Gasol. I know you’ve always liked him and he really wants to be a doctor. You have to promise you won’t tell the other lottery teams what I’m about to tell you: you should’ve made the playoffs. You have a better roster than any of these other teams. You just got really unlucky. But seriously, Minnesota, don’t tell any of those other guys I just said that. I don’t want to get in trouble.

That said, you really need shooting. What happened to you guys? You know you’re under 30 percent from three right now, right? So who can shoot? Shabazz Muhammad can. Ben McLemore can make his long-range shots when he’s hot. Otto Porter seems to have pretty good range. Any of those guys would work and any of those guys would be able to stay with you on a cheap deal after Andrei Kirilenko’s contract runs up.

Ryan: Injuries aside, Minnesota, you need to add some guys to the roster that can score from the perimeter. An offensive rating rank of 24 has got to improve to match the team’s average to above-average defensive output if you want to push for the playoffs with a hopefully healthy roster next season. There’s a guy out west whose stock has gone down recently, but whose game I still like, and I think would fit your roster pretty well. I can’t tell you with certainty how old he is, but I can tell you that there may not be a scorer in this draft as naturally gifted as UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad.

The Bruins freshman has a knack for scoring the ball, and can play at the next level from the 2 or at times the 3. He plays extremely hard, finishes well at the rim, and is a great shooter from the midrange and beyond once he is able to get his feet set. Muhammad is a guy that may not challenge for any scoring titles, but should be able to average 15-18 PPG for a long time with his offensive skill set. Playing in the backcourt with a guy like Ricky Rubio that loves to get up the floor and hit open shooters, Muhammad has the opportunity to thrive with the Timberwolves as a scorer that can get his points from all over the floor, in both transition and in half court sets.

3. Hey guys. Orlando Magic here. You guys remember me? We were the ones that drafted back to back #1 picks in 1992 and 1993. We drafted #1 again in 2004… yada yada yada, WE’RE BACK! Did you miss us? No? Oh, ok. Well, we’ve got a LOT of young guys on our roster. Who’s part of our core going forward? Is there anyone at the top of this draft that’ll be complimentary to that core?

Eric: The Magic currently have five rookies on their roster as they try to rebuild and put the saga of the Dwight Howard years behind them. Andrew Nicholson and Mo Harkless have shown glimpses and have the potential to be effective NBA players but no one is going to confuse them with future superstars. Wait and see is the best case scenario for the rest but that means Orlando has plenty of options of where to go with the likely No. 2 overall pick. A shooting guard is likely the most pressing need, so a high-ceiling player like Kansas’ Ben McLemore, considered by many to be the second best player in the entire draft, could certainly fit the bill. A number of mock drafts also have point guard Marcus Smart rising up draft boards thanks to his superior size and athleticism. Either guard would be nice complements to the rest of the Magic’s young squad and have the raw, high-ceiling potential to develop into the star Orlando desperately needs.

Ian: This pick, likely at the top of the lottery, offers the Magic a golden opportunity to move past the Jameer Nelson era. Oklahoma State point guard, Marcus Smart, seems like the most obvious choice. He has all the tools to be an elite point guard and just needs some time to refine and align them. Most intriguing is the way his physical style complements his bulldog personality. This combination could be the perfect elixir to pull together all the talented young pieces the Magic have assembled and start driving them in the same direction.

Fred: You’re full of weirdos. You have some nice veteran guys. You have some good, young players. I like Andrew Nicholson, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, and Tobias Harris. You have a good coach in Jacque Vaughn. How the heck are you only a half a game better than the Bobcats?

You guys seriously need some shooters. We’ve learned that Arron Afflalo makes his jumpers when he’s open, but doesn’t make him create threes for himself. That means you should probably go with Marcus Smart, who can’t shoot from long range just yet, but probably will be able to in the future. More importantly, Smart can create open looks for other guys. I know you don’t want to hear this right now, Orlando, but Jameer Nelson is no longer an All-Star point guard. He’s Janearing the end so remember that next year should just be your next step to improvement. It’s not a sprint. It’s a Jameerathon.

Ryan: Orlando! First and foremost, let me credit you in trying to make the best of that messy Dwight Howard situation last year. Looking around at a few of your trade partners, I think you guys actually made off okay in that one. I love the games of Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless, two very young and athletic wings that have improved with more minutes this season. They are definitely an important part of your core going forward. Nikola Vucevic was the steal of that entire draft, an elite rebounder that adds youth and athleticism to the front line, while Andrew Nicholson is an appealing prospect that can score both inside and out. I think each of those four guys, with Arron Afflalo adding some scoring and defense on the wing, each ought to be a part of the blueprint going forward. What your team needs now is a sense of identity. You have these four young guys that each fill a role, but now you need a floor general to set the tone on both ends, especially with the pending team option for Jameer Nelson’s contract after the ’13-’14 season.

There is not a better fit for the Magic in this draft than Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, a point guard that brings elite leadership and toughness to every team he plays for. Smart if a strong, physical guard, a great athlete that loves to get into the lane and can finish at the rim against length and size. He has good court vision and can lead the break, and can also rebound extremely well for his position. Smart fits the best on a young roster like yours, where he can come in and breed a mentality of toughness and competitiveness from Day 1. I love Marcus Smart’s leadership skills and overall motor, and think they would be an outstanding fit with your talented but young roster.

4. Yo, Cleveland. Maybe some of us don’t want the Lakers to make the playoffs. Ever thought of that? Jeez. Selfish. Oh, hi. I’m Phoenix Suns. I’m new around these parts. It’s weird to be here. Can anyone help me out? What exactly do I do here?

Eric: The Suns could really use a scorer to add to their roster–no player on the current roster is averaging more than 15 points per game. With Phoenix likely to pick in or around the top five, the Suns should be praying that Otto Porter drops to wherever they are drafting. A dynamic scorer, Porter should be able to be plugged into the Suns’ lineup right away and has the intangibles that scouts drool over. He would certainly give Phoenix a consistent scoring option with a high motor, night in and night out. If Porter is not available, Muhammad is another player who projects as a consistent NBA scorer, although he is considered to be more one-dimensional than Porter and does not bring nearly as much to the table.

Ian: The Phoenix Suns draft board should be wide open. Priorities number 1-5 are adding talented basketball players. Priority number 6 is figuring out where they fit. The Suns don’t really appear to be tied to anyone other than Goran Dragic, but even that could go out the window if someone like Marcus Smart fell into their lap. They don’t have to hit a home run, but they can’t afford any wild swings and misses.

Players with refined, if limited games, like Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller or C.J. McCollum may be interesting to them. I’m guessing the Shabazz Muhammad – Michael Beasley vibe hits a little too close to home, but they could also chase a player like Otto Porter, Anthony Bennett or James McAdoo, who may not hit their considerable ceilings but have a talent versatile enough to all but ensure they become regular NBA contributors.

Fred: Phoenix, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life right now. I think this is the point where your parents need to give you a stern talk. It feels like the only asset you have at this point is your training staff. Knowing you, you’ll probably make some pick that makes absolutely no sense and it’ll be backed by the logic of, “How do we make this work with Michael Beasley?” People are laughing at you, Phoenix. They’re all laughing at you!

Can you at least get someone to help with your three-point defense? Did you know that opponents are shooting 39.5 percent against you, worst in the NBA? Judging from the way you play, I’m guessing that’s a no. Well, Victor Oladipo could help with that. Have you seen him on the perimeter? I don’t care that his offense may turn him into a one-dimensional, catch-and-shoot player. Tony Allen with catch-and-shoot ability or Thabo Sefolosha with potentially better defense is pretty darn valuable. So make that pick not because he works well with Goran Dragic and Beasley, but because it makes sense.

Ryan: Phoenix, sad to see you down here, but I guess things have to get worse before they can get better. The roster looks to be in a state of flux right now, but the biggest need to me appears to be scoring, from just about every position on the roster. Without a guy averaging 15 points a game this season, I think the move in the draft is to look at some athletes that can score and get up and down the floor. A lot of this depends on where this pick ends up, but a guy I like for your team is Kansas freshman Ben McLemore.

In a draft class where draft boards are more of a flavor-of-the-month posting than a concrete standing of the top prospects, McLemore is a guy currently on the downswing because of a lackluster NCAA Tournament thus far. But, although he is criticized for being a bit passive at time, the guard is still an elite shooting prospect with NBA range and athleticism. At his best, McLemore is a dynamic scorer that can beat you from outside or get to the rim and finish with his explosive leaping ability. McLemore is a good rebounder for his position, and has the physical tools to improve into a very god defender. But his upside as a potential top-5 pick is as a deep range shooter with great athleticism and a quick release on his jump shot. Playing alongside Goran Dragic, a guard who loves to get up and down the floor and create looks for others, McLemore has the chance to contribute early on as a shooter and improve as he becomes better at creating offense off the dribble.

5. Will you guys keep it down in here? Some of us regulars are trying to THINK. Sometimes, guys like us don’t get respect from any of these up-and-comers, know what I mean, Charlotte?

I sure do, Sacramento. Say… what are you guys looking for this year?

… I was about to ask you the same thing.

Eric: For Charlotte and Sacramento, the general consensus has to be that anything is better than what is currently in place. With only a few pieces to build around for each team they could go any number of directions and likely (hopefully) be better off. For Charlotte, actually winning the lottery for once would be huge, especially because it would mean earning the right to draft Noel. While he does not project to be the same franchise player that Anthony Davis did a year ago, Noel’s defensive abilities and raw athleticism would still be a huge upgrade over Bismack Biyombo. Charlotte may also have Portland’s first round pick (top 12 protected) and could draft a shooter like C.J. McCollum to space the floor between Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

As for the Kings, after trading last year’s first round pick Thomas Robinson, Sacramento could go after a power forward once again and UNLV’s Anthony Bennett would be great fit, potentially becoming a great complement to DeMarcus Cousins. However, unless the Kings land in the top five, Bennett will likely be gone, so an electric point guard like Trey Burke could make sense as a steady hand to lead the Kings’ offense.

Ian: The short answer is that I have no idea. Sacramento appears to be taking the Jackson Pollock approach to team building, just throwing paint at the wall, hoping something beautiful emerges. Charlotte apparently has some sort of plan, but I’m not sure they can read it. Shabazz Muhammad’s elite scoring and questionable decision-making seem like a perfect fit for the maelstrom in Sacramento. Charlotte likely ends up with the top pick which gives them the opportunity to take Nerlens Noel and experiment with a Noel, Biyombo, Kidd-Gilchrist two-on-five offensive attack.

Fred: I’ll address my two most troubled students separately for this one. Sacramento, I don’t know what you’re doing defensively, but the good news is I don’t think you do either. So get someone who can at least give you some defense. Oladipo would work if he is still on the board when you pick. So would Porter. The knock on Anthony Bennett is that he’s a 6-foot-7 power forward, but height being important is one of the biggest myths in all of basketball. Let’s see how Bennett’s wingspan measures up before the NBA Draft. I’m betting he’s more than qualified to guard NBA forwards. And if you decide not to draft Bennett because you’ve already got Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson, then shame on you.

And you, Charlotte. At least you have Kemba Walker. I guess the only way the season could go worse for you is if you don’t get the first overall pick, which would be both hilarious and depressing if that scenario played out two years in a row. If you end up picking first, don’t think about the injury and take Nerlens Noel. Do you see how well everyone is recovering from ACLs nowadays? Well, I’m betting that a 19-year-old kid recovering from injury is less of a risk than Ben McLemore (who goes more silent than Charlie Chaplin for oddly long stretches), Marcus Smart (who is athletic and looks like he could definitely improve, but who struggles with shot selection and shot 40.4 percent from the field and 29.0 percent from three this year), Cody Zeller (who had about every single one of his flaws exposed against Syracuse), and Shabazz Muhammad (who might not have the athleticism to guard bigger and faster NBA wings on the perimeter). Go with Noel, let his offensive game develop, let him dominate on the defensive end, and give yourself a defensive anchor for the first time in your franchise’s history. It’s the right thing to do.

Ryan: Alright guys, lets try to actually get this right this year. Sacramento, let’s start with you. There are a lot of pieces on this roster with talent that can score, but the pieces just don’t seem to fit together. A guy like Victor Oladipo makes a lot of sense for this team, considering the work ethic and intensity that he brings from the wing position. But I’m afraid his meteoric rise has taken him higher in the draft than where you will be picking. A nice option for you guys, and a guy that just knocked Oladipo out of the tournament, is Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas are both talented players, but are not true pass-first point guards dedicated to getting looks for others. Carter-Williams, with his great size, length, and court vision, is an elite passer that can create offense for others both in transition and in the half court. Carter-Williams would bring the Kings a true passer to distribute the looks for everybody else, a talent that your team desperately needs.

And as for you, Charlotte, another year at the bottom of the league brings a new set of needs when looking at the draft. I like what you have out on the perimeter with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but its time to look inside and try and improve upon that league-worst defense. In spite of his ACL injury, I think taking Nerlens Noel makes a lot of sense for you guys. As good a shot-blocking prospect as there has been in years, including Anthony Davis, Noel has the potential to immediately anchor a defense as a rim-protector along the front line. But where Noel has a lot of upside, and where I don’t think he gets enough credit already, is on the offensive end. Noel’s post game got better in his year at Kentucky, and he has the coordination and athleticism to blossom into a very solid back-to-the-basket player down the line. But Noel is one of the league’s best shot blockers from the moment he makes his debut, a rare trait that NBA teams such as the Bobcats should hold in high regard.

Correlation Between NetRtg and Quarter

What quarter deserves the most attention when trying to draw a link between NetRtg (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions) and winning? What does it take to be number one?

In each season, beginning with the 2007-2008 campaign, the most linked quarterly Rtg (offensive or defensive) was the first quarter. A poor DefRtg in the first 12 minutes resulted in the highest Loss Correlation in each of the past five seasons.

Also, fans like to obsess over the fourth quarter scoring (How often have you heard, “Kobe is the most clutch player of all time” or early in his career “LeBron freezes up down the stretch and couldn’t finish a game is his life depended on it”?), but is that really all that important? The average Win Correlation for OffRtg (how directly tied the game result is to the number of points scored per 100 possessions) is lower in the fourth quarter than the average of quarters one through three in every single season since 2007. This stat indicates that the offensive efficiency prior to the fourth quarter is consistently more crucial to winning that what a team does in the final 12 minutes.

In fact, if you’re still going to look at the fourth quarter as the most crucial of quarters, you’re better off looking at the defensive efficiency. In three of the five seasons studied, the average Loss Correlation for DefRtg was higher in the fourth quarter than the average of the first three quarters three times.

When analyzing the data from the past five seasons, it becomes obvious that games are won in the early going, as opposed to the final few minutes. Success is ultimately determined by victories and the wins leader (Lakers with 277) has the greatest cumulative first quarter NetRtg (48.2) over the last five seasons. Coincidence? I think not.

The total number of wins by the quarterly NetRtg leader decreases as you progress through the game. But this trend isn’t only true for the elite teams, it holds true for the NBA as a whole. The top 17 teams in terms of wins over the last five seasons are the exact same 17 teams that lead the way in cumulative first quarter NetRtg. Here is a look at how each team stacked up in total wins and cumulative NetRtg by quarter since 2007.

Win Chart

 

Top 10

 

Middle 10

 

Bottom 10

Further disproving the myth of fourth quarter efficiency and its overall importance is the overall trend of the top teams in NetRtg and the bottom teams in NetRtg . Now, one must acknowledge the fact that blowouts do play a role in the late game data and not the early game stats, but with five years of games (394 games per team), the vast majority of games are competitive throughout. Even during a game which has for all intensive purposes been decided with considerable time left on the clock, both teams will turn to their reserves, thus not skewing the data a whole lot. Take a glance at the trend of the best team/worst team in terms of cumulative NetRtg by quarter.

First Place

NetRtg Last Place

As you can see, the worst team in the league (in terms of cumulative NetRtg) improves as the game progresses while the best team gets worse. The gap from the best team to the worst team shrinks from 94.5 in the first quarter to 59.4 in the fourth stanza, a 37.1% drop off.

With all of this data surrounding the fact that the best team excels early in the game, it would only follow that the best player in the world would be associated with a similar trend. Since 2008-2009, no player has won more games than LeBron James (231) and his teams have dominated in the first quarter. In the last four seasons, James’ team has had a first quarter cumulative NetRtg of 47.5, far and away tops in the league. While his fourth quarter efficiency is still very good (27.2) in those seasons, that represents a 42.7% downward trend.

 LeBron James Pie

 If your gut feeling is to blame that disparity on James’ slow developing “clutch gene”, consider that Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (the most successful franchise over the last five seasons) have seen their cumulative NetRtg drop by 72% from the first to the fourth quarter.

Kobe Bryant Pie

 What could this trend of production early in games tell us about the future?

Since the 2007-2008 season the East has gradually improved and finally overtook the West as the better conference when it comes to playoff teams. The 2007-2008 Eastern Conference playoff teams (Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Cavs, Wizards, Raptors, 76ers, Hawks) had an average NetRtg of 3.2, with four teams logging a negative NetRtg. It was a top heavy conference, as the top three seeds had the highest NetRtg’s in the NBA. The Western Conference, however, had the next eight highest NetRtg totals from its playoff teams (Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Suns, Mavs, Nuggets) and averaged a far superior 5.84 NetRtg.

Since that point in time, however, the Eastern playoff teams have cut into that gap until finally passing their Western counterparts last season. Despite a minor regression in 2009-2010, the East teams have gained ground on the West in average NetRtg (trailed by 2.64 in 2007-2008, by 0.68 in 2008-2009, 0.87 in 2009-2010, by 0.37 in 2010-2011) before finally breaking through with a higher NetRtg by 1.24 last season. Instead of being a top heavy conference, the East boasted five of the top seven playoff teams in total NetRtg.

Production in the first half of games appears to be directly correlated with this changing of the guard. In 2007-2008, the Western Conference playoff teams averaged a NetRtg of 12.3 in the first half of games, a number that was 40.2% greater than the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The East gradually chipped away at that difference by cutting the disparity to 16.2% the next season and 2.8% in 2009-2010. The East broke through last season, as their NetRtg was 13.9% greater than that of the West. They were able to make these strides specifically due to their strong play in the second quarter. Back in 2007-2008, the average Western Conference playoff team had a NetRtg that was 3.1 points better than the Eastern teams in the second quarter alone. Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season, and the Eastern teams had a NetRtg 1.69 points higher than the West.

Since the 2007-2008 season, the Eastern Conference has won 14 games (five seasons) in the Finals. They had won only 17 since the Michael Jordan era (nine seasons) ended in 1997-1998. The bottom feeders in the East are as bad as ever, but are we seeing a changing of the guard at the top of these conferences?

The Hardwood Paroxysm 2012-2013 Season Preview: The Charlotte Bobcats

Image via Len Blumin on Flickr

 

Welcome to the Hardwood Paroxysm Season Previews. The 2012-2013 season is upon us. Rejoice! Oh, and if you want to see the most amazing document ever assembled by the most amazing team of writers ever assembled, click here for HARDWOOD PAROXYSM’S 2012-2013 COMPLETE SEASON PREVIEW MAGAZINE. Maybe even print a copy out and give it to your best friend for his/her birthday. Whatever you choose, that’s your journey.  -Ed.

Great Theories Regarding Professional Basketball

by Connor Huchton 

Every Bobcats preview you’ll read will begin and likely end with a rightfully bleak outlook; sprinkled with glimmers of hope but ultimately nebulous and depressing. And that’s fine. The 2012-2013 Bobcats will not be a good team, just as most Bobcats squads have not been good teams in the franchise’s short, troubled history. But a bleak past and an – at best – uncertain future are not enough to erase what makes this Bobcat team interesting and dynamic enough to receive the average fan’s momentary attention.

Unlike last year’s team, which rode unceasing hopelessness and ineptitude towards the saving grace of a high-lottery pick, these Bobcats are in many areas competent and fun. Bismack Biyombo is one of the league’s foremost emerging shot blockers and help defenders. Kemba Walker’s potential as a scorer remains sizable if not vast. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can pass, defend, and rebound with the aplomb of a veteran, which gives him a positive distinction apart from nearly every other rookie in his class. Ramon Sessions is an acceptable distributor and scorer, Brendan Haywood still possesses enough defending prowess to occasionally anchor the team, Ben Gordon can provide scoring for a team that’s desperately needed it, and Gerald Henderson’s particular brand of underrated defense and mid-range shooting is an enjoyable change-of-pace to the Bobcats’ myriad collection of players.

And so there are reasons to watch this Bobcats’ team and wait for another high-lottery pick or some other untold basketball hero to arrive in Charlotte. A bad team can grow while it waits, slowly improving until the time comes when a player arrives who can transform the franchise. That transformative player may already be in Charlotte, under the acronym MKG, or he may arrive at a later time. But with clever management, principled coaching, and an ever-advancing supporting cast in tow, the Bobcats are changing now, and for the better.

I Had A Dream Last Night And It Looked Just Like A Dream

by James Herbert

Had the strangest dream. Kemba Walker was on TV accepting his Most Improved Player award. I know. It really shouldn’t go to second-year guys. But apparently he led all point guards in scoring thanks to Derrick Rose’s injury and Russell Westbrook’s decision to go all Wilt Chamberlain on everybody and lead the league in assists. Apparently Walker was so good that the Bobcats traded Ramon Sessions to the Knicks for Rasheed Wallace, who became fast friends with Bismack Biyombo.

Anyway, what’s weirder than Walker winning is who he thanked at the podium: his hypnotist. Walker said that he didn’t want to say anything about his secret weapon until he knew the NBA world was focused on him, and it was finally time to give credit where it was due. He said that, with a hypnotist’s help, he never once saw a Charlotte Bobcats jersey in his sophomore season, despite playing all 82 games and averaging 36 minutes a night.

All he saw were UConn jerseys.

The hypnotist came recommended by Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap, who wanted Walker to go back to the fearless, attacking leader he was as a junior in college. Walker initially resisted any kind of hypnosis, citing an incident at student orientation as a freshman, but when teammate Ben Gordon was leading the NBA in scoring two weeks into November the point guard could no longer ignore his coach’s plea.

The transformation was absolute. No longer did Walker have trouble with decision-making. No longer did he second-guess himself about attacking the basket and thus, when he got there, he finished around bigger players with confidence and ease. I guess Walker wasn’t too small or too shoot-first. I guess Walker’s game was NBA-ready.

I guess his problems were all in his head.

Ask Not For Whom The Bell Trolls, It’s Trollin’ For Thee

by Steve McPherson 

I have a sad confession to make. I wrote a lovely little chunk of words about what I thought would be the dominant meme for Charlotte’s season this year: Anthony Davis’ unibrow. I honestly think it was pretty funny, a good fluffy tongue-in-cheek piece that involved batsigns and marketing tie-ins with the Canadian beermaker Unibroue.

And then the other HP writers helpfully pointed out that I had written about the Hornets, who had left Charlotte ten years ago. I was incredulous. What were they going to tell me next? That the Royals are leaving Rochester?

Beaten but unbowed, I popped open Wikipedia to learn something about these Charlotte Bobcats, but of course, like many others on Wikipedia, the page was riddled with errors. Take the first sentence: ‘The Charlotte Bobcats are a professional basketball team based in Charlotte, North Carolina.” Plus it says here they’re owned by the greatest player to ever play the game and yet posted a winning percentage last year of .119. Doesn’t seem possible.

Oh wait: so being terribly awful was all part of the plan to secure the number one pick in the NBA Draft? Well, I don’t know if that’s a great plan, but at least it’s a plan. So who’d they get with the number one pick? Oh, I see.

Voltaire said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” I think I’d say, “If God did not exist, the 2012-13 Charlotte Bobcats.”

Jesus Christ Your Team Sucks

by Eric Maroun 

Seven. Seven wins in 66 games. One for every day of the week. And honestly, with a 0-3 record in Sunday games and no Thursday primetime games scheduled last year (because let’s be honest, we all know TNT wasn’t touching this team with a ten foot pole), even that may be a tad misleading. Yes, the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats were often catastrophic, occasionally hilarious, and consistently unwatchable. Michael Jordan’s competitiveness is well documented, and you couldn’t help but get the feeling that if anyone wanted to be the best at being the worst, it was him. Well, mission accomplished, MJ.

Despite zero teams with the worst record in league actually landing the number one draft pick in the NBA Lottery from 2005-2011, Bobcats fans – both of them – dreamed of landing prized one-and-done star Anthony Davis. When the ping pong balls bounced New Orleans’s way, it marked the Bobcats’ 60th loss of the season. Instead, they landed Davis’s college teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a perfectly fine young player who comes into the league with the reputation as “a guy that just wins at every level.” Definitely not a bad reputation to have, but there are a lot of guys who would look great and develop the same reputation playing alongside the likes of Kyrie Irving in high school and a record five other draft picks from the same class like MKG did at Kentucky. To his credit, Kidd-Gilchrist is a terrific wing defender and is able to score the ball well in transition and off of cuts when being fed by good point guard play. Luckily for him, he landed with Charlotte who boasts…*looks at depth chart* *wipes eyes* *looks at depth chart again* Ramon Sessions as a starter. Yes, Charlotte will begin the season with Ramon Sessions, a player who opted out of a $4.55 million deal with the title contending Lakers to test the free agent waters before landing with the worst team in the history of the NBA, as their primary decision maker on offense. Sessions will take the reins of an offense that finished dead last in the league in field goals made, field goal percentage, three point shooting, points scored, overall +/-, offensive rating, efficient field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage last year. It’s going to be another long year in Charlotte because let’s face it, this team sucks.

Two Mikes And A Kemba: The First Glimpse Of The New Bobcats

Photo by dbarronoss on Flickr

“You’re hard to pick, be a dancer,” new Charlotte Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap says to Kemba Walker.

Walker has just been screened off on a play in Summer League practice. Dunlap wants the point guard, who famously performed at the Apollo three times as a member of a hip-hop dance troupe, to use his quickness to get around the pick. It’s one of many defensive teaching moments during the two-hour-plus session at the Student Wellness Center at UNLV. Given who is assembled in the gym, it feels like training camp has started early.

Most teams brought only one or two rotation players to Vegas. Charlotte, however, might have four of its five starters here in Walker, Byron Mullens, Bismack Biyombo and No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Second round pick Jeffery Taylor should also be in the rotation come November and swingmen Gerald Henderson and Reggie Williams, though not participating in Summer League, are in the gym. Dunlap told management he wanted to coach the team rather than hand it off to an assistant and, though Walker’s legs are getting tired from playing pressure defense, he’s far from complaining.

“They’re great,” Walker said of Dunlap’s practices. “Really intense. Really getting us ready and prepared to play these games and win basketball games. We’re just getting better in a short period of time.”

The Bobcats need to get worlds better, as they finished last season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. For Walker, who won an NCAA Championship with UConn, a New York City high school championship with Rice High and played for the nation’s best AAU team in the New York Gauchos, this took a toll. “I know he took it the hardest,” said Warriors guard Charles Jenkins, who roomed with Walker last summer and considers him like a brother.

“Kemba’s a competitor,” Jenkins said. “He wants to win when it comes to anything. Him and my brother would play video games and if he ever lose he wanted to play again. He wanted to play again and he’d take things personally. Especially losing. I know that he didn’t have the year that he wanted to and I know that he’s working harder than ever right now just to make sure none of that will happen again.”

Walker came into the NBA alongside a fellow lottery pick in Biyombo, a project big man with elite defensive potential and an infectious, outgoing personality on and off the court. With the selection of Kidd-Gilchrist in last month’s draft, Charlotte has added another vital component to its core, a relentless defender who brings a winning tradition like Walker’s. Kidd-Gilchrist played for high school powerhouse St. Patrick’s in New Jersey and won an NCAA title last season at Kentucky. Walker has been a fan of his for years.

“I think we’re a lot alike, just different positions,” Walker said. “We’re both really intense, we’re both hard workers. And we just hate to lose. It’s great to have another guy on the team like that. It’s going to be a fun year.”

While Biyombo’s presence was essential to keep spirits up when the Bobcats were in basketball hell, Kidd-Gilchrist’s job is to make sure they never come close to those depths again. “I think he’s everything,” Dunlap said on Kidd-Gilchrist’s importance to building a winning culture. “We made him our second pick. That’s how much we believe in him.”

To Dunlap, Kidd-Gilchrist is a great defensive player because of his attitude. “He can get banged, he can get popped. He has the willingness to be hurt in order to succeed. To be a good defensive player you’re going to get screened, you’re going to get thrown to the floor, all kinds of things and he’s just a very mentally tough young man.”

To the man himself, it is simpler. “I have a lot of heart,” Kidd-Gilchrist said, before repeating himself. “I have a lot of heart. That’s really about it. I don’t like being scored on, so I guess you can say that too.”

He is the rare blue-chip prospect most often lauded for his competitive fire and dogged defensive determination than his skills with the ball. “I’m just one of a kind, I think. My energy level is up. I think I was always like that. I’ve been like that my whole life,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.

It’s unusual for a professional organization to ask an 18-year-old to give a team its identity, but for a coach who prides himself on ball pressure and unselfishness, Kidd-Gilchrist is a perfect pacesetter. “He sets the tone for everybody else,” Dunlap said. “He’s a locker room guy in that he doesn’t use a lot of words but he has an impact with his voice and he also backs it up with his energy.”

Walker is the one who’s supposed to use a lot of words. “He’s our quarterback, “Dunlap said. “In the huddles, I want him to talk first. It doesn’t mean that other guys can’t talk but I want him to get used to using his voice so that we develop him in that area.”

“He’s a real good teammate. There’s a lot of chemistry between us, too. I don’t even know why, just a lot of chemistry we got,” said Kidd-Gilchrist just a day after he and Walker played their first game together, a blowout win in which the rookie finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Kidd-Gilchrist would miss the rest of Summer League with a sore knee.

There was no Summer League for Walker before his rookie season. After the Bobcats picked him and held an introductory press conference last June, no one in the organization could even speak with him until the conclusion of the lockout. “Nobody had a chance because of the lockout to take him through the steps, so the coaching was excellent,” said Dunlap. “What I’m trying to do is take coach Silas’ things that he taught him and then put him on the fly and modify him. But we have time to teach.”

Walker’s first season was by no means a disaster, but it wasn’t what he hoped, averaging 12.1 points and 4.4 assists on 36.7 percent shooting in 27.2 minutes a game for a team that finished 7-59. While he still had his elite handle and speed, Walker had trouble balancing his scoring instincts with the distribution duties demanded of him. “Kemba has got to be brought back to how he played at UConn. There’s no doubt in my mind he was one of the top five players in the United States of America,” Dunlap said.

There is precedent for a Walker breakout. As a sophomore, the Huskies failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and lost in the second round of the NIT. Walker averaged 14.6 points. With the departure of seniors Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson and the arrival of freshmen Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier, Walker’s junior season was radically different in terms of chemistry and its conclusion. After eagerly accepting a leadership role and averaging 23.5 points per game, he was named MOP of the Final Four as he became a national champion. After some skepticism, Walker submitted there was some symmetry in the seasons: “Yeah, because coach [Dunlap], he gives me a lot of freedom just to play. Just to make plays, whether it be me scoring or me making a great pass,” he said.

Walker leads Summer League in assists with 5.8 per game despite recording zero in Charlotte’s lone loss in Friday’s finale, also the one game Dunlap missed due to his Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Hall of Fame induction. Walker averaged 15.8 points and only turned the ball over five times in five games. These numbers cannot be taken to mean that he has turned the corner — it’s Summer League and he is shooting sub-40 percent — but it is an encouraging first step away from last year’s misery for Walker and for Charlotte.

“I’m just in a process, so I don’t worry about yesterday,” said Dunlap. “What I want to do is do things the right way. And if winning comes as a byproduct of that, which it always has in a lot of places I’ve been, then I’m happy. But I’m fearless in terms of how things are done right and methodology of teaching. It’ll happen.”

It helps when your most important, talented players want to learn and hate to lose.

The Charlotte Bobcats Refuse To Die. OK, They Refuse To Die Again.

Photo from joka2000 via Flickr

We’re somewhere between 2 and 3 games in to the season, which makes drawing conclusions quite a pointless affair. However, we need to talk a little bit about the Charlotte Bobcats, just to be sure they don’t slip back into oblivion before we manage to.

Somehow, despite knowing going in that they are expected to be horrendous at best, the Bobcats have refused to play the part. After pulling out a tight if disgusting win against the Milwaukee Bucks, facing the big bad Heat last night, the Bobcats started the game with an 11-0 run and leading for most of the game before bowing out to just too much Big Three. And while we’re not one’s to pump up the Bad News Bears narrative, something about Paul Silas’ merry band of misfits makes sense in a perverted, lottery-bound sense.

Sheer statistical dominance means we are obliged to start with Boris Diaw. Thrust into a starting center position to which he gives up several inches but exceeds by a few hundred pounds, Diaw started his season with two straight dominant all around performances. Diaw racked up 16 points, 16 boards and 8 assists (to go with 6 turnovers, but you take it), neatly complementing his 9-11-9 opening night. While Diaw is probably past the point in his career where he’s a nightly triple-doublt threat, we have seen this Boris before. Though we have lamented his devolution infinite times, that player lies somewhere beneath those layers of fat. Maybe, just maybe, all Boris needed was yet another contract year, in a sickening yet uplifting display of reverting to a previously set peak.

However, several years of watching basketball, 9 of them including Boris, have us somewhat skeptical of a miraculous cash-induced turnaround. Neither do we want to pay much attention to Corey Maggette unfortunately lounging about in Charlotte’s small forward spot. These are just the unfortunate remains of a veteran stripdown that is only mostly complete. What truly rocks our socks about this team is the way that it has embraced the essence of lottery-dwelling.

Too often, we see rebuilding squads ignore their youngsters for the sake of middling chumps, guys who coaches prefer because they’ve known their names longer, or because they make mistakes for the 100th time instead of the 3rd. Why, just right now, a few League Pass clicks away, Tyrone Corbin is stubbornly refusing to play thrilling lottery pick Alec Burks for the exciting likes of an inconvenient Josh Howard and a near comatose Raja Bell.

Silas is having none of that. Part of this is by necessity, of course – Charlotte has just 5 roster players above the age of 25 – but giving minutes to Byron Mullens in the NBA, in the year 2011, is something very few coaches would willingly do, even if the guy they’re keeping on the bench is DeSagana Diop,

And yet, there’s Byron, all frightened 7 feet of him, playing crunch time minutes against Miami – and doing stuff. Mid-range jumpers, fighting (and eventually losing out, but we’re optimists) for rebounds. He may still look like a confused skeleton, but for a measly 2 night sample size, he’s a confused skeleton that belongs.

Mullens is the most extreme example, just because he’s shown nothing in the past beyond being Byron Freaking Mullens, but this is going on throughout Charlotte’s roster. D.J. White continues to get credit after last year’s post-all-star stretch showed that he’s not just a per-minute wonder; Derrick Brown has yet to do anything with actual minutes, but he’s finally getting them; Kemba Walker is such a fearless fiend that if he asked me to take a 40 footer with Dwight Howard guarding him for the fate of the game, I’d be hard pressed to tell him he’s pre-destined to fail; and Bismack Biyombo may or may not be awful at basketball, but he also makes pogo sticks look like peppermint sticks without the peppermint. Neither of them is actually good, but all of them could be, and all of them are trying. More importantly, all of them are getting the chance to try.

But above all, we have the early buds of the potential evolution of D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson. Both players have had strong showings on an NBA-level before, and both come with their reservations – if we crowned Augustin for every bombastic showing gone awry we’d have more monarchies than an HBO fall lineup, and for all of Henderson’s heroics he’s still banking way too much on that long 2 rattling in.

But watching the game, seeing the confidence with which Augustin pulls up for 3s that has only occasionally been part of his arsenal, the calm in Henderson’s strut as he steps into a go ahead 3 with 12 seconds left against the Heat, one can’t help but feel optimistic about both players’ futures. The two aren’t doing things they shouldn’t be capable of – they’re just doing more of what we already knew they were good at, with just a bit of growth thrown in for good measure. Sample size be damned, isn’t that what improvement is all about?

The conclusions this article seemingly derives are about 2 months premature, if not more. This team is still 3-4 major pieces from even pretending to do something, even if everything we saw is sustainable and not even Mullens’ mid-range magic is a fluke. However, if two games ago the Bobcats were in Nowhere land, their two young guards have at the very least identified an actual highway with an actual destination.

HP 2011-12 Season Preview: Charlotte Bobcats and the Cult of Biyombo

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. The lockout has lifted, we have a season, can I get an Amen? (Amen.) And in the spirit of renewal, our shiny new cadre of writers is putting together previews for all 30 teams in true HP style. From where teams are going to what their disgrace is to explorations of pop culture, we are about to rock, salute us, can I get an Amen? (Amen.) So sit back, relax, and ponder the awesomeness of this fully operational Hardwood Paroxysm 3.0. -Ed. 


 

Quo Vadimus (Where Are We Going?)

by Noam Schiller

In the summer of 2004, Bob Johnson was given a new NBA franchise. Apart from a horrendous name, questionable color scheme and a previously scorned market, the new Charlotte Bobcats were a clean slate. Sure, they would be terrible early on, but that terribleness could have been developed in every direction possible.

The chosen direction was building around Emeka Okafor, trying to work with the scrap heap that Charlotte obtained in the expansion draft (which produced Gerald Wallace, the best player in franchise history, and a bunch of well-remembered luminaries such as Brevin Knight and Primoz Brezec), fail miserably on a few lottery picks (Sean May! Sean May! Sean May! Sean May! Why have you forsaken me?), and try to pick up a few above-average veterans to shoot for that 44 win season and a 7th seed.

The shot hit the target in 2009-2010, but after a a still-juggernaut Orlando Magic squad demolished the enjoyabgle Raymond Felton-Wallace-Stephen Jackson Cats in the playoffs, the re-dismantling of a team that mishandled the entire situation to begin with was a near certainty. Luckily, Charlotte’s brass realized this (though still not as fast as one would hope), and so, once again, the Bobcats enter an NBA season with the words tabula rasa drawn all over their roster sheet.

This is a good thing. This is something to be excited for. And even though the Bobcats’ roster is currently empty-incarnate, we can’t help but want to watch every single second of it.

Don’t get us wrong, Charlotte isn’t winning anything this year. They will lose almost all nights, lose miserably most. The talent just isn’t there, and the refinement on whatever talent is there is too little. But how will they lose? That’s what we just don’t know.

Will they lose because their scrappy defense just won’t be enough once the ball goes inside against Boris Diaw, center? Will they lose because even though Gerald Henderson is extremely enjoyable as he inefficiently bounces towards 16 points on 15 shots, the sheer notion of him as the best scorer on an NBA team is laughable? Will they lose because Kemba Walker will shoot too much on Friday, but defer too much on Wednesday? Will they lose because Tyrus Thomas will get himself ejected on a nightly basis, or despite his breakout 18-12-4 averages? Will they lose because Bismack Biyombo (coming this year to an NBA near you!) will only block 12 of the opponents 75 field goal attempts? Who knows? Who possibly could?

That’s the beauty of the 2011-2012 Bobcats: anything can happen, any path can be taken there. We believe the 4 years remaining on Tyrus’ deal work out, we hope that Kemba and Biyombo are not only legit NBA players but stars in the makings, we know Henderson is a good wing in an actual basketball league, we fear Corey Maggette and everything for which he stands; but the Bobcats, as a whole? Would you dare predict a single thing about where they stand in the year 2013?

So often, expectations are nothing but shackles, a pre-determined limitation to the otherwise careless mind that is just trying to watch some basketball. Well, mind, you are free. Don’t delve into the depths of losing (which will come) or the flaws of youth (which are bountiful). Let your mind wander, let your essence float in the empty room. Don’t steer towards an exit – they are too far away to even know what they look like. You will get to one anyway, eventually, but you will have fun with the element of surprise. Whether that element is D.J. Augustin looking like a legit all-star point guard in February and a frightened college player in March, or Matt Caroll laughing in your face as he clunks another three pointer (THE ONE DAMN THING HE SHOULD BE GOOD AT) and gets paid for it.

Most of all, cherish it. Recognize how rare it is to see a team where results don’t matter and a record is just that button you press on your DVR to make sure you don’t miss Reggie Williams. Most of all, enjoy it. If Paul Silas smiles on the sidelines no matter what happens to his team, you owe it to him to smile back.

Video Interlude – The Known Future

by Connor Huchton

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyF6amZw82M w=600 h=400]

The Disgrace

by Curtis Harris

You mean aside from the obvious team name, which my middle school used? I’m not being snarky, my middle school legitimately was called the [quaint small town suburb] Bobcats. At least we weren’t named to gently stoke the ego of our erstwhile owner. Where was I… oh yeah, Desagana Diop still having a spot on this roster while Primoz Brzec has been banished to Europe is abominable. Wait, that wasn’t it either…

Oh yes, Charles Oakley not returning as an assistant coach. That’s the disgrace stinking up the Queen City. Unfortunately, Oak is dealing with a bad back and we do wish him well in his recovery from surgery, but he ought to have a nice comfy spot on the Bobcat sideline awaiting him. Aside from being the Toughest Man Alive, Oakley managed to get Kwame Brown to use his massive 6’11”, 280 lbs frame effectively. Kwame Brown. Effective. Let that marinate…

Now thank Charles Oakley for basting Brown’s  sorry career in the marinade of toughness, gumption and struttin’ confidence. Hopefully Charlotte changes course and welcomes Oakley back at some point, but until then we’re sincerely not thrilled with his absence.

 

Video Interlude II – The Unknown Future Boogaloo

by Connor Huchton

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_SB-ZKAhGM w=600 h=400]

 

Gamera Goes Maracas forMatt Carroll

by Curtis Harris

That effervescent jumper of Matt Carroll. So sweet, so fine. Whether coming off a screen or pulling up in transition, there is nothing better than Matt Carroll stroking. The Notre Dame alum puts a saccharine arc on all of his shots that makes honey fall from the sky. It’s hell to get that honey cleaned up and ruins all the tobacco in North Carolina, but my lord is it worth it to see Carroll stick his hand in the cookie jar on each jumper. When he awakes from his diabetic coma after watching a Matt Carroll mix that’s smoother than velvet cake, Gamera just gets to shakin’ his maracas for joy…

 

The Bobcats Did Right, and Are All Right

Walk up to an NBA blogger at Blogs With Balls and ask them who the best NBA writer on the web is. The pound for pound best writer about the NBA whose work is strictly web based. Not the best blogger (Abbot), or the best stylist (Shoals), or the best (insert whatever term I’d have to make up to get Skeets on here). But the best writer and Kelly Dwyer will come pouring out of their mouth as if he were the seventh shot of Bullit. He is prolific, and brilliant, witty and fair. And now that I’ve kissed his ass for a paragraph,  you’ve likely figured out that the crux of this post is to disagree with him. I see my clever ruse has failed. Drats.

Dwyer, as you probably know and have read, assassinated the Bobcats following their sweep to the Orlando Magic. It’s the kind of post that makes me want to use the term “curbstomp” but since it originated with a neo-Nazi in American History X, that’s probably not appropriate. It was a crowbar job, though, completely leveling the franchise after its first playoff appearance. Ever.

In the past, I’ve made the mistake of making snide remarks at Dwyer for what I perceived to be preferential treatment of certain teams. Which is, quite honestly, immature and beneath me on my part. When I sat down and watched the Lakers create seven possession in a row where they created great shots and were big and talented enough to capitalize on all of them, in an important game, I started to get it. The guy just loves great basketball. Likely a product of having grown up with the greatest franchise of the past 20 years in Jordan’s Bulls. I come from the polar-opposite. I gravitate towards the mediocre (Paroxi-wife: “You’re not happy unless someone is winning flawed.”). Which is probably why I found myself irked from the get-go this year with Dwyer’s feelings towards the Bobcats. Preseason he pegged them for 19 wins. 19. Daaaamn. And it reads much like today’s dissection. It’s probably some ingrained sense of defense of the underdog that causes me to get all snarky, or perhaps it’s just that the Bobcats routinely (coming into this season) beat the Lakers. Plus they play in a small market and are an expansion franchise. In another life, I would have been a ‘Cats fan.

Dwyer’s primary argument, from how I read it, is that the team deserves scorn for setting its sights low. It sacrificed long-term prosperity for just-above-mediocrity-like-by-an-inch, brought in players with bad contracts, didn’t put together a good offense, and generally were just bleh. It’s really important to note that Dwyer is far from the only person to think this way. Tom Ziller, who’s the secondary dry-heave to that best writer question above, also pegged them as the bleakest of the bleak back in 08. And since then they added Stephen Jackson’s absurd contract and Tyson Chandler. It’s not like I’m here to say that they’re set for the future, that things aren’t that bad. They are that bad. Theo Ratliff starts at center for God’s sake. I see what they’re saying.

My objection, instead, is that they made a mistake in what they’ve done. That they were wrong to go down this path. That they cannot be succesful with this group, or that this organization underperformed even if the team overperformed and  the team should be dismissed. Instead, I think Dwyer and I agree that they got exactly what they wanted. But I disagree that they should have wanted something else.

************************************************************************

It’s remarkable that so many of us tend to laud certain organizations’ approaches as genius, complimenting the small parts, the little things, while ignoring the fact that there’s a neon-green radioactive elephant hosing itself in the middle of the room. For instance, ask me who the executive of the year was, and I’d probably say Hammond but my instinct would be to say Presti. Because Presti drafted James Harden who fits, and Serge Ibaka who serves a need, and most importantly, didn’t screw with anything. He’s the anti-Pritchard (KP as the hot property is so 2008). But whether it’s Pritchard, Presti, Popovich, whoever, you’re still talking about guys who landed at the top of the draft and got game-changers. The Thunder didn’t even have to choose between Durant and Oden! Pritchard got LMA, then Roy in the same draft! Even Hammond took Jennings who turned out to be brilliant. More and more I’m convinced that the draft is an abject crap shoot. I pulled for Tyreke Evans hard last year, while everyone was talking about Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry. And I look right, a whopping 10 months in. Meanwhile, in three years, Curry could be an MVP candidate, Rubio could be leading the league in assists and Jennings could be in the Finals at this pace. All while the seven foot guy with crazy athleticism in a sport where everyone says you can’t teach length looks like an abject disaster. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

What there is rhyme and reason to, however, is that Charlotte got one shot, and then never got back. They start operations in 2004. They start a year earlier and get a top three pick as is required for expansion franchises? Sure, they may have gotten Darko. But if they didn’t we’d be looking at them differently. They get the #2 spot in 2004. Orlando takes Dwight Howard. They take the other guy, who despite what a lot of people thought, didn’t really excel once he got out of Charlotte. 2005? Raymond Felton. Still with the team. Not Jameer Nelson, obviously, but passable, and you know, typically, taking North Carolina guards works out pretty well. Just sayin’. 2006 was a car wreck of a draft and well all know it. The Ammo pick was bad but I remember when the same words in discussion of Stephen Curry’s shooting ability were used to describe Ammo.

The point is that there are tons of ways that the Bobcats could have traded for more picks, done more to load up on young talent, but no guarantee any of them were going to pan out. And eventually, just to stay afloat, you have to put together some wins. The team was on the edge of a cliff going into this season. It needed to be able to prove itself as something that wasn’t a laughingstock.

I’m a firm believer in establishing a winning atmosphere. It helps with ticket sales, sponsorships, coaching, free agents, re-signing players, the works. Even if you’re only two wins over, you can still say you made the playoffs. You’re not a complete joke. You’re not the Clippers. The Bobcats made a concentrated effort to try and make something of their franchise, to get that playoffs run under their belt and let people know in Carolina it’s safe to come back inside the NBA house. And to do that? You’ve either got to do what Presti and Pritchard did and load up on picks and expendable contracts, or get aggressive with pursuit of trade assets you can acquire. And if you go for the picks option and screw up? You’re the Timberwolves. Tons of picks! Lots of young options! AND NONE OF THEM ARE AN IMPACT PLAYER.

The other option is what the Bobcats did. And they did it partially because of the demands of their coach, the first really great coach they’ve had on staff. Brown’s a guy that likes veterans. He wants guys that know what they’re doing that he doesn’t have to destroy into tiny pieces (in his mind). So they liquidated the youth (that sucked anyway) in pursuit of older guys. And so what? Chandler’s an injury magnet but fine when he plays. They needed offense. At the beginning of this year they had one of the worst offenses in the league. And instead of sitting back and just accepting it, drifting their way to what probably would have been much closer to Dwyer’s prediction of 19 wins, they actually went out and tried to do something about it.

Let’s stress that. They didn’t just undercut, go cheap, and struggle. The wanted to make the playoffs, so they went out and got a scorer. Was it an elite scorer? No. But those are rarely available. And when they are? They turn out to be Ben Gordon. What was worse, acquiring Ben Gordon or Stephen Jackson? Gordon, right? Because he’s younger. But he’s also more expensive (Jackson’s contract-expiration year, when they can move him, is still only $800k more than what Gordon made this year), doesn’t defend nearly as well, isn’t a leader, and his contract gets more expensive the older he gets. If you’re looking to improve now, Jackson’s not a bad investment.

The Bobcats made the playoffs. They picked up more fans, brought themselves some legitimacy. They’re not the Lakers or Spurs, but they’re also no longer the Clippers, or, well, the Bobcats. Furthermore, the two things that have been evident the last two years is that no one is unmovable. The team can continue to tinker, continue to adjust, keep moving veteran pieces for other veteran pieces.

Now, part of that is severely damaged if the reports are true that Brown’s gone, which he probably is. Fits his profile, family’s in Philly, a management job is less stress. (Note: If he does stay everyone’s going to owe him a big ass apology.) And starting over with this kind of roster could be bad. But at least Jordan, for all his faults, you know will want to field a contender. He’ll be willing to invest to make the team successful. If something goes their way? Great. If not? They’ve at least built themselves into an actual NBA team, in a small market, in a major recession, and they did it by acquiring a team full of guys you won’t see on posters, but who work their ass off every single night. And if I’m a fan of that team? I’d much rather see that than a team that doesn’t give a crap.

Contending for greatness doesn’t just take skill and money. It takes opportunity that must be granted, timing, and luck. The Cats haven’t had any of those things. But at least they’ve stabilized the core. To laugh them off stage because they ran into the team that wound up with the other guy, and who have built a monstrous team around him (including, I might add, a veteran everyone thought was disgustingly overpaid when they signed him, and then also Hedo Turkoglu who is now overpaid, and now Vince Carter who people say the same about; it’s not like outside of Howard they’re full of young guns) is a bit unfair, and ignores the success that they’ve had. No, it’s not a championship ring. But it’s a start, a real start. And for fans in Charlotte, it’s at least something to make them feel good and give them hope.

Sometimes you gotta start small.