A Commitment to Relevance | Baseline 2017 Hornets Offseason Preview

Rich Cho - Baseline 2017 Offseason Preview
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JUMP TO SECTION: WHAT WENT WRONG | HORNETS DRAFT PHILOSOPHY2017 HORNETS DRAFT | TEAM NEEDS2017 HORNETS FREE AGENCY | 2017 HORNETS TRADE SCENARIOS | POTENTIAL DEPTH CHARTS | WRAP UP | BONUS: GEISINGER ON THE STARTING FIVE

Sometime around mid-afternoon on June 22nd, 2011, Charlotte Bobcats newly crowned general manager Rich Cho made his first significant roster move with the franchise.

Cho managed to contrive a scenario in which Charlotte moved up from the 19th to the 7th pick for the measly price of a disgruntled Stephen Jackson*. That’s twelve spots in a good Draft for essentially nothing.

The trade was a high level front office negotiation Charlotte fans were unfamiliar with since the days of Bob Bass. What Cho ended up doing with the fruits of his victory would exemplify the next half decade of his tenure.

HUGO IN THE MIDDLE

Flash forward six years and the Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s middle. Pundits on either side of Team Tank have seen this coming for years. The franchise is consistently too good to finish in the league’s Lottery basement and not good enough to do significant damage in the postseason. Their Drafting strategy of hitting singles and doubles prevent the strikeouts of the past (Adam Morrison) but also eliminates any chance of unearthing the next Greek Freak mid-round.

Charlotte’s roster is stacked with high character guys on guaranteed contracts that range from veteran bargains (Kemba) to slightly above going rate (Batum). No All-Stars on Rookie scale wages, no albatross 35 year olds on max deals. Again, right down the middle. Vanilla.

In an era of extremes, many fans hate this. If you’re not going to be the best, you need to be the worst and hoard draft picks like a prepper fresh off an Infowars binge.

But as we’ve seen with the Suns, Sixers and Magic – three teams that have committed to “The Process” much longer than Charlotte’s single tank season of 2011-2012 – this path is extremely taxing. Longterm tanking shakes a franchise to its very core and the architects in charge rarely survive to see the payoffs (if there are any).

Charlotte never really had a choice in the matter. The city is on its second NBA marriage. Unlike the first, this one had been bad from the start. There was no love affair. No passion. No “good times” to fall back on. They were single, we were single, it looked good on paper. The Bobcats were a disaster from the jump.

The franchise took a sober look at their situation and picked the only direction that offered any reasonable hope of success. Relevance may not be the storybook ending sports fans dream of but it’s a hell of an upgrade from the embarrassment of an eventual second relocation.

THE PAIN OF UNMET EXPECTATIONS

It’s important to remember that the 2016-2017 season was disappointing precisely because the team had such high expectations going into it. Any longtime fan of the franchise understands that this was a foreign concept to all involved.

For a decade the only thing one could realistically expect from the Bobcats was to be slightly less bad than the year before. Suddenly, the Hornets were a roster full of competent NBA players on the verge of breaking through 50 wins and making it past the first round of the postseason.

None of that happened and we were all let down by a season of nagging injuries, depth disasters and late game giveaways. Now that the pain has had a chance to wear off, it’s important to remember that the reasons many of us were so high on Charlotte last fall remain intact today.

The Hornets starting five were fantastic whenever they were healthy enough to play together (depending on how you sort, the starters had somewhere between a Top 5 and Top 11 net rating in the entire league) and are all locked up to relatively reasonable longterm deals. The team’s coach is well-respected throughout the league and is entering his fifth consecutive season with the team (a feat only one other Charlotte NBA coach has achieved in nearly 30 years).

The Hornets don’t owe any future first round picks and, aside from a very questionable midseason trade for Miles Plumlee, have rather clean-looking books going forward.

Let’s breakdown the primary culprits for Charlotte’s 2016-2017 swoon:

  1. Health
  2. Depth
  3. Inability to Close Games

A roster can overcome nagging injuries with depth and overcome depth limitations with a healthy core. A roster cannot overcome both simultaneously.

Last season’s enormous cap spike combined with Charlotte’s plethora of unrestricted free agents left Cho searching the clearance aisle to find replacements for Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee and Al Jefferson. He found mostly junk.

Roy Hibbert, either through injury or play style, just couldn’t give Cliff what he needed from a backup five every night. Ramon Sessionsthree-point aberration in Washington proved just that. Marco Belinelli was the best of the bunch but his defensive limitations (combined with the team’s lack of rim protection) overshadowed some truly special offensive performances.

There’s also the fact that each of the departing rotation players (Big Al, Lee and J-Lin) could be counted on to give you late game buckets that Charlotte was desperate for all season.

From CBS Sports – “(the Hornets) were 8-14 in games decided by five points or less, lost all six of their overtime games and went 0-9 in games decided by three or less points, which is the worst record in such games in NBA history.”

And even though Cho faces less unrestricted free agent chaos this summer, the front office is armed with precious few ways to resolve the team’s lingering depth and scoring issues.

DRAFT PHILOSOPHY: SINGLES AND DOUBLES

When the 7th pick was announced back in 2011, it marked the last time Charlotte swung for the fences in the Draft.

The story goes that Cho had scouted Bismack Biyombo extensively for years, well before Biz’s Nike Hoops Summit explosion that put him on the rest of the league’s radar. Having previously worked under Sam Presti in Seattle and OKC, Cho saw his own version of Serge Ibaka right in front of him; a shot-blocking centerpiece to anchor a defense around.

Never mind that Biyombo had few professional basketball skills. Never mind that Biyombo could barely catch a pass much less rain down corner threes like his Congo counterpart in Oklahoma. Cho was dialed in on this 19** year old’s potential.

Had Cho drafted either Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson with that pick (both players were Lottery projected and the ‘Cats needed a wing after trading both Jackson and Gerald Wallace in the previous six months), his legacy would be cemented as Greatest GM in Charlotte NBA history and he’d widely be considered one of the league’s best GMs today.

Instead, Cho’s Bismack Myopia – coupled with a few ping-pong balls the following June – cemented Charlotte’s middle of the pack future and overshadows his otherwise solid reputation amongst fans to this day.

The Biyombo legacy continues to shape the team’s guiding Draft philosophy. Drafting “busts” is simply not an option in the QC; the Hornets have made getting longterm contributions from top picks their utmost priority.

With the exception of Biyombo, every Lottery selection the team has made since 2011 has signed an extension with the team. The player who would’ve been eligible for an early extension this summer, Noah Vonleh, was traded for a key vet (Batum) who signed a new five year deal last July.

In brief, the team has made a commitment to extract longterm value out of their Lottery selections and this longterm value trumps any and everything else – including gambling on high risk/high reward projects.

And really, can you blame Charlotte for implementing this strategy? Between 2004 and 2011, the Bobcats owned seven Lottery picks. Just two of those picks signed extensions with the team after their rookie deals (Emeka Okafor, Gerald Henderson) and the rest either walked or were traded for nothing of longterm value (we can debate the Brandon Wright > J-Rich > Diaw/Bell swap another time).

Additionally, Michael Jordan’s own Draft trauma serves to only further cement the team’s conservative approach. After Kwame and AMMO, it’s doubtful the G.O.A.T. has it in him for another decade of Crying MJ memes mocking his talent evaluation.

HORNETS 2017 Draft Options

All of this points us in a likely direction for the Hornets to take in June. We know that they crave certainty, we know that they prioritize character, big collegiate program experience and are not above drafting for need. We know that Coach Clifford has at least some minor input into the process.

Couple all this with Charlotte’s cap constrictions and it leads me to believe that if they keep the pick, the Hornets will be motivated to land a guy who has a shot at making Cliff’s rotation as soon as possible.

And thus the dilemma. Two of the top players projected to be around when the Hornets pick at 11 are not rotation ready: Gonzaga’s Zach Collins and Strasbourg’s (France) Frank Ntilikina.

Collins flashes truly incredible skill for a seven footer but needs time to develop both physically and mentally on the court. Zach would also be the third 7 foot white guy Drafted by Charlotte in their previous four Lotteries. Does that mean anything on the court? Other than positional redundancy, no. But optics matter and I’m sure the organization has at least considered the negative fan response.

Ntilikina offers his own challenges. Aside from having many of the same developmental requirements as Collins, French Frank is a primary ball handler prone to Cliff’s least favorite hoops sin: unforced turnovers. The safe money is on Frank investing the first half of his rookie campaign in Greensboro.

Still, Ntilikina is in many ways the team’s best shot at nabbing a potential superstar at a position of need. Six-five point guards with 7 foot wingspans are the rarest of talents, especially those who can shoot, defend and are blessed with lead guard court vision.

Given their pasts, will Cho and MJ gamble on a high upside developmental pick? Or will they continue to play it safe? If they are bold, my prediction is that it’ll either be Ntilikina or Collins.

But if the franchise stays true to form and tries to find a rotation ready, “sure-thing”, I’d rank the rest of their Draft board in the following order:

  1. Donovan Mitchell, Combo Guard | Louisville
  2. Luke Kennard, Wing | Duke
  3. Justin Jackson, Wing | UNC
  4. Ike Anigbogu, C | UCLA

Of the four, I like Mitchell most. He’s a combo guard who can shoot and has the physical profile (6’10” wingspan, thick 215lb body) to finish at the rim and fight through screens. Donovan could play spot minutes at the one next to Batum when Kemba sits and alongside Walker when Cliff plays two points in the backcourt. Donovan also comes across as a very smart, grounded kid in interviews.

Shooting is why the team could go with a locally-sourced wing (Jackson/Kennard). I initially had them rated equally but as I watch them more, Kennard seems the better pro prospect. Luke is a year younger with a much faster, more consistent stroke over his career. He has very good court vision for his size and his ability to shoot, create off the dribble and move the ball with purpose make him an intriguing offensive prospect. But he comes with major defensive limitations; similar to Frank Kaminsky, opposing players simply go through him.

Jackson has better length and (theoretic) defensive potential but turned 22 in March – how much upside is left? Justin’s release is much slower, less consistent and his floor game (aside from a deadly, ridiculously beautiful looking floater) is behind Kennard’s.

Neither wing screams star but they’d have a chance to crack the rotation by at least the following season, when Marco Belinelli’s contract expires. The league has a wing deficit overall (see KCP and Otto Porter’s inevitable max contracts this summer) and Drafting even a middling talent could be one of the few ways of getting one on the cheap.

If the team decides to go with Anigbogu, I’d be a little surprised. The kid obviously has the potential to be a defensive beast – think Ian Mahimni or Hassan Whiteside without the baggage – but he’s got more than just a little Biyombo to his game and I can’t imagine Cho and Clifford going back to that well again unless they are certain he can become at least an average offensive player for his position.

HORNETS TEAM NEEDS

Before we get into free agency or potential trade targets, let’s review Charlotte’s depth chart:

  • PG: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions (TO), Briante Weber (TO)
  • SG: Nic Batum, Marco Belinelli
  • SF: MKG, Jeremy Lamb
  • PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant (TO)
  • C: Cody Zeller, Miles Plumlee
    (TO = Team Option)

The bench has two primary issues to be remedied and one secondary. First, Marco Belinelli and Jeremy Lamb are largely redundant. Both are strictly twos and neither have the physical profile or defensive ability to guard potent, big wings like Paul George or Jimmy Butler should either Nic or MKG miss time or need a rest. Adding a backup wing with decent size is a major priority. Preferably one who can score. More on this later.

The other primary bench issue is at backup point. Hornets fans were spoiled a season ago when the team had a starting caliber lead guard as a backup. Jeremy Lin was more or less the prototypical backup to Kemba: big enough to play alongside Walker, good enough to start when Kemba was hurt and smart enough at both ends of the court that Cliff trusted him to close games. Few of those things could be said about his replacement.

I asked hoops stat savant and friend of the Baseline, Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird – a MUST Twitter follow for Hornets fans) to give me a stat or two that reflects why Ramon Sessions was either under-appreciated or rightfully maligned by fans. Here’s what he sent me:

(if numbers hurt your brain, jump to my summary)

Geisinger on Sessions: The Bad

Ramon’s shooting declined at all levels, including important areas for a guard who made a name for himself as a driver: restricted area (48.9 FG%), inside 10 feet (44.2 FG%), and attempts after 3-6 dribbles (31.3 FG%).

His field goal percentage on drives dropped from 46.6 FG% to 38.3 FG%; his field goal percentage on pull-ups dropped, too, from 39 FG% to 32.9%

FT rate dropped from 47.8% to 44.9%, and so too did his FTA per 100 possessions — from 8.3 to 7.3.

When looking at two-man lineup combinations, Sessions had a positive point differential with only one other player: 13 minutes with Brian Roberts. In those minutes, which occurred in garbage time, Charlotte still scored fewer than 1 point per possession.

They did score well with he and Kemba on the floor, though: 116.7 points per 100 possessions (121 minutes). But they still had a negative point differential.

Sesh was just one of just six guys in the NBA this season with more than 800 minutes, a usage rate above 20%, BPM below -3, and a FG% less than 40% (it’s not good company).

(*All of these season comparisons are from 2015-16 to 2016-17. That doesn’t really do Ramon too many favors, because 15-16 was the best season he had in years. The drops wouldn’t be quite as jarring if looking at 14-15 or 13-14.)

Geisinger on Sessions: The Good

Pick-and-roll shooting dropped from 43 FG% to 36.8 FG%, and he dropped from the 74th percentile in PNR efficiency to the 59th percentile. But he still scored 0.82 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll, which is pretty good. He drew a shooting foul on 17.8% of these possessions — good for the fifth best rate in the NBA amongst players with at least 150 PNR possessions.

Now back to the studio. Thanks Brian!

In summary, Sesh regressed beyond even Bobcat Ramon levels and was a slightly below average backup point when he was healthy. The Hornets hold a team option for $6.3m next season and it seems inevitable that they’ll decline it, right?…Right?

2017 FREE AGENCY: DEPTH AND TAXES

As I mentioned before, Cho has done a nice job of locking in a quality starting five. That’s the good news. The bad news is that after the midseason addition of Plumlee, the team is effectively capped out.

Baseline Hornets Salaries May 7 2017

Once Charlotte signs their Lottery pick and exercises team options on Briante Weber and Johnny O’Bryant (both expected), they’ll be around $6 million over the league’s $102 million salary cap.

Add in a full Midlevel offer (which jumps to $8.4 million starting salary this season) and you’re up to $110 million. Pickup Ramon’s team option and you’re at $123 million. The Luxury Tax is $121 million. No, the 36-win Charlotte Hornets are not paying the Luxury Tax.

This would seem to only reinforce Charlotte’s motivation to decline Sesh’s team option, right? RIGHT?!!! (C’MON!!! FOR THE LOVE OF-)

Hey kids! Here’s an exercise you can try at home today: head over to Hoopshype’s free agent page and check out July’s available point guards. Now filter out all the ones who would laugh at the Midlevel Exception. Now sort for fit, experience, cost to value ratio, etc. Here’s what I ended up with:

BASELINE FA PGS: Darren Collison (Full Midlevel), Yogi Ferrell (Restricted, Full Midlevel), Michael Carter-Williams (Restricted, Partial Midlevel or Biannual), Langston Galloway (Partial Midlevel or Biannual), Raymond Felton (Vet Minimum)

BARF. Other than Collison and Ferrell (the Mavs would match that offer in a microsecond), do we know that any of these guys are definitively better options than Ramon? I don’t. Nor would I feel comfortable offering Collison, MCW or Galloway longterm contracts.

If Charlotte is going to upgrade their backup point guard situation it will need to happen via the Draft (Mitchell, Ntilikina or trade up for NC State’s Dennis Smith) or via the trade market. If they can’t find an upgrade via either route, don’t be surprised if Ramon’s option is picked up for next season (No…no…NOOOOO!!!!).

CENTER DEPTH: MILES AHEAD?

The same Hoopshype > Filter/Sort > Vomit experiment can shed some light on the confusing Plumlee trade as well. Have a look at the following MLE or below centers available this summer:

BASELINE FA BIGS: JaMychal Green, Cristiano Felicio, Alex Len.

Some decent intrigue there to be sure. And yeah, maybe one of them would take the midlevel. Here’s the problem, all three are restricted free agents so, aside from maybe Len, the chances of them actually landing on Charlotte’s roster is slim to none. Sure, there’s always a chance the unrestricted big market peters out and someone like Amir Johnson would take $8m a year but sometimes it peters out and you’re left with Roy Hibbert.

Cho*** likely saw the upcoming big crop, looked at the team’s lack of cap flexibility and decided that it was better to give it a go with Miles. I still hate the trade (especially with Plumlee’s subsequent calf strain and knee surgery) but at least this shows that there was some thought process behind it however flawed.

SECOND LOTTERY WINGS

If the Hornets do use their midlevel this July, expect it to be on a wing. Once you calculate year to year raises, the new, full MLE will be around 4yrs, $37m. Hardly the sort of windfall guys like Allen Crabbe saw last year but with the cap plateauing, it’s feasible that a decent young veteran could lock in to this type of deal.

BASELINE FA WINGS: Ben McLemore (Restricted), Ian Clark (Unrestricted), Shabazz Muhammad (Restricted)****

The above list is essentially a “Second Draft” – young vets coming off rookie contracts who may have some untapped potential to mine. Clark has had some big scoring games with the Warriors but did not receive a qualifying offer from Golden State and one wonders whether or not his limited success was due to the organization or the player (AKA The Ezeli Effect).

McLemore has long been rumored as a potential Hornet trade target and it’s doubtful the Kings would be motivated to bring him back now that Buddy Hield has become their single building block of note.

Of the three, I like Muhammad the best. While he’s nothing like a lockdown defender, he’s strong enough to make big wings work and could offer Charlotte a valuable scoring presence off the bench (think Rudy Gay or a wing version of Big Al). Shabazz is still just 24 and the Wolves upcoming salary situation point to them not matching any offer sheet.

If the team decides to go with a more established wing via the MLE, I could see guys like Thabo Sefolosha or CJ Miles getting a call from the 704.

POTENTIAL TRADE SCENARIOS

Wow. We haven’t done this in a while. Longtime readers will know that Bobcats Baseline Fake Trades used to be a near monthly fetish of mine. Lemme shake off the rust and see if I still got any game left…

Miles Plumlee for Brandon Knight

The first of three “Dump Plumlee” scenarios, this one exchanging one crappy contract with another. Charlotte looks at the Draft and decides that they like Collins, Anigbogu or either of the wings more than the PGs.

Knight is still just 26 and could turn it around under Cliff. If Phoenix decides to let Alex Len walk, Plumlee’s second tour in the Valley of the Sun could fill a need behind the aging Tyson Chandler and shed some cash off the Suns’ books in each of the next three seasons.

Miles Plumlee, Jeremy Lamb + Protected 2018 First Rounder for Brook Lopez

Not sure if you’ve heard but the Nets are really bad and don’t have any Draft picks. Getting a Top 10 Protected 1st for Brook (who has just one more year left on his contract) would seem like a decent value at this point for the former All-Star center.

There are risks: Lopez turns 30 next April and foot injuries cost him a couple of seasons earlier in his career. His next contract is certain to be pricey.

But the trade could also work out wonderfully. Charlotte has long needed a second primary scorer to pair with Kemba and Brook has transformed himself into a three zone threat. Lopez connected on 134 three pointers this past season and his stroke passes the eye test.

A Lopez/Zeller platoon would give Clifford a ton of flexibility and variety at the five. If the Hornets are committed to being good now (more on this later), then making this type of splash could be their best bet.

Miles Plumlee + Protected 2018 First Rounder for Jeremy Lin

Don’t like Lopez? Miss J-Lin? Why not?

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for Courtney Lee

Let’s bring the band back together! Hell, if Josh McRoberts declines his player option maybe we can… (OK, I’m just trolling now)

MKG’S TRADE VALUE

Let’s take a break from the fake trades for a moment and focus on The MKG Situation. I’ll say this first, I have no idea what Kidd-Gilchrist’s value is – either to the Hornets or to the rest of the league. A wing who can’t (and won’t) stretch the floor in the modern NBA is offensive kryptonite. That kind of player has to be so special that you’d be willing to shoehorn an entire roster around them and MKG is no superstar.

He’s never lived up to the lockdown defender reputation he had out of Kentucky and the progress he made with his stroke under former assistant coach Mark Price has mostly regressed. Kidd-Gilchrist’s skillset is more suited for power forward in the modern game but his frame doesn’t seem like the kind that could put on the required mass to take a beating every night. Five seasons into his career, MKG is rarely on the floor to close games due to his offensive limitations.

All that said, we’re talking about a guy who doesn’t turn 24 until September (yeah, that freaks me out too). A player who is likely a top three rebounder at his position in the league. A player whose intangibles remain off the charts. And a player who is 1/5th of that very good starting five.

Who knows? Maybe MKG is a late bloomer? Gerald Wallace was well into his mid-twenties before he learned how to shoot threes. That’s the rosy scenario. Or maybe MKG is Jeff Green, a well-liked, talented Lotto pick who is destined to never find his place in the modern pro game.

Ok, one more fake trade and then we’ll wrap.

Frank Kaminsky + Jeremy Lamb for Jahlil Okafor

A 2015 Draft do-over. The Sixers need to surround Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with shooting and the Hornets need volume scoring off the bench.

Having engineered a Top 10 defense around Big Al for three years, Steve Clifford could work his magic and turn Okafor’s career around in the process. Charlotte would also shave off around $4.3 million in salary in this scenario.

ORGANIZING AN ORGANIZATION

Given everything above, let’s outline a few potential depth charts to start next season:

HORNETS POTENTIAL DEPTH CHART A (Draft Point Guard)

  • PG: Kemba Walker, Briante Weber, Frank Ntilikina (or Donovan Mitchell)
  • SG: Nic Batum, Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: MKG, Shabazz Muhammad
  • PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant
  • C: Cody Zeller, Miles Plumlee

HORNETS POTENTIAL DEPTH CHART B (Draft Center)

  • PG: Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Briante Weber
  • SG: Nic Batum, Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: MKG, Shabazz Muhammad
  • PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant
  • C: Cody Zeller, Zach Collins (or Ike Anigbogu)

HORNETS POTENTIAL DEPTH CHART C (Draft Wing)

  • PG: Kemba Walker, Darren Collison, Briante Weber
  • SG: Nic Batum, Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: MKG, Luke Kennard (or Justin Jackson)
  • PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant
  • C: Cody Zeller, Miles Plumlee

If Charlotte trades for a center (Lopez or Okafor), Depth Charts A and C stay mostly the same with Cody sliding back to the second unit for Brook and starting over Jahlil.

I can see the tweets now: “that roster ain’t gonna win sh$t, Cavs gonna destroy Bobcats HAHA MJ IS TRASH!!!”

Yes. There is little chance that this collection of talent will challenge the Warriors or Cavs – which places them in the exact situation as 27 other teams.

In the meantime, it would be an amazing feat for the organization to win 50 games and win a round in the Playoffs. Keep in mind that the Queen City hasn’t experienced such things in over fifteen years.

Look at the Wizards. They rose, they fell, then they put it back together and nearly made the Conference Finals for the first time since the 1970’s. DC fans were energized. A long dormant fanbase was given reason to care again. Same goes for the Raptors. Just because you don’t have a superteam chocked full of Hall of Famers doesn’t mean there are no rewards for trying.

Seeing it Through, Building a Foundation

The Hornets made a commitment to Relevancy over a half decade ago and they need to see this through. Get to 50 Wins, Win a Playoff Round, try and make a Conference Finals.

These are giant steps for a once dysfunctional organization incapable of even sniffing respectability. Cho, Cliff and MJ haven’t been perfect in their tenures but collectively, they’ve made the best moves this franchise has experienced in ages. See it through, gentlemen.

–ASChin
@baselinebuzz

*and a little used journeyman backup PG named Shaun Livingston
**yeah, right
***I would be surprised if the Miles trade originated as Cho’s idea
****I’m omitting guys like Jonathan Simmons and Tony Snell from this list because they are RFAs whose teams would likely match an MLE offersheet the instant it was signed

BACK TO TOP

Bonus Geisinger: Just How Good Were Charlotte’s Starting Five?

For lineups with 300+ minutes, the Hornets starters were No. 10 in Net Rating according to NBA.com. But if I set the minimum number to 400 minutes, the starters jump to No. 8. It’s top 5 in terms of net rating for lineups with 500+ mins, too.

Of 500+ mins, the only NBA lineups better than Charlotte’s Starting Five are Golden State, the Clippers, Houston and Washington. Which is why it was such a bummer when Cody Zeller was out and the bench dipped. The Starting 5 allowed 100.7 points per 100, which would rate as the No. 1 team defense in the NBA (Spurs were No.1 — 100.9).

Flat Cats Suffer Embarrassing Loss To Nets

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Chuck Burton/AP Photo

The Charlotte Bobcats were outplayed by a dreadful New Jersey Nets team in a 94-89 loss at the Cable Box on Friday night.  Brook Lopez led the Nets with 31 points and 11 rebounds.  The Bobcats were led by Stephen Jackson with 21 points and Gerald Wallace with 20 points/9 rebounds.

AP Recap |  Box Score

The Nets snapped a 12 game road losing streak by leading wire to wire over the listless Bobcats, who appeared to be waiting around for a spark that never really came.

The Nets lead by as much as 18 in the third quarter before a half-hearted fourth quarter comeback by the Bobcats cut the lead down to four with just over three minutes left.  But Devin Harris scored 5 points and assisted on another bucket over the next 90 seconds for a quick 7-0 Nets run that put the game away.

Notes

  • This had to be the worst performance by the Bobcats since Paul Silas took over, right?  Despite being at home in front of a decent crowd on a Friday night, after a day off, and fighting for a playoff spot, the Cats had very little energy.
  • What’s up with DJ Augustin?  Another quiet night (4 points on 2-10 FG) and he’s now shooting 31% FG and 28% 3PT for the month of February, while averaging just 3.8 assists.  To compare, those numbers on the season are 43%, 38%, and 6.2, respectively.
  • I’m going to put a lot of the blame for this one on Cardboard Gerald.  Cardboard’s been riding Brook Lopez pretty hard on Twitter recently for his historically weak rebounding this season.  So what does Lopez do?  Grabs 11 rebounds (averaging 5.6 for the season) and dominates inside for 31 points.
  • While the Bobcats were stinking up the Cable Box, the Pacers were busy getting another win (116-105 over the T-Wolves), thus increasing their lead over the Bobcats for the 8th playoff spot to a full two games.
  • And the upcoming schedule is not exactly conducive to making up that gap.  The Cats are at Atlanta tomorrow night (7 PM start), home against the Lakers on Monday, then at Chicago on Tuesday leading into the All-Star break.  Ouch.
  • So hopefully I’m just being cranky and pessimistic and premature, but I’m feeling like we’ll point back to these last two losses as the beginning of the end for the Bobcats this season.  After the All-Star break, the Bobcats will have three more games until the trade deadline — so just six more games in all to decide whether to go all-in and try to make the playoffs again or to entertain trade offers for our veterans who could help a playoff team.  As the losses mount up, the choice becomes clearer and clearer.

-Dr. E

Be sure to follow Dr. E, ASChin and Cardboard Gerald on Twitter

Cats Man Up for Ugly, Veteran Win in Jersey

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Bobcats win their first game of the season Wednesday night in New Jersey 85-83.  Cats improve to 1-3, Nets drop to 2-2.

AP Recap | Box Score

OBSERVATIONS:

  • Boris Diaw puts the knife and fork down long enough to play his first meaningful game of the season, dropping 24 points on 10-18 shooting, including a major momentum changing three pointer late.  Nice to see Boris focused and motivated.  Look forward to seeing it again in a few weeks.
  • Bobcats come back from 10 down with a little more than 6 minutes to go in this one, looking like a true veteran squad in the process.  They didn’t lose their focus and concentrated on finding good shots and getting to the line (23 to 15 advantage from the stripe) in order to negate the clock.  Nazr Mohammed, who picked up 3 fouls in the game’s first four minutes and looked atrocious in the first half, contributed six points late and played Brook Lopez as well as he ever has.
  • TURNOVER BONANZA! As is their stock in trade, Charlotte continues to both turn the ball over and force ’em from the other end.  16 a piece in this game for a whopping total of 32.  Ugh.  When the Bobcats come to town, hide the women and children.
  • Both Geralds were beat up in this game. Wallace was lost for most of the third quarter with an ankle injury but returned in the fourth.  Henderson took a one two punch from Anthony Morrow in the third, sending him to the bench for good with a busted nose.
  • Crash’s ability to get to the line and convert is invaluable. Wallace earned eight freebies and made them all, going for 20 points, 11 boards in just 35 minutes. Bobcats had the best player on the court tonight and won for it.

  • DJ wasn’t terrible (5pts/7asts/0TOs) but he’ll never be Brook Lopez.  I wonder what goes through Larry Brown’s mind when he faces off against the multi-dimensional big man four times a year, knowing that he passed on the elite center out of Stanford three drafts ago.  Brook dropped 17 points on the Bobcats and sent back 5 shots on the other end.  As well as Nazr closed the half and as well as Gana Diop defended in relief, Charlotte continues to get dismantled by opposing centers.
  • Derrick Favors = Beast*.  Once he figures out how to play the NBA game, he’s gonna be something special, he’s just a physical specimen at the four spot.  I can see how NJ has been reticent to include him in any Carmelo trade.  Favors has to the potential to be very good.
    *©2008-reggie-productions. all rights reserved.
  • For all the Devin Harris trade hype (I’d gladly welcome him to CLT if a deal transpires), watching him it makes sense why Jersey would consider trading him.  There’s something about Harris’s body language and his relationship to his teammates on the court that makes me think he’s not a natural born leader.  Thoughts?
  • Sherron Collins Sighting! I tweeted that he looks like a gene splice lab creation of Raymond Felton and DJ Augustin, @baselinebuzz followers were quick to add Boris Diaw and/or Sean May’s Pillsbury DNA to that mix.  Indeed.

Until Next Time, Enjoy the Win Bobcats Fans…

-ASChin

Henderson Dazzles as Bobcats Close Up Shop in NJ

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Charlotte Bobcats @ New Jersey 4/12/10

As Fake Sinatra said to Steve & Edie: “Listen, it’s up to you.  You can either open for me at the Meadowlands or headline at the Tick-Tock Inn!

The Meadowlands (recently renamed The Izod Center) closed up shop after nearly 30 years Monday night with the Charlotte Bobcats taking care of business against the cellar dweller Nets 105-95.  With Miami winning on the same evening, the ‘Cats are now locked into the East’s 7th seed and will take on the Magic in Orlando on Saturday after wrapping up the regular season against Chicago on Wednesday.

AP recap here | Box score here

Welcome to the NBA, Gerald Henderson

The Bobcats get an amazing 50 points from the bench in this one as Gerald “The Sequel” Henderson led the way with 14 on 6-9 shooting in just 21 minutes of action.  This wasn’t garbage time folks (well, unless you consider any minute played against the Nets “garbage time”).  Henderson filled in nicely for Crash by throwing down a couple of monster dunks, connecting on an acrobatic, double-pump reverse layup, rejecting a Brook Lopez shot and grabbing seven boards.  Nothing against Terrence Williams, who was taken one spot ahead of Henderson and who had an excellent game himself (21 points, 13 boards and 6 assists in 41 minutes) but for the first time all season it seemed as if Henderson belonged in the League.  He looked confident and asserted himself at both ends of the court.  This looks promising.

The rest of bench brought their A-game as well.  DJ shot the ball well again (5-7) and dropped a beautiful 18 footer over Lopez’s outstretched as if to say “I know you should have been the pick but not on this play!”  Stephen Graham had his bi-monthly Stephen Graham baseline drive and dunk, Tyrus Thomas shot the ball poorly (he did have a semi-cast on his thumb) but played hard and got to the line (5 attempts) in 20 minutes of action.

Center Rotation

Theo Ratliff got the start tonight and really affected the game on the defensive end early.  Dude blocked two shots in two minutes (after the Nets TV team referred to him as a previously effective defensive player) and pulled down three boards.  The problem with too much Theo Ratliff is when he starts affecting the game from an offensive standpoint.  Theo was credited with only one Turnover but I counted three.  If Gana Diop and Emeka Okafor started a “Big Man Hands Camp,” Theo Ratliff would be their first product.

Nazr Mohammed got a little burn afterwards and looked slow defensively and out of synch offensively.  We might not be seeing the Nazr from earlier in the season again, folks.  At least not until next year.  Fortunately Tyson Chandler has looked very solid in the last few weeks and it looked like Larry Brown was saving Chandler’s legs for the first round matchup with Superman.

Bullets

  • Brook Lopez is just plain awesome.  Why the Bobcats passed on him for Augustin I’ll never know.  My only guess is that the organization didn’t realize how well he ran the floor as a college prospect.  Lopez is the anti-Rasheed.  At 7’0″, he’s running baseline to baseline on very play.  Lopez ran the break on one possession in the third quarter as he tossed a beautiful transition alley oop pass to T-Will for the jam.  Lopez has the body type to be doing this for a while too; he’s built kind of like a David Robinson or a taller Hakeem.  Bobcats will be paying for the 2008 NBA draft for a long time.
  • The Nets broadcast network ran several “Key Moments in Nets History” packages in tribute to the Meadowlands final game.  Seeing Jason Kidd tear it up with Kittles, Van Horn and KMart against Reggie and the Pacers made me realize how long Kidd has been in the League.  Drafted in ’94, Kidd has played against the likes of Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Skinny Shaq, Fat Shaq, Amare Stoudamire, Lebron James and Tyreke Evans.
  • Game’s Biggest Surprise: Yi Jianlian isn’t terrible.  He’s not great, don’t get me wrong but offensively he definitely belongs in the League as a seventh or eighth man off of the bench.  He’s got a nice jumper from 20′ feet plus and the size (7’0″)  to pull down boards over smaller forwards.  Not bad for 35 year ol-, pardon me, 22 year old prospect.

Until next time, Enjoy the Win Bobcats Fans…

-ASChin

Joe Johnson Sends Bobcats Home at the Buzzer

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Charlotte Bobcats@Hawks 3/19/10


Wow.  Exciting finish to an otherwise pedestrian game as Raymond Felton and Joe Johnson exchange clutch shots in the final 3.8 seconds of overtime.  Final score: Hawks 93, ‘Cats 92.

AP recap here | Box score here

The Bobcats Should Have Won This Game

You can’t really blame Joe Johnson for the loss.  Up by ten points midway through the 4th quarter, the Bobcats had numerous opportunities to put the game away.  Turnovers (15) and poor bench play (outscored 28-15) hurt throughout but look at the final three plays of regulation to see where the game was really lost:

Up by four with a little more than 2:00 on the clock, the Bobcats proceed to:

  • Possession One: Raymond Felton forced drive and miss at the end of the shot clock on a busted play that was supposed to go to either Stephen Jackson or Boris Diaw.
  • Possession Two: Stephen Jackson two missed free throws.
  • Possession Three: Boris Diaw passes up a two-footer in the lane for a Theo Ratliff missed ten footer.

Regulation over, Hawks tie it up to send it to OT.

Meanwhile in OT the Bobcats are KILLED by JAX’s four consecutive missed 3-pointers.  While it’s understood that Jackson is the team’s first scoring option, I’m very curious as to how his teammates are going to react to his decision making tonight.  JAX wasn’t feeling it from downtown all evening and ended up going 1-7 from behind the arc.

Joe Johnson finally got hot in the 4th quarter and OT after struggling for most of the game and then emphatically sealed the win at the buzzer with a contested jumper over Raymond Felton.

Bullets

  • Not only did Raymond have a great game with 25 points (on 11-19 shooting) in 46 minutes but he had the two clutch baskets in OT that might have won the game if not for Johnson’s heroics.  The weird line-drive floater in the lane with 3.8 to go in OT was surpassed only by his “Rumblin, Fumblin, Stumblin” fast break layup in traffic a minute earlier.  One could only hope they Ray will learn to time his game winners a little closer to the buzzer from this point on.
  • As mentioned above, the Bobcats bench was outclassed – that was the difference that kept ATL in the game during a first half when their starters were struggling.  Jamal Crawford continues to torment the Bobcats (16 points) no matter what jersey he happens to be wearing.
  • Raymond’s backup, D.J. Augustin, served up another DPBCI (Did Play But Completely Ineffective).  Seven minutes, 0-2 from the field, 2 assists, 2 fouls, 1 turnover.  So glad that we don’t have Brook Lopez lumbering down the lane.
  • Gerald Wallace with a big first game back from the ankle injury.  Crash was mostly MIA in the first half but dropped 18 points after the break to finish with 20 points, 16 boards, and a BIG block in transition that helped swing the momentum in the Bobcats direction during their 25-18 third quarter run.
  • Theo Ratliff had a terrible game offensively (1-9 from the floor) but you really have to spread the blame around to his teammates (especially Boris Diaw) for feeding him shots late in the shot clock that he had no business taking.
  • Some good news may be on the horizon.  The two main areas where the Bobcats were deficient against the Hawks (offensive production at Center, bench scoring) will certainly be improved once Nazr Mohammed and Larry Hughes return from injury.  Hughes should be ready by early next week while Mohammed is still day to day.

Until Next Time, Enjoy the Loss Bobcats Fans…

-ASChin

Concern Grows As Bobcats Lose To Nets

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Charlotte Bobcats vs Nets 2/16/10

Trying Not To Panic, Here

The Charlotte Bobcats appeared to still be on All-Star break as they lost 103-94 to the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night at the Cable Box.  AP recap here, box score here.

I’m just going to cut right to the chase: this was a terrible loss and I’m concerned.  Here’s all you need to know: coming into the game, the Nets were 4-48, with only one road win.  They are the worst-shooting and lowest-scoring team in the league.  But in defeating the Bobcats for the second time this year, the Nets never trailed.

In the early going, Raymond Felton and Nazr Mohammed had no answer for Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, respectively. Courtney Lee got into the act as well; he ended up leading the Nets with 21 points.  The Nets ended up shooting 52% on the night.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats couldn’t get anything going.  Everyone gets an “F” tonight.  Poor effort, poor execution, didn’t play any defense, got outrebounded, missed open shots, etc.

This now means that the Cats have lost 4 out of their last 6 dating back to the Portland loss on February 1st.  And let’s remember that those two wins are nothing to be too proud of (2 point win over Washington, lucky 1 point win over Minnesota).

Suddenly the Cats look like they are in serious need of a shot in the arm.  I had been hoping that the return of Tyson Chandler could provide that, but it hasn’t happened.  If anything, he looks as bad as ever, with four turnovers and 3 fouls in 18 minutes off the bench tonight.

Boris continues to look lame and uninspired, DJ’s playing with no confidence, Flip hasn’t been reliable, opponents seem to have figured out how to slow Jackson down, and Gerald looks tired.  It’s not good, folks.

I understand that a trade is unlikely with the impending sale of the team, but if the last 6 games are any indication, the Cats need to shake things up a little.

Next game is a tough one; hosting the Cavs at the Cable Box on Friday night at 7PM ET.

-Dr. E

Blazers Use Depth to Hammer Bobcats 7-Man Rotation

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Bobcats Baseline Observations: Charlotte @ Portland 2/1/10

No running diary tonight as I’m furiously preparing and packing for a trip to Western Australia (or “WA” as the locals call it).

Bobcats end a three game road winning streak against the Blazers at the Rose Garden 98-79.  AP recap here.  Box score here.

Simple Arithmetic

When you commit 21 turnovers on the road while launching a barrage of errant three pointers (6-23 for 26%) and allow your opponent to drop 53% shooting on you WITHOUT their best player AND their two centers, you are going to lose.  Bad.

The Bobcats (mostly) seven man rotation looked tired against a deep Portland team, settling for long jump shots and lazy passes.  Boris Diaw was a major culprit in the TO department, logging 5 while maintaining his “Laissez Faire” status.  Stephen Jackson and Flip Murray shot a combined 4-13 from behind the arc.  Ouch.

While it’s amazing that Portland can still trot out 9 quality players while missing three of their top 8 talents to injury (Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Joel Pryzbilla), it’s perhaps more astonishing that Larry Brown insists on going with an EXTRA-abbreviated bench five games into a six game West Coast road trip.  The ‘Cats looked tired and uninterested for most of the game outside of a nice 10-0 rally late in the third.  Let’s hope that they were just saving their legs for another Lakers upset Wednesday night in LA.

Bullets

  • For those of you hoping for a D.J. Augustin Renaissance, don’t hold your breath.  D.J. continues to turn the tables on an excellent rookie campaign.  17 minutes, 0-5 (0-4 from three), 2 assists, 1 turnover, -9 plus/minus.  I hope his Junior Rebound is as dramatic as his Sophomore Slump.
  • The Portland crowd is one of the top 3 in the League without a doubt.  It sounded like a Playoff game in there tonight.  Can’t help but believe the Bobcats players felt a little jealous hearing and seeing this.  C’mon Charlotte!  Let’s re-create the Hive!
  • The Blazers Nic Batum and Martell Webster, two players who have been mentioned in Bobcats trade rumors for years, played great tonight, torching the ‘Cats D from the outside for a combined 25 points.  The ‘Cats have never had one of those long, silky smooth jump shooters.  Wonder how long that will last?  Rod Higgidy-Higgins?  Anybody?
  • Not to keep ripping on D.J. but aside from Brook Lopez (I won’t go there again), we can now easily make the case that the team should have drafted Jerryd Bayless instead.  Bayless seems to be everything that Augustin isn’t: explosive scoring mini-2-guard who can drive and shoot.  At 6’3″, 200 Bayless is bigger than Augustin and much less of a defensive liability.  Seriously, Michael Jordan should bring in a specialist DRAFT DAY GM.  Isiah Thomas is out there somewhere in rehab.  Let’s do this!

Until next time…Enjoy the Loss Bobcats Fans…

-ASChin