The Charlotte Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time in its short franchise history. But the Bobcats are a team that is trending upward. They had their most successful season last year after adding Larry Brown to the bench.
Charlotte then traded Emeka Okafor, its franchise center and the franchise’s first draft pick, for Tyson Chandler. The team then made a move to acquire some scoring in Stephen Jackson.
All the while, the Bobcats built their team around defense. And that will always give your team a chance. Charlotte was one of the top teams in defensive efficiency this year and that got them to the postseason (the offense ranks near the bottom). Getting that first postseason bid can be an accomplishment in itself.
But with Charlotte’s defense, the team will always have a chance to win games.
I talked with Brett Hainline over at Queen City Hoops to learn a little more about who Orlando will face in the first round:
Charlotte was first in the NBA in points allowed per game and second in defensive efficiency (behind Orlando). What has been the key to the Bobcats success on defense this year, especially after losing defensive stalwart Emeka Okafor during the summer?
“Depending on where you get your stats, the Bobcats were actually first in defensive efficiency as well (at least going into tonight’s games – my numbers and basketball-reference.com both have the Cats #1). Small victory when I do not see a lot more on the horizon with Dwight and the Magic looming large.
“The key to that defense? Well, replacing Emeka Okafor with an arguably better defensive center, in Tyson Chandler. While Tyson only played in about 50 games this year, the dropoff in the team’s defensive numbers were dramatic when he was not available. While not a superb shot-blocker, he is strong on the pick and roll, with quick feet, and does a good job contesting shots in the paint.
“Aside from that switch, having the league’s best rebounding small forward (and a dramatically improved team-defensive player) in Gerald Wallace certainly helped as well. With Stephen Jackson, Gerald, and Boris Diaw all capable of handling switches on each other’s man (don’t scoff – Boris is a solid defender who picked up a bad rap in Phoenix), the Bobcats have a lot of flexibility in the half court and just force teams into tough shots amid a lot of contact.”
What matchup do you see the most working in Charlotte’s favor in this series? What matchup do you see working against Charlotte the most?
“Boris Diaw and Rashard Lewis could be a good one for the Cats, in that Rashard is similar to Boris in not being a prototypical power forward. Both are on the perimeter more than convention dictates, though with different aims — Lewis looks for the three and Boris looks to create. That may provide Boris an opportunity to be himself and not have the Bobcats severely hurt by it (the limited rebounding).
“Hmm — who on the Magic presents a matchup problem? Think, think, think. I kid – Dwight Howard, first, second, third, and maybe even fourth. The Bobcats have four big bodies to run at Dwight in Tyson, Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed, and DeSagana Diop — but if they are not able to at least handle some stretches against Howard solo, the Magic shooters will have a field day on the subsequent open jumpers.”
This being the Bobcats franchise’s first trip to the postseason, what has the season been like for the fan base? Obviously Charlotte has seen postseason basketball before, but what is different this time around?
“Yeah — that is the thing — Charlotte has been here before, it is just the Bobcats that haven’t. There are a lot of excited fans, more than last year as the winning has helped pull people in. But it is certainly not the jubilation that a franchise normally experiences on their initial post-season date.
“Attendance was up for the year and it increased as the season went along – with a strong 17,000+ attendance for a meaningless regular season home-finale against Chicago on a weeknight. But will the arena be packed for the playoff games? I don’t know – it will be crowded, but there is a difference.”
Let’s push the Larry Brown “rumors” to the side, how important has Brown been to Charlotte’s turnaround the past two seasons?
“Larry Brown has been the team’s MVP. It is that simple. Larry has helped continue Gerald Wallace’s maturation into an All-Star level talent who gambles less on defense and is subsequently far more effective.
“Getting a group to buy into his playing the right way mantra had to be tough considering the low expectations last year (and entering this season) — but the group stuck with it and the addition of Stephen Jackson was enough to give them the offensive talent to actually compete. But getting this team to the top-2 in defensive efficiency, considering the long stretch that Tyson missed is just a phenomenal job.”
Charlotte is statistically very good on defense, but the offense has struggled statistically all season. What is missing from the team’s offense? Is it the “missing piece?”
“Turnovers have been the biggest tangible problem — but it is actually a symptom. The Bobcats have 5 solid players on the court, with Stephen Jackson using up the largest part of the possessions. But even he is not a true leading man — so the Bobcats are all pushed to the edge of their threshold offensively, putting them in positions where they are not comfortable simply because they have no other choice.
“The offense is at its best when the defense is creating turnovers, which it does quite well, but when things do slow down, the Bobcats can struggle in the half court because they do not have that dynamic individual talent. With a suspect outside shooting team, the Bobcats desire to drive the ball to the paint constantly can also lead to problems, as teams can clog the lane with less worry of being beaten from deep, and thus making those attempts near the rim more difficult. It is not a coincidence that the Bobcats have some of the league’s most blocked players.”
And finally, what is your prediction for the series?
“Because of the Bobcats defensive intensity and post depth, I think they can manage to get Superman into foul trouble a game or two…but no more. Can I say 4-1.5 Orlando? If not, I’ll take 4-2 Magic, just because I’d rather be optimistic going into the Cats first playoff series.”
My thanks to Brett over at Queen City Hoops. Feel free to hop over there and see what he has to say throughout the series and what I had to say about the Magic heading into the postseason.