|Rod Higgins with newly-acquired Coach (middle) and GM (right)|
What am I thankful for (yea it isn’t technically the holiday anymore, but what is Thanksgiving if not a holiday stuffed with leftovers?); a competitive pro basketball team in Charlotte.
While the Bobcats stayed out of the national media’s attention, they had an active and productive offseason. They acquired Ramon Sessions (after he felt that he was an option instead of a priority, he left the Lakers for a place that could guarantee him the playing time his skill set deserves) to add depth to a backcourt that needed it. They traded for Ben Gordon even though it meant giving up Corey Maggette who was second on the team last year with 15 points per game. They also added North Carolina-native Brandon Haywood to solidify the Center position (they have since added Hakim Warrick to replace spot-up shooter Matt Caroll). But this team’s maturation is less about who changed, and more about what changed. Coach Mike Dunlap (another new acquisition) has changed the culture from a highly dysfunctional team to one that is 7-5 and already has matched the win total from last year. They drafted heralded one-and-done NCAA champion Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (MKG), as well as Jeffrey Taylor. Taylor stayed all four years in college, and improved each season he was at Vanderbilt. The combo of MKG and Taylor playing the 2-4 positions have been essential, especially after G/F Gerald Henderson (last season’s top scorer) went down before the season started.
|MJ has taken a lot of heat (deservedly so) but he deserves praise for relinquishing personnel decisions to Cho|
And what about that Tyrus Thomas fellow who was “causing problems” last year? He came into the season heavier to accommodate the higher number of minutes he would be playing at the Center position. He has been a consummate professional and provided a huge spark off the bench with blocks, rebounds and even the occasional jumper to break up and spread the defense; allowing Sessions and Kemba Walker easier driving lanes to the basket. Walker has continued to impress this season as well, closing out Minnesota this year in the same fashion he broke Pitt off in the Big East postseason run his last (championship) year at UConn. Sessions has responded to coming off the bench extremely well with 17 points per game and tossing in 4 assists per contest.
|Byron Mullens has been a solid defender and added an inside game to go along with his distance shooting|
No one has been a bigger contributor to the Bobcats’ success than Byron Mullens. He is the embodiment of this Bobcats turnaround. After getting drafted by Oklahoma City, the Bobcats (in what has been the highest net value they’ve received in a trade in Franchise history) traded a 2nd rounder for the 7 foot sweet-shooting PF/C. He exploded for 27 points last game to lead the team. More importantly, the former under-achiever has showed a real effort on defense (a well-acknowledged deficiency from last year) and increased his rebounds per game by nearly 4 per game to an 8.8 average.
And that’s the rub; Dunlap (a coach straight from the college ranks at St. John’s) has made the team work harder. They gave up the 4th most points in the league last year, this year it’s the 9th. With Bismack Biyombo, Thomas (when he comes back in two months), and Haywood, the team has a stable of guys to protect the rim that has led to Charlotte tying for the league lead in blocks per game (7.5). And the accumulation of perimeter defenders like MKG and Taylor (both All-SEC defenders last year) will continue to pay dividends for the squad. Indeed, the team has feasted off transition baskets as the speedy backcourt duo of Sessions and Kemba has dazzled while leaking out and hit with fantastic outlet passes from the Bigs.
The Bobcats aren’t a great team. There are scoring lulls each game because this team doesn’t have a ton of offensive firepower. The Bobcats have struggled with injuries as Thomas (calf) and Henderson (foot) have and are missing significant time. Additionally, Gordon has not looked like himself for the majority of his time back since returning from his injury (although he may have broken out of his slump with a 19 point performance Saturday to edge the winless Wizards in Double Overtime). But for a team with such a historically-bad preceding season, I am proud of my Charlotte Bobcats…and if the team stays in contention for the playoffs (they’d be in if the season ended today), put Mike Dunlap on your short list for Coach of the Year. #GoBobcats