For those who craved careless turnovers, limited perimeter shooting and shot clock violations, Tuesday’s preseason debut was a buffet of the Charlotte Bobcats miserable half-court offense—no rhythm, little substance.
Stagnant possessions were bailed out by free throws and difficult shots.
Top five in the former a season ago, the Bobcats had little trouble visiting the charity stripe—14 of their 35 attempts came in the first quarter. 18th in free throw percentage last season, they stayed true and shot under 70% for the night.
Offseason acquisition Al Jefferson showed promise, but poor spacing reduced the big man’s touches. The Bobcats want to feed him in the post, but face a difficult task surrounding him with minimal shooting threats. Gerald Henderson is the starting unit’s three-point marksman at 33%.
Everything easy is difficult—the conundrum of the Bobcats offense.
Flashes of brilliance came when the team pushed tempo. 7th in fastbreak points last season, the Bobcats have the speed and athleticism to challenge teams in the full court.
The Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions backcourt was coveted last season due to the nuisance they cause in the open court. The duo made up part of a Bobcats backcourt that led the league in scoring.
Tuesday was no different; the guards combined for 57% of the team’s scoring.
With rookie Cody Zeller on the break, the transition attack is even more dangerous. Zeller ran the floor as well as advertised in his first NBA action, making a few highlight finishes in stride. Zeller finished with nine points in 23 minutes.
Even with Jefferson, the Bobcats will struggle executing in the half court. Walker will still take shots he doesn’t want to take; the Bobcats tendency to play hot potato late into the shot clock isn’t going away easy. The team lacks tools to maximize half-court offense—premier individual offense, three-point shooting, and structure.
Efficient possessions will get the ball into Jefferson’s hands early and often, and use the hopeful attention to dive to the basket. Eventually, the team will need to learn to make shots; an issue that can primarily be amended by the front office.
It’s preseason; there’s rust, players competing at half speed, and a new head coach. Regardless, the solution to the Bobcats offense is transparent: run and run some more.
Time Warner Cable Arena should be a track meet. 11 players on the roster are under the age of 30 and the average age of the projected starters is 23.4. The team’s recent draft picks excel in fast break situations and are exceptional athletes for their position.
The Bobcats will be expected to defend and compete each night. Steve Clifford is a defensive pundit and a stickler for transition defense. The Bobcats can use their defensive stops to get out on the break and see easier looks against defenses that don’t have the time to set up.
The goal isn’t to play unconditionally fast and disregard the need for defense—the fascination with Mike D’Antoni’s seven seconds or less offense has long diminished.
Play fast, play smart, and get back on defense; do enough to control tempo and keep the offense loose.
There’s no reason to expect Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to start knocking jumpers down this season, even under the tutelage of the great Mark Price. Better half-court execution and production will come when the team has the talent to implement it.
Until then it’s futile to play towards a glaring weakness with a core of athleticism, quickness, and fresh legs.