CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In one of the quietest NBA trade deadlines in years, no deal created as little noise as the Josh McRoberts-for-Hakim Warrick swap between the Bobcats and Magic in February.
Two post players, with expiring contracts, coming off the bench for two also-ran clubs. By most accounts, the trade had all the makings of an irrelevant exchange — especially with the Bobcats reportedly pursuing Atlanta’s Josh Smith leading up to the deadline, while also exploring ways to ship Ben Gordon out of Charlotte.
However, McRoberts’ return to the Tar Heel state — he played his college basketball at Duke — has been a boon for the Bobcats and his career. McRoberts’ minutes are up from 16.7 to 29.6. His points and rebounds have improved, as well, averaging 8.0 points and 7.1 boards in his 22 games with the Bobcats.
It’s the highest production levels McRoberts has experienced in his career thus far — including the 2010-2011 campaign with the Pacers (averages: 22 minutes, seven points, five rebounds).
“We’ve got a good group of guys, and I feel comfortable,” McRoberts said. “Sometimes you come into a team and you’re not sure what to expect. But it has been a good group of guys that have accepted me and given me an opportunity. So, just trying to fit in and trying to help the team.”
There have been career-high moments, like the 16 rebounds against the Sixers a week ago, but McRoberts’ greatest improvement lies with his ability to see the floor and distribute to teammates. He’s only averaging 2.3 assists, but often times, it’s his pass that leads to the official assist.
“Guys are watching him and he moves the ball on. Some of those passes he makes aren’t for assist, it’s just getting it to the second side and sometimes the third to get a great look,” head coach Mike Dunlap said. “Josh does that. His ability to pass the ball is contagious.”
That’s even more important in a Bobcats offense that doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket player or go-to scorer in the halfcourt. That produces more of a reliance on motion and ball movement, all of which fit McRoberts skill set and ability to feed from the high post.
“As long as I’ve known Josh, even in high school, that’s the player he’s been. He’s an unselfish guy and knows how to play the game,” said teammate Gerald Henderson, who played with McRoberts at Duke. “His decision-making is probably his best thing, but you know he’s just not a guy who wants to go in and score.”
It’s that mentality that comes from playing on five professional teams in six seasons, and it’s allowed him to fit right in early. The Bobcats have relied even more on him because Byron Mullens has been nursing injuries throughout the second half and has been in and out of the lineup.
“I’m not a guy who goes out and needs 20-25 shots, so I think that kind of fit in a little bit better, being a facilitator, which I’ve been able to do a little bit,” McRoberts said.
That ability to facilitate has been welcomed on a team that ranks dead last in assists, at 19 per game. It’s a craft that McRoberts honed growing up in the hoops-crazed state of Indiana, learning from an early age how to “play the game the right way.”
That was only furthered at Duke, where their perimeter-focused attack allowed him to frequently play facing the basket. He’s got more of the European big man feel, and much of the stuff he did at Duke is also a big part of the Bobcats offense said Dunlap, like the “pick and pop, dribble hand off, and penetrate and pitch.”
“Most of the times the bigs at that position aren’t really good passers. They don’t see the floor very well. They’re kind of in the way, but with josh he’s a big guard,” Ben Gordon said. “He can make passes from that position and really help the guards out, knowing that you have someone with that basketball IQ.”
As the season winds up, McRoberts’ $3-million contract will expire soon, and he’s not sure if the journey will continue in Charlotte, or if he’ll find a new home again.
With up to $21 million in cap space at the end of the season, the Bobcats could be in the market for a post scorer like Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap, or could attack this need with Indiana’s Cody Zeller or UNLV’s Anthony Bennett in the NBA draft. Regardless, this trade will go down as a win-win for the Bobcats and McRoberts.
The Bobcats got a player who fit in immediately and brought the ability to board and rebound they didn’t have previously at the four. In turn, McRoberts, at 26, demonstrated his prospective value to teams in search of a post player, especially one who doesn’t need shots to be effective coming off the bench.
“I think he’s just wanted to make a point that he’s a value. We have tried to tell Josh that maybe we’re the right place for him because of the way we play,” Dunlap said. “There’s a need for him here, too.”