Bobcats plan to develop outside shooting from within

CHARLOTTE,
N.C.
– General manager Rich Cho had three stated goals to address on the
Bobcats roster this offseason: interior scoring, rebounding and
perimeter shooting.

With
training camp a week away and the hay already in the barn so to speak,
there’s no denying the signing of Al Jefferson in free agency and the selecting
of Cody Zeller in the NBA Draft addresses the first two. But still, just as
a season ago, one is left wondering: Where in the world is the outside shooting
going to come from?

The team that finished 27th in
the
league from beyond the arch (33 percent) didn’t add any shooters in the
offseason and will enter the 2013 season with the same backcourt and
wing players as a season prior.

“I
think if you look at some of the guys we currently have even from last
year’s team, Ben Gordon is going to be a guy who is going to thrive
under Coach [Steve]
Clifford’s system. I think we’ve already mentioned Jeffrey Taylor is
going to have an opportunity to address some of that [shooting need],” president Rod Higgins said. “And then guys are going to get better —
Kemba is better from the 3-point line, Gerald
Henderson shot it better last year than he did the year prior, so I
think internally we can address some of those needs and I think guys are
working to get better.”
 

That
has to be the hope. But forgive me for not buying Gordon as part of the
solution — he only averaged 20
minutes per game last season, struggles to defend at the NBA level anymore and Taylor’s only going
to continue to eat into his minutes. Right or wrong, the Bobcats have
tied their season to the improvement of Walker, Henderson, Taylor and
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in a league more dependent
on 3-point shooting than ever. The top-five teams in 3-point
shooting percentage last year were the Warriors, Heat, Thunder, Spurs
and Knicks in that order — all of which advanced to at least the
Conference Semifinals.
 

A
year ago, the Charlotte quartet did not feature a single shooter that could make
defenses pay. Taylor (34 percent), Henderson (33 percent) and Walker (32
percent) were far too inconsistent. Kidd-Gilchrist attempted only nine threes all season.
 

That’s
the type of quandary the Bobcats are in now: a bevy of solid, young
players on the wing, neither of whom are reliable, knockdown shooters.
They’ve got interior
scoring now and some great drivers off of the bounce, but who is going
to prevent defenses from sagging? Who is going to force the opposing
coach out of a zone? Who is going to make defenses pay for double
teaming Jefferson? 

Clifford spent the bulk of his career with Stan Van Gundy and his
four-out, one-in offensive system, so Clifford will want to spread the
floor. He’s also spent time with Mike D’Antoni and the Bobcats personnel
fits that uptempo style of play.

So that’s
the hope the Bobcats brass is tying its season to. Charlotte’s offense should feature  better spacing because of Jefferson and Clifford’s system and
should be able to
get more easy spot-up looks in transition.

A season ago, the Bobcats were 24th in the league in points in the paint (38.6 per
game) but ranked seventh
in fast break points. They had guys who could score at the rim in
transition or off the bounce
in the halfcourt, but zero bigs who could get a bucket with
their back to the basket. That won’t be the case this year. The help and attention Jefferson demands allows open jump
shots from kick outs and more room to operate
on the wings. 

 

“Al
addresses so many needs for us. Once we decided to amnesty Tyrus
[Thomas], ownership gave us the green light to go and find what we
termed a difference maker
and we feel that Al Jefferson is that type of player,” Higgins said.
“He’s a guy who can post up — that was something that we couldn’t do
very well last year. He’s a guy who can draw a double team, he can pass
out of the double team, and I think Coach is preparing
mentally with his staff how do we now after Al’s getting double teamed
on the strong side get that weakside three pointer or get the advantage
on the weakside.”
 

There’s
reason for optimism that the shooting will improve besides just the
attention Jefferson commands. The major candidate is Taylor. Thirty-four
percent shooting isn’t a
bad mark for a rookie, and he had an excellent offseason, averaging 20.3
points per game at the Las Vegas Summer League. His work ethic has been
praised all summer, and he was right back in the gym a day after
returning from playing for his home country of
Sweden in the EuroBasket, where he led the tournament in scoring at 21
points per game and shot 42 percent from three.
 

“No.
1 [Taylor] really worked hard. He was in here all the time,” Higgins
said. “We’re not surprised he played well because of how hard he worked
in the offseason.”
 

There’s
hope for Henderson and Walker, too. Henderson’s percentage went up 10 percent and
Walker went up two percentage points, and they’re both still young — 25 and 23,
respectively.
 

The
real wildcard is Kidd-Gilchrist. He’s shown incredible promise as a
driver, defender and rebounder, but has to develop a jump shot to become a
capable scorer.
He said at the end of the season that he was planning to hire a shooting
coach in the offseason, and new assistant coach Mark Price is one of
the best shooters in the game’s history, so the pieces are in place for
improvement in that area.
 

“Coach
Price has been working a lot with MKG on his shot and MKG’s been
working hard. I think the one thing Coach Clifford has talked to MKG
about and stressed
is he’s going to try to put him in different spots where he can score,
so not everything where he’s looking at a perimeter shot every time,”
Cho said. “I think you’re going to see an improved MKG. The thing with
trying to transform a shot is it’s not going
to happen overnight, so you might not see it overnight. He’s definitely
been working hard and Coach Price has been working with him a lot.”

  

When
asked if he could remember a player who came in at a similar level and
turned himself into a shooter, Higgins turned to one of the all-time
greats.
 

“I’ve
had this conversation before and I remember Karl Malone when he
initially came into our league, he was more of a rebounder, runner, and
slasher in college.
Then, I think he, statistically, I want to quote a stat but hopefully I’m
not wrong, he was in the 40s early in his career and then at the end of
his career he was a darn good shooter,” Higgins said. “So hopefully we
can use him as a guy that we can look up
to.”
 

Then
a fellow reporter mentioned another all-time great that wasn’t a great
shooter early in his career — Bobcats owner Michael Jordan. 
 

“I didn’t say that. You said that,” Higgins said, laughing. “I’m not taking that one.”