Bobcats plan to develop outside shooting from within
The Bobcats were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams last season. How do they plan to improve?
By NICK PARKERFS Carolinas
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.”