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.”