CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The league’s star rookie Michael Carter-Williams sat on the bench with a sore knee, but the Philadelphia Sixers (7-13) got a stellar performance from backup point guard Tony Wroten (21 points, nine assists, eight8 rebounds). It didn’t matter as six Bobcats scored in double figures as they got an easy 105-88 win. Here’s four observations from the Bobcats (9-11) win.
Article continues below ...
1. So far so good for Jeff Taylor in filling in for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Jeff Taylor started 29 games a season ago, so his insertion into the starting lineup Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — who is out four to six weeks with a fractured hand — wasn’t new for him but it definitely sparked him.
In 37 minutes of action, Taylor put up 20 points, 8 rebounds on 8-16 shooting.
“If he could play like he did tonight, we’d be happy,” Clifford said. “He just has to play the way he always plays. I think its an opportunity, he has the physical ability to play well at both ends of the floor and he has to just be the best player that he can be. He got off to a good start tonight. That may have been his best rebounding game too.”
Clifford said the main challenge for Taylor is the same thing most young players struggle with — remaining focused on the task at hand when things aren’t going your way. After a couple missed jumpers or a perceived botched call by an official, a young player can lose focus and miss an assignment.
“I was just trying to take the opportunities when they came to me,” Taylor said. “A lot of the same shots I made tonight haven’t been going in for me, so I was just trying to be aggressive and take what the defense gave to me.”
And while it didn’t look Friday night like the Bobcats would miss Kidd-Gilchrist on the offensive end of the floor, he’s arguably their best defender and rebounder for his position.
“It hurts [losing Kidd-Gilchrist]. That’s why Jeff tonight was good,” Clifford said. “Although the rebounding was not the rebounding effort we’ve had, particularly in the first half, they hammered us in the first half on the glass but in the second half it was better.”
They got outrebounded by two on the night but only gave up one second chance bucket in the second half to the Sixers, who lead the NBA in second chance points.
“It was more of a focused effort on my part because Mike’s out we’re missing six or seven rebounds a game,” Taylor said. “So I was trying to get in there and get more rebounds and that’s something Coach has talked to me about throughout the year so I’m trying to get in there and get rebounds for this team.”
So far, so good for Taylor on the glass and on the defensive end, where he held Evan Turner (21.5 points per game) to 16 points on 7-18 shooting.
However, Clifford’s not just worried about the defense and rebounding lost, he’s also worried about the impact on the rotation it will have. With Kidd-Gilchrist, there was a pre-determined rotation so everyone played with the same group and knew exactly when they were going in. That can’t happen now because they’ll have to adjust more to matchups and Anthony Tolliver will have to slide over and play some three against bigger teams, which wasn’t happening before. It’s part of the reason he believes they blew the lead against Dallas last game, they just didn’t have enough in the tank to finish the game because of the change in the rotation.
“This is for me uncomfortable but I told the guys it’ll be different most nights, which I don’t like at all,” Clifford said. “The best teams that I’ve ever been around is the way we were playing before — everybody goes in at a certain time and you play with your group. And those are the best teams.”
2. The Bobcats continue to give themselves a chance by taking care of the basketball.
Steve Clifford’s been incredibly clear about what his team has to do to win games and counteract their lack of perimeter shooting: Take care of the basketball, defend, rebound, and get to the foul line more than the other team. So far, they’ve done an excellent job of all four, and they were great again taking care of the basketball Friday night.
Philadelphia’s frenetic pace — the fastest in the league — can sucker teams into playing at a pace they’re not comfortable with or built for, but the Bobcats only had nine turnovers on the night against the Sixers’ pressing defense. They are posting the fifth fewest turnovers in the league with only 14.3 per game.
“[Turnovers] was good,” Clifford said. “Low turnovers is a critical area for us.”
Clifford wasn’t pleased, though, with the transition defense. Although they only gave up 10 points on fast break points and scored 22 of their own, the Sixers missed some chippies and especially in the first half, the Bobcats were getting beat back.
“What we did tonight is not what will win in this league night in and night out,” Clifford said. “Fast break points are rarely a good indicator of good teams in this league. Most years the teams that score a lot of fast break points are not the good teams. The teams that don’t give up a lot of fast break points are the teams that win. We gotta run back.”
3. We finally saw signs of life out of Cody Zeller.
In what’s been a wildly disappointing rookie class, the Bobcats improvement this season has largely glossed over the disappointing start to the season Cody Zeller’s had.
The pick of Zeller over Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore drew tremendous skepticism on draft night and so far Zeller hadn’t done much to prove the detractors wrong. The thought that Zeller was the face-up four of the future hadn’t proved fruitful thus far and he’d largely sat behind Josh McRoberts.
Heading into Friday night’s game Zeller was shooting just 33 percent from the field including just 7 of 34 from 16 to 24 feet.
He was more aggressive and effective Friday night, though, with 10 points, 5 rebounds on 5-of-6 shooting in just 12 minutes.
“I think that he’s learning the NBA game,” coach Steve Clifford said. “Tonight he was obviously much more aggressive. I think that one of the things that I can do better for him is to give him a narrower scope offensively of things to look for instead of just letting him play, which we’re trying to do that in practice so he knows these are the plays that I can be more aggressive on.”
One of the things Clifford said he’s seen already that gives him confidence Zeller will become effective is he instinctually knows where “the ball should go before it gets there” and makes smart decisions with it. He compared it to McRoberts, who does an exceptional job setting up teammates for open looks.
“That’s not coaching. You can’t teach that,” Clifford said.
“There’s not many guys like that at his size.”
4. The Bobcats are getting more points in the paint than we’ve ever seen before.
Part of a season-high 58 points in the paint came from Philadelphia’s terrible defense — last in the NBA at 110 points per game allowed, seven worse than their nearest competitor — but this Bobcats team is definitely different. The offense isn’t much more efficient, if at all this year, but they’re actually getting interior buckets this year and we’re starting to see the effects of the attention Jefferson draws. When he gets the ball in the paint, teams are helping down from the strong side or doubling from the weak side, leaving open shooters and forcing defenders to frantically close out to open up driving lanes.
That continued Friday night, even though Jefferson was just 6-of-21 from the field in a 14 point, 12 rebound performance.
“Al just made great plays,” Kemba Walker said. “They double teamed him and he kicked the ball out. The guards, me and [Ramon Sessions] and [Gerald Henderson], we got into the lane and we made plays.”