NBA Regular Season Game #30:
Utah Jazz (7-22) @ Charlotte Bobcats (13-14)
Remember that time Big Al sent the game to OT? That was awesome!
1. Steve Clifford is Coach of the Year this year, right? How awesome is that? Secondly, how does he compare to Bickerstaff, Vincent, Brown, Silas, and Dunlap?
Dave: Who? Just kidding, although Clifford has certainly made most Bobcats fans forget the last few regimes, if you can even call them that. It seems that the third coach in as many seasons has definitely been the charm for Michael Jordan and this Charlotte team. Clifford has great pedigree and experience and we were all encourage when he got such overwhelming support and votes of confidence by the Van Gundy's. But I don't think anyone expected him to have such a dramatic effect on this team's performance, most notable it's defense. He has gotten this team to buy in to his defensive philosophy and game plan, and just as important he's getting them to put forth maximum effort every night. That's been the biggest difference so far.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the team's best perimeter defense and with him going out you certainly looked for some sort of drop off. But performance-wise this team has been able to sustain some pretty good defensive effort and that's a credit to the coaches and players alike. He's brought in good team guys who work hard, Jeff Adrien, Anthony Tolliver and most recently Chris Douglass-Roberts who aren't making many highlights but step in when needed and play tough.
As far as comparing him to previous head coaches he's probably more of a players coach than Larry Brown and Mike Dunlap. Larry Brown is a brilliant basketball mind and a great coach and his time here as about as expected, short. Dunlap, even shorter, and Sam Vincent were likely in a little over their heads just in being the head coach of an NBA team, maybe for different reasons. Vincent and Dunlap both love the game and of course brought great knowledge, but as evidenced with the little spat with Ben Gordon you need to have the ability to relate to pro players as professionals. I think that's probably the one thing that wasn't quite right for Dunlap, maybe more so than Vincent. But ultimately they were both one-year stop gaps. I think Bernie Bickerstaff and Paul Silas will always hold a special place in the hearts of most Bobcats fans. Bernie stomped the floor with the best of them and truly expressed the exasperation of an entire fan base with every argument of a call. He did a good job of shepherding a young franchise. Silas had history with the Hornets, and therefore was welcomed back with open arms. It just go so ugly towards the end of his tenure he seems absolutely exhausted, for good reason. Neither were going to be the coach to lead this team into the future, and with Clifford they've finally found that guy. Thanks for that trip down a memory lane filled with shot clock violations and 5 second inbound calls.
2. Al Jefferson dominated last night. Was this his best game of the season? What do you expect of him going forward?
Dave: Yes I think last night's game was probably Jefferson's best of the season. The night before he had real trouble putting up any resistance to DeMarcus Cousins, as most post men do. And it's not like Jefferson has ever nee lauded for his defensive prowess, although Clifford and Bobcats fans will tell you it's been much better than billed so far this season. But last night against maybe the best young front court in the league, he could not be stopped in the fourth quarter. Given the way the first half was going, Andre Drummond this and Greg Monroe that, the turnaround was all the more surprising. Those two are very good at basketball and athletic freaks, especially Drummond, and Jefferson went to work with his below the rim low post game putting on a clinic.
I expected that sort of performance form him when he was signed. Not every night, but more often than not. You alluded to his play in your answers for me earlier, and I completely understand that sentiment from the Jazz fan base. He didn't even average a double-double in Utah and i guess I expected him to be able to put up those numbers without having to contend with a glut of other post players on his roster. He's getting pretty close now, just .4 rebounds away form averaging a double double this season. I thought he might even be a 20-10 guy, largely based on sheer opportunity. But, I think I now remember 20-10 is not that easy. There have been some games where the Bobcats have gone to him too much, and then not enough...so I think the players are still figuring out when to feed whom. But last night you could see guys were looking to get him the ball late because he was on a roll. Barring any more missed time I'd expect around those 10 boards a game from him and 16-20 points a game. But he's the first ever offensive big man the Bobcats have ever had, and he's a really good one. It's only December (never end December!) so I think these guys are only going to get more comfortable.
3. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Big Al were healthy all year long, what is your projected record at this point in the season? Why?
Dave: Of the three games they've lost without MKG, one was to the Pacers, no shame there, one was a horrible collapse to Kobe and the Lakers and the other was a dud of a performance to the Magic. So one fine loss, one bad loss, and one horrible collapse. It's hard to say if MKG would have made a difference in any. I do wonder if he would have been on Kobe late in the game as he sometimes sits a little in the fourth. But he isn't expected to provide offense, and they've been able to fill his defense with some good play from Tolliver and Jeff Taylor. Neither are the defenders MKG is, but that is more credit to Clifford and the rest of the guys that the team defense hasn't suffered as much. Charlotte's defensive rating is actually slightly better in December than it was in November. That being said the Bobcats are better with MKG, even though he's still figuring out a lot of things.
Al's injury came so early in the season, and the Bobcats were able to almost split those games he was out. He obviously would have helped them, so they could have been maybe two or three games better than they are now. But more than anything I think it just would have sped up the adjustment period. Some of the recent success you would have been able to see would have been more routinely witnessed early on.
4. How is your defense so good? Is it the coach? The players? Or a gypsy curse on the visiting team?
Dave: Certainly coach and players should receive credit, but it's Clifford. He's gotten the team to stop giving up the fast break points, which he preaches can be a big difference in wining and losing. And again he's been able to get them to play hard every night. He seems to love the personnel on this team and has guys who, for the most part, know exactly what their roles are. In year's past the team may have played hard, but as one opposing coach recently noted, the Bobcats are organized now. Having clarity about what is expected has really helped the players on this team, especially those guys in reserve roles. Take Bismack Biyombo for example. He can't shoot, he can't really catch the ball and make a move. But he can rebound and he can attack the glass. So Clifford and staff have charged him with rebounding and attacking the glass. He's been able to do that pretty well when put in the game. There are a few changes from last year to this, but it's Clifford who has had the biggest impact by far.
5. In Utah with Big Al the offense was always very okay, yet this season the Bobcats have one of the poorer offenses in the league. What gives?
Dave: Shooting still matters when you talk about scoring and the Bobcats aren't really a good shooting team. Kemba Walker has been playing out of his mind this month, and in particular his shooting has been off the charts. Last night he was 12-17 for 34, and that's been almost the norm since December 1. I can't imagine him keeping up that efficiency from the floor, but he's going to continue to get those good looks as long as Jefferson is out there. The starting shooting guard, Gerald Henderson, isn't historically a great shooter either. But he had another efficient game last night as well. The Bobcats will still shoot too many threes at times, but it feels like their learning what a good shot is more than not. They're also learning when to feed the hot hand and give it to a go-to guy. They've never really had a go-to guy, so it's a new experience. Walker is turning into that per meter guy and we know Jefferson provides that option down low. I look for the offense to improve as the season plays out, maybe not dramatically so, but they should be better. Ultimately though they'll need to add a knock down jump shooter at some point. They can run the floor pretty well, especially with athletic wings like MKG and Taylor. Walker will push the ball and has knack to finish well for his size.
6. What would it take to get Ramon Sessions in a trade? I'm asking for a team that's still giving minutes to John Lucas III.
Dave: Well, at this point I think the Bobcats would like to pick up a perimeter scorer, or some more draft assets. They already have a good shot at three picks in the first round of this year's NBA draft, and I'm not sure any team is going to be willing to give up spots in the draft. Sessions was such an upgrade over D.J. Augustin when he came in. He's done a lot of good things and provides a nice scoring guard option to fill in for Walker or Gerald Henderson if need be. But, it's certainly reasonable to think he and/or Ben Gordon could be trade targets as the season wears on. Could the Jazz be interested in a veteran shooting guard with a ginormous expiring contract? Asking for a team that has Ben Gordon. Gordon for Alec Burks and Marvin Williams works on the trade machine, I'm just saying. I need a shower.
Thanks a lot Dave, and best of luck for the rest of the season with Big Al! Check out my responses over at Rufus on Fire!