For the first time since March of 2011, the Charlotte Bobcats have strung together three consecutive victories, a feat that gives the franchise its first winning record since April of 2010.
It’s too early in the season to say what exactly the Bobcats are right now. This time of year comes with a lot of cheap hype and predictions that will ultimately prove false. Skeptics of Charlotte’s early season success have a right to be critical, but if the Bobcats can sustain their current form for even half of a season, 2012-13 will blow away the expectations of fans in the Queen City.
At 4-3, they are just a few wins away from matching their victory total for all of last season, a year in which the team finished an all time worst 7-59. Looking at the Bobcats statistics, it’s tough to tell at a quick glance what the big difference is between the seven games they’ve played this year and the lockout shortened season of last year, so here we take a closer look at what has Charlotte revitalizing themselves into something more than a bottom feeder.
The most crucial part of what has turned the Bobcats into a competitive team rather than perennial loser is their activity on the defensive side of the ball. Charlotte currently leads the league in blocked shots per game at 8.1, and has seen improved play out of young point guard Kemba Walker who finished with four steals in Wednesday night’s narrow victory over Minnesota. He’s averaging 2.9 steals per game for the season, two more than last season.
The improved protection of the rim is led by second year center Bismack Biyombo who currently averages 1.5 blocks per game, but the Bobcats have four other players averaging 1 block per game or more. Adding the athletic Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the equation has helped Charlotte improve defensively around the perimeter and the improved effort from Byron Mullens on that end has helped Biyombo in the middle.
Lastly, the addition of Ramon Sessions has helped all around. He has become a leader in crunch time moments with his composure and his experience is helping Walker grow at an incredible rate as the second year guard is creating turnovers at a faster rate than he’s giving them up.
The Bobcats turnovers are down from last season to the tune that they rank fifth in turnover rate this season, but the most noticeable improvement is in Walker. With an assist to turnover ratio of 5/1, Walker’s stats could have him nominated for Most Improved Player if he can maintain it throughout the season. He has become an engine for the offense and with Sessions backing him up, the Bobcats are a much more efficient team.
As a team the Bobcats are shooting 43% this season, not a far cry from the 41% they shot last season and their three point percentage is more of the same but they have climbed to ninth in the league, up from twentieth from last season, in free throw percentage. The difference from the field is in certain players, particularly Walker who is shooting 43% thus far compared to 36% last year and is shooting less threes, instead opting to share the ball more. The Bobcats as a team don’t shoot the ball that well, but the improvement in turnovers and defense alone has been enough to keep them in games.
Walker hasn’t been the only one who has brought impressive shooting numbers. Rookie Kidd-Gilchrist is shooting 47% from the field thus far and is averaging 11 points and seven rebounds per game. His minutes have decreased in each of the last two games, but it would be a surprise to see him out of the starting lineup anytime soon considering the fact that his offensive contribution is somewhat of a surprise.
Since moving to power forward, Mullens is shooting 41%, up from 39% last year and is averaging a career high 11.3 points and 9 rebounds per game as he assumes a full time starting role for the first time in his career.
Critics of the Bobcats are quickly revising their expectations of the team, but growing pains will undoubtedly afflict this team throughout the year. They are still a long way from a playoff contender, but they’re already a bridging the gap from being the team that had the worst record in NBA history last year.
When this season tipped off, a good year from Charlotte was widely considered to be 20 wins, but given the potential they’ve shown in a fast start to the season, a more realistic number would be between 25 and 30 wins. It’s not something that coach Mike Dunlap can hang his hat on and rest easy in the offseason, but as he prepares for next year’s draft lottery, he can have faith that his next rookie will walk into a better team than the last few did.