A promising start to the NBA season in Charlotte has come crashing to a halt. Thanks to a 10-game losing streak over the last three weeks, the only team behind the Bobcats in the Southeast Division right now is the Washington Wizards.
The Bobcats were never going to be a playoff team, but after matching last year’s win total in just twelve games, it looked like they were poised for a significant improvement this year and would avoid being a laughing stock. But, a return to old ways has been coupled with a deterioration of their productivity in the front court and has led to what we see now.
In seven of the last ten games, Charlotte has lost the battle in the paint and has typically been outrebounded. The front court players that started with such positive productivity has seen a marked decline, but not by any of their own doing. The Bobcats have fallen back into a bad habit of relying on jump shots, partially due to the return of the jumpshooting Gerald Henderson to the lineup from injury, and partially out of what can only be described as laziness.
The Bobcats have a problem in that only a few players have well defined roles in the team that create the same reliable performance every night. Kemba Walker’s performances this season have been encouraging and show what he can do when handed the keys to the offense, but outside of him the team has few players that provide a stabilizing force.
Ben Gordon is a player that Charlotte is paying $25 million over two years, but on any given night he is nothing more than a wildcard. He can go for 29 points one night and come back three days later and score eight. His status as a bench player makes him one of the most expensive backup shooting guards in basketball and his minutes are now being sliced up even more with Henderson coming off the bench as well and rookie Jeff Taylor having taken the starting job.
Taylor’s fellow rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a lot of developing to do when it comes to scoring, but his defensive numbers have slacked as well as Kidd-Gilchrist has just three steals and 11 blocks in the last ten games. He is averaging 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in that span, down from 11.6 and 6.9 per game in the opening 12 games.
Kidd-Gilchrist and Byron Mullens are the two most consistent starters in the lineup other than Walker, but Mullens like Kidd-Gilchrist has seen a dip in his production. In the first 12 games, Mullens averaged 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, but his scoring has slipped to 9.5 points per game and he is crashing the glass less at 5.8 per game. Those two will have to get back to the way they started the season, because Charlotte doesn’t have the depth or the talent to absorb a dip in their production.
Another major factor has been Charlotte’s play in the paint on both ends. On offense, Walker and his fellow players in the back court aren’t getting to the hoop with the same efficiency, which goes a long way to explaining the slight dip in the team’s shooting percentage to 42 percent, the same as Walker’s. As opposing teams step up their defense against the second year guard, the other Bobcats have to find ways to get easy baskets.
Allowing other team’s to score in the paint has also been an issue as the Bobcats, who led the league in blocks per game through the first ten games of the season have now slipped to fifth in that category. They currently rank 21st in opponent points in the paint per game and have allowed 42 points per game in the paint over the last three.
The center position appears to be in flux as Mike Dunlap has started three different players at the five over the last ten games. Performances like the combined 10 points amongst the three on Thursday in a blowout loss to the Hawks have not been unusual during that span.
Charlotte finally has a point guard that is a high quality player and they are eighth best in the league in turnovers per game as Walker averages six assists per game and backup Ramon Sessions is very dependable with the ball in his hands. But if Charlotte is going to right the ship and climb back toward a .500 record, they’ll need their front court players to figure out what’s gone wrong and get back to producing the way they did in the first 12 games of the season. Otherwise, it’s going to continue like this for the Bobcats and 2013 will be an even longer year than 2012 was.