The Charlotte Bobcats have been one of the losingest franchises in the history of NBA basketball over the past decade of their existence and have only made one playoff appearance. Prognosticators point to a plethora of reasons for their history of poor play. Primary amongst them are lousy draft picks, a dearth of playoff-hardened veterans and poor management, all of which are a direct reflection of the management sensibilities of team owner and general manager Michael Jordan. The Bobcats have been so bad that every time they defeated a playoff contending team early in the year it was looked upon as that team having a down game rather than the Bobcats rising to the occasion. Plainly put, they are not supposed to beat the elite. They were supposed to suffer through yet another season of being an also-ran. Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte is supposed to be void of any enthusiasm and Bobcats scouts are supposed to be getting ready to pick another would-be savior to come in and stink up the place next season. However, that’s not what’s going down right now.
The Charlotte Bobcats currently sit in 7th place in the Eastern Conference after defeating another playoff team in the Brooklyn Nets (currently 5th place in the East) and are gearing up for their first playoff run in four years. So what gives? The acquisition of C/F Al Jefferson and the emergence of PG Kemba Walker, that's what gives. Even prior to being wooed by Charlotte, Al Jefferson has proven to be a top-level scorer from the center position and is currently averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds per game this season. One knock on him has been that he isn’t a good man to man defensive player, but that is a bit of an exaggeration. Jefferson is averaging 1.7 blocks per game this season. In addition, there aren't many true centers who can create their own offense in the modern NBA either.
Whenever the Bobcats need a bucket in the half court late in the game, Jefferson is getting a lion’s share of the touches. The other touches are going to Walker. The former ninth overall pick in the 2011 Draft can score on almost any point guard in the league. Step back jump shots, crossover dribble moves and fearless dashes to the basket are but a few of his considerable attributes. He still gets the business when the NBA’s top scoring point guards come to town, he has proven that he can ball with the best of them and his defensive instincts are better now than they have ever been. His steal numbers are down from the two he averaged last season, but that is likely because he’s learned to gamble less and simply slide his feet rather than reach all the time.
As key as the aforementioned players are to the current standing of the Bobcats, basketball is a team game. High-flying shooting guard Henderson (14 points per game) seems to have settled into a supporting role to Jefferson and Walker but can heat up in a blink. Also, the midseason acquisition of former combo guard Gary Neal is paying dividends, and center Josh McRoberts, who was playing a cat and mouse game with the D-League only a few seasons ago, provides scoring, rebounding and glue work. Couple that with bench scoring from Chris Douglas-Roberts and you have an okay scoring punch at every position. However, the Bobcats hang their hats on the defensive end and currently ranks eighth overall on defense.
Throughout the NBA the vast majority of the top scorers are small forwards, which Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is charged with defending on a night-in-night-out basis. He has had some success, but he also bore the brunt of a 60-point outburst from Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and LeBron James of the Miami Heat. He’s supposed to be a defensive stopper, but Charlotte’s current standing in the East means the Bobcats will either face Paul George and the Indiana Pacers or LeBron James if the playoffs started today. That spells all kinds of doom and gloom for the Charlotte fan base. But hey, the team wasn’t even supposed be in the playoff picture this year; however, thanks to the signing of Al Jefferson and an emphasis on defense instilled by first year coach Steve Clifford, things are looking up. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the entire conference is in a down year.
When the Charlotte Bobcats were considered the worst team in the NBA, critics pointed the finger at Michael Jordan more often than not. However, with this recent turnaround, one wonders where the accolades will fall. Whoever the Bobcats face in the playoffs, it is almost a foregone conclusion that they will be eliminated in short order. However, this bodes well for the prospect of adding veteran leadership for next season. Hopefully, they will continue to build on this modest success.