The Charlotte Bobcats are vital drama for the Playoffs.
by Pardeep Toor
Every once in awhile a team comes along that defies logic and reason. The ‘Tawn and ‘Toine Dallas Mavericks, ‘98-99 New York Knicks, and personal favorite, 2007 “We Believe” Warriors, are recent examples of chaos defined of the court. In short bursts, these temporarily glued together units shift the paradigm of what constitutes a team and the formula for winning.
A candidate this year: Charlotte Bobcats.
The Bobcats are one of the few teams who have taken on salary the last two years, mortgaging future first round picks and salary cap relief in an effort to win as soon as possible. Last year it was the acquisition of the unfathomable contracts of Boris Diaw and DeSagana Diop and when that wasn’t enough, they went out and got Stephen “Captain Jax” Jackson and Tyrus Thomas this season.
The resulting gestalt is a fringe playoff team with minimal flexibility for years to come. That’s in the plane of reality but I’d argue it’s a bit more – the Bobcats have the best chance to invert the balance of power in the Eastern Conference this year. Should they sneak into the Playoffs, the Bobcats are the League’s best chance of “believin’” again and pulling off an epic playoff upset.
Their strength is instability and uncertainty at almost every position. The book ends are loosely in place with a cluster of centers on one end — Tyson Chandler, DeSagana Diop, Nazr Mohammed, Theo Ratliff – none of them particularly effective and each doing little but taking up space in the middle. On the other end, Raymond Felton has been competent but inconsistent, amassing double-digit assists just three times this year. Felton’s numbers are a bit down this year but his field goal percentage has improved by four points (40.8 to 44.1), three-point percentage by 10 points (28.5 to 38.3) and his turnovers dropped from 2.8 to 2.2. He’s become much more efficient under the tutelage of a point-guard molding coach in Larry Brown.
Between the one and the five spot is where chaos prevails and rests the Bobcats’ greatest strength but also their most likely source of internal combustion. In some combination, Jax, Wallace, Thomas and Boris Diaw are going to play the 2-3-4 and possibly five-spot for the Bobcats, depending on how creative LB is feeling.
According to 82Games.com, playing Diaw at the five spot, while sliding Wallace and Jackson to the four and three, ranks in two of the top-five best five-man units for the Bobcats this year. Both those lineups have the highest plus/minus of any other combination (+35 and +43) and outscored their opponents 62.9 and 72.2 percent of the time.
My personal dream for the Bobcats – Felton, Jackson, Wallace, Thomas, Diaw – where there is defensive ambiguity from the two-to-five spots, ranks as the seventh best unit — it gives up more points per possession than it scores, is minus-one for the year but they also have been together for less than a month. Give them time.
As odd as it sounds, Wallace and Jackson are the constants on the team – the ones who can be relied upon for work and solid play. Sure, Jax is always susceptible to have a 3-17 night but that has become an expectation. Jax has been believin’ before and judging from the dunk contest, Wallace is not phased by his surroundings or the magnitude of the Playoffs – he’s going to get his 18/10/2/1.5/1.2 and call it a night, completely detached from the fruits of his labors, unwilling to relish in victory or agonize in defeat. Again, just making a conclusion from his (lack-of) performance in the dunk contest.
It’s the other two, Thomas and Diaw, who can elevate the Bobcats from an anomaly to memorable in the playoffs. I realize it’s irrational for me to still be waiting for the 07 Seconds or Less Boris Diaw but I remember what I saw and it was special, The Diaw who gets 15/5/5 is still lurking somewhere underneath the layers of body fat and millions of dollars and should he make an appearance at point guard or at center in short spurts, it provides a nightmare of a matchup.for any team in the conference.
With Thomas, the newest addition and potentially the most dangerous, the Bobcats have a specimen who can physically guard any position but also has the reputation of being a head case, which makes him assistant captain along with Jax on the Bobcats. Should his volatility off the court be harnessed on it, he becomes the athletic crunch time big the Bobcats have been scavenging for amongst the overpaid veterans in the League. With Thomas the question is always the same – can he consistently put his physical gifts in order?
This can all come together in a short amount of time because Larry Brown is a mad scientist on the same level as Don Nelson. Most of Brown’s career has been marred in transition and uncertainty and at this point it might be safe to assume that he relishes in all of it. Brown’s career is chaos defined and the current roster is a reflection of that insecurity. It’s volatile, unpredictable and plotting without purpose, which in Brown’s case would be another team next year, but for the Bobcats it means the playoffs, second round and believing.