HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Charlotte Bobcats have nowhere to go but up. Last season, they finished with the worst record in NBA history and ranked last in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
While they added No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist this summer, the Bobcats didn’t exactly upgrade their roster in a major way. But they did hire a new coach, who could make a difference, despite the fact that you’d probably never heard of him before he was hired in June.
Mike Dunlap is a numbers guy, which automatically makes him a favorite in this space. And as a numbers guy, he knows that his team had the league’s worst shot selection last year.
The Bobcats took 39.6 percent of their shots from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line), the highest rate in the league. Furthermore, only 16.3 percent of their 3-point attempts came from the corner, the lowest rate in the league. Combine those two numbers and you’ve got a pretty good formula for a pretty bad offense, no matter how much talent you may or may not have on your roster.
Highest percentage of shots from mid-range, 2011-12
%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
So Dunlap is trying to change things.
“We really want to play off the rim, the paint and the open three,” the coach said on Media Day. “I’m not big on middle jumpers. The Bobcats took more of them last year than anybody in the NBA. They’re the least valuable shot you can get, where the most valuable is the free throw.”
So, through three preseason games, how are the Bobcats doing with their shot selection?
Pretty good, actually. Only 26.6 percent (59/222) of their shots thus far have come from mid-range. Last season, that would have been the eighth-lowest rate in the league.
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has the latest update on the Bobcats’ efforts to improve offensively…
Dunlap’s biggest theme this preseason: Don’t do things in a haphazard fashion. He’s fine with mistakes, so long as players can explain their intent and learn from experience.
The way that applies to offense is he wants high-quality shots (open 3-pointers and drives to the rim that generate free throws), a faster pace and each player understanding his strengths and weaknesses.
“Spacing, ball-movement and understand who can make what shots where,” Dunlap said. “There’s an order if you look at the stat sheets: Who leads in shots and assists and rebounds all should make sense.
“Every once in a while you’ll have an unpredictable guy who leads you in scoring or rebounding, but by and large there’s ordered thinking on offense.”
Roughly translated, that means most of the shots should be taken by Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon and Byron Mullens, that Kemba Walker has to know where to pass to maximize his penetration, and that rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should reach the foul line plenty, based on his energy and ability to turn steals into transition baskets.
Three of the Bobcats’ biggest mid-range culprits last year were Tyrus Thomas (a brutal 64 percent of his shots came from mid-range), Mullens (54 percent) and Henderson (54 percent). Between them, they took a total of 880 mid-range shots last season. And of the three, only Henderson shot them well (41.3 percent). Both Thomas (33.8 percent) and Mullens (34.2 percent) shot well below the league average of 38.7 percent.
Thus far in the preseason, Mullens’ shot selection has shown the most improvement (sort of). He’s attempted 31 shots, with only six (19 percent) coming from between the paint and the 3-point line. Of course, he isn’t exactly getting into the paint either. Mullens has been bombing away from beyond the arc, attempting 22 threes in three games.
Henderson is still looking for his mid-range shot, attempting 13 of his 29 shots (45 percent) from between the paint and the arc. But he’s the one guy who can be efficient from there (he’s 7-for-13), and he’s also done a great job of getting to the free throw line (19 FTA).
Thomas has attempted only 10 shots total, but it’s encouraging that more have come from the paint (six) than from outside it (four). And new additions Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions have been doing a good job of getting into the paint.
The Bobcats still need to look more toward the corners. Only 22 percent (14/64) of their threes have come from the corners, a rate that would have been fourth-lowest in the league last year. One step at a time, apparently.
Yes, it’s very early. The Cats have only played the Wizards and Hornets, and the rest of their preseason schedule will match them up against much tougher defenses. But if you’re a Bobcats fan looking for any sign of improvement, the team’s shot selection thus far is definitely that.