LAS VEGAS When you inherit a team that went 7-59 – the worst single-season record in NBA history – you are both obliged and empowered to explore something different.
For new Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap, that means installing a zone and full-court pressure defensively and trimming down the playbook offensively.
As Dunlap put it, “we may have to do some things other teams don’t have to do.”
The NBA loosened up its illegal defense rules a while back, freeing teams to play more zone principles. Most teams use some zone, none more than the Dallas Mavericks did in their championship run two years ago. The zone helped protect All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki from foul trouble.
The Bobcats won’t go overboard with the zone, but Dunlap thinks it’s valuable enough that he spent considerable practice time installing it last week. He also is using a three-quarter court trap, both to play takeaway defense and to try to burn up some of opponents’ 24 seconds to shoot.
He’s been telling the players not to get discouraged when the zone gives up some open jump shots. That’s inevitable, but Dunlap can live with the tradeoff.
“The zone protects our big men,” Dunlap explained. “Don’t get down when they make some jumpers.”
The Bobcats had a lot of flaws last season, none more prominent than interior defense. It was not rare for them to give up 50, 60, even 70 points in the lane. New Bobcat Brendan Haywood, a 7-footer with some shot-blocking skills, should help, but the solution is also about scheme, Dunlap believes, and that in part means trusting the zone.
Offensively, Dunlap is open about the reality that he plans to have one of the NBA’s smaller playbooks. That’s for two reasons: He would rather have the players focus on executing a smaller index of plays than have them less reliable with more options. And he just doesn’t want to run a lot of plays when the alternative is more passing game.
The passing game, or what college coaches often call motion offense, is about reading how the defense is set and reacting to it, rather than a lot of pre-scripted movements. Dunlap says the “brand” he’s selling offensively is aspiring to be one of the NBA’s better passing teams. Leaning toward the passing game can only enhance that, he believes.
Notes: Center-forward Byron Mullens isn’t known for his defense, but Dunlap believes Mullens has the physical tools to improve considerably in that area. Dunlap said Mullens has good lateral quickness for a man of his size and that’s a big asset defensively in cutting off drives and taking charges.
• Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick, participated in practice Monday after sitting out Sunday’s come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a sore left knee in Friday’s win over the Sacramento Kings.
His not playing was more cautionary than anything serious. The Bobcats considered playing him right up to tip-off, then decided to hold him out. Kidd-Gilchrist appeared to be in no discomfort running and jumping at a practice at a Las Vegas YMCA Monday morning.
• Dunlap told Kidd-Gilchrist in practice Monday he’d like him to perceive himself as a “point-forward.’’ Translation: He’s a good enough passer that when he’s got the ball in the post, he has the green light to feed other players aggressively.
Dunlap considers turnover ratio the most important statistic in basketball. As he put it, “Over 1,000 games, the disparity in winning percentage (between those who do and don’t force more turnovers than they commit) is huge.’’
With that in mind, the Bobcats are off to a great start in this summer league: Through two games they have committed 22 turnovers while the Kings and Cavaliers combined for 47.