Bad as the Charlotte Bobcats were on defense last season – they gave up tons of baskets at the rim – they might have been worse offensively.
We’re talking history: The Bobcats were worst in field-goal percentage (41.4 percent) and 3-point percentage (29.5 percent), but points-scored was the most troubling measure. Their 87 points per game was the lowest such average in the NBA since the 2003-04 Toronto Raptors scored 85.4.
How do they dig out of that sufficiently to compete this season? It started with upgrading personnel over the summer. Then it becomes about speeding the pace and thinking more about how to generate quality shot attempts.
There won’t be a quick fix, as was demonstrated when they scored 87 points on 40 percent shooting Thursday in an exhibition loss to the New Orleans Hornets. But new coach Mike Dunlap saw progress: They committed 10 turnovers, compared to the Hornets’ 21.
“To win on the road, you cannot turn the ball over a lot,” Dunlap said. “I don’t care where you’re playing, 10 turnovers in an NBA game is a good mark. That means they’re getting it.”
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 byand 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.
Henderson, last season’s leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, said the players are getting the new priorities.
“For this team, a good shot is different than it was for last year,” Henderson said. “Coach tells guys who can shoot the three to put it up there. And the way we’re trying to move the basketball should lead to a lot of open shots.”
The Bobcats have frequently run a drill this preseason in which they’re required to advance the ball without dribbling. The idea is to think ahead more as passers, to probe for holes in the defense. Beyond that, there’s an emphasis on running, which means top conditioning.
Dunlap ran a four-hour practice Saturday, followed by a 3 ½-hour practice Sunday, so he’s obviously pushing their cardio. Henderson sounds encouraged.
“Playing faster, getting the ball up the court, off both makes and misses, will help create easy baskets,” Henderson said. “Everybody is just better offensively, and we brought in a few guys who can score the ball as well.”