A new coaching staff, five new players – all expected to fit somewhere in the rotation – and an age-old problem: How will the Charlotte Bobcats generate enough points to be competitive against NBA teams?
Last season the Bobcats were the NBA’s worst offensive team. As a team, they averaged the fewest points per game, worst field-goal percentage and worst 3-point percentage.
They’ve lifted themselves off the canvas this preseason, but just slightly. They’re 27th among 30 NBA teams in scoring (89.8), 27th in field-goal percentage (40.9 percent) and 24th in 3-point percentage (30.5 percent).
Offensive ineptitude has been a big factor in a 1-5 preseason record going into Thursday morning’s exhibition against the Milwaukee Bucks. Preseason records can be misleading, but this is more telling: They’re 29th in point-differential at minus-4.5 points per game.
While it was nice they came back from an 18-point deficit in Raleigh Tuesday to tie the Miami Heat late, it was against bench players. LeBron James and Chris Bosh were long gone from the game. A comeback against the likes of Rodney Carney and Garrett Temple is of limited consequence.
New coach Mike Dunlap has spent considerably more time in practice on defense this preseason than offense, and two of his better scorers, Byron Mullens and Ben Gordon, have missed some exhibitions with injuries. Still, Dunlap knows the offense is a concern.
“The first quarters have been light, as far as shooting,” Dunlap said Tuesday in Raleigh. “If you’re getting open shots, if you’re screening well, then you’ve got to look at who is taking those shots that aren’t going in.”
The team’s top two rookies have struggled with their shots. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is shooting 34 percent from the field and Jeff Taylor is at 31 percent. Low shooting numbers are not uncommon for first-year NBA players. More surprising is last season’s leading scorer, Gerald Henderson, is shooting 37 percent this preseason, though that is somewhat mitigated by his trips to the foul line, nearly five per game.
Asked if there is any pattern to the offensive breakdowns, Dunlap mentioned the start of halves – that the Bobcats seem to settle down in the second and fourth quarters following bad stretches in the first and third. The Bobcats had an eight-point third quarter against the Hornets in New Orleans and then a seven-point first quarter in their next game against the Hornets in North Charleston.
Dunlap said all the mixing-and-matching he’s done with lineups in the preseason has probably hindered his team’s offensive continuity. But it has also had benefits, like discovering Tuesday that point guards Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions can play together, with Sessions defending a shooting guard.
“I really do think the clearest thing we’ve found out of our combination is that Sessions and Walker can play together in patches,” Dunlap said Wednesday. “There’s a power to us that each guy can play the pick-and-roll when we swing (the ball). That makes it hard to guard us.”