I frequently get questions on my email or Twitter account, asking what keeps the Charlotte Bobcats from closing out more victories.
Is it talent? one reader asked, or is it effort?
Neither is the biggest concern, I replied. Its experience, both individually and collectively. Seems like some fans reject that, but its the single biggest challenge this team faces.
Heres a statistic that really caught my attention: Over the first half of this season, the Bobcats started players with less than four seasons of NBA experience 84 percent of the time. Only one NBA team, the Houston Rockets, depends more heavily on its least-experienced players.
Plenty of teams play rookies and second-year pros, but few are so reliant on the kids. Six guys each with less than four full seasons Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Taylor, Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Byron Mullens and Gerald Henderson average at least 20 minutes a game.
The Bobcats arent pleading for sympathy this is the path they chose when they blew up the Gerald Wallace/Stephen Jackson/Raymond Felton group. But to think there wouldnt be growing pains inherent to this process is shortsighted.
So I think president of basketball operations Rod Higgins made a valid point recently when I interviewed him for a midseason report:
Our youth makes us strong, but our youth also makes us weak in a lot of ways because of our inexperience, Higgins said. We dont really know how to close out games. Thats the best way to put it without attacking anybody.
The front office decided the Wallace/Jackson core would get old without accomplishing much more than a couple of first-round playoff exits. Whats followed, for better or worse, is reliance on some very young parts:
Biyombo and Kidd-Gilchrist were the youngest guys in their respective draft classes. Biyombo arrived in the NBA with less coaching than any lottery pick I can remember. Mullens spent most of his first two NBA seasons assigned to Oklahoma Citys development-league affiliate.
Those arent excuses for a 10-31 start. But it explains a lot. If the front office now panicked and made wholesale changes toward an older roster, the pain of the last 1 ½ seasons would serve no purpose.
Every Bobcat with the exception of backup point guard Ramon Sessions is either a kid learning the game or an older guy here because some other team didnt want him or his contract. Coach Mike Dunlap might win a couple more games by leaning more heavily on Brendan Haywood or Ben Gordon, but whats the likelihood either of those guys would play a key role the next time the Bobcats reach the playoffs?
Think of playing time as a commodity. The Bobcats are investing minutes in their young guys the same way theyre investing millions of dollars. We can all quibble about whether Walker or Kidd-Gilchrist plays enough, but the general theme when in doubt, play the kid had to happen.
I asked Higgins whats more important this season: Knowing what they have among the young guys or winning the most games? Higgins said thats a good question without a simple answer. Its a blend, he said, between player development and trying to win games for the paying customer.
I get his point. But to me, its much more important to speed the development of Biyombo, Walker and Mullens than it is to win 25 games.
Five passing thoughts on the NBA and the Bobcats:
• That Memphis-Cleveland trade was all about the Grizzlies managing their luxury-tax problem, and that wont be the last of these deals. The new version of the luxury tax will more heavily penalize teams that cross the tax threshold in multiple seasons.
Some teams need to undo whats already on their payrolls. The way to do that is go to a bad team with cap room and offer future draft picks as compensation for salary dumps.
• Doc Rivers says hes not doing a very good job coaching the Boston Celtics this season. Its good that Rivers is tough on himself, but I think the Celtics mediocre record is more about that roster than how Doc is using it.
• Mondays Bobcats loss to the Rockets illustrated only too well how inexperience keeps this team from closing out wins. Houston tried something desperate with that fourth-quarter trap on Walker, and the Bobcats adjusted to this poorly.
• The Bobcats will go 13 days between home games during this five-game road trip. When the Bobcats went west in December, they played four games in five nights and lost them all. This time theres at least one day off between each road game.
Shelbys Alvin Gentry, out as head coach in Phoenix, wont be out of work long if he doesnt want to be. I wont be surprised if hes with the Lakers next season as Mike DAntonis lead assistant.
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