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Bonnell: Coach Steve Clifford’s to-do list as Bobcats enter summer league

By Rick Bonnell
Rick Bonnell
Rick Bonnell covers the Charlotte Bobcats and the NBA for the Charlotte Observer. You can reach him by email.

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With Sunday’s first practice in preparation for summer league, coach Steve Clifford and his staff get their first chance for hands-on work with Charlotte Bobcats players.

Much has happened since Clifford was named head coach in early June: The Bobcats used the fourth pick to draft Indiana forward-center Cody Zeller, then the front office came to agreement with free-agent center Al Jefferson on a three-year deal worth nearly $41 million.

Clifford and his staff finally get to direct traffic on the basketball court late Sunday afternoon. Here are some thoughts on Clifford’s to-do list:

The Price is right, Part I: Assistant coach Mark Price was one of the NBA’s great shooters. Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a terribly flawed jump shot. Price and MKG will become very familiar very quickly.

The Price is right, Part II: Price was also expert at running the pick-and-roll. Point guard Kemba Walker thrives off pick-and-roll offense, but he can evolve as a decision-maker after the pick is set. Price will be a resource.

Biz’s business: I get that Patrick Ewing doesn’t want to be stereotyped as just a big-man coach, but he was one of the great scoring centers in recent memory. Bismack Biyombo is extremely limited offensively. Ewing can help and Biz is a good learner.

Cody, meet Kemba: Walker told Clifford he’d like to come to Charlotte to participate in some practices with the summer-league team. Zeller and Walker should collaborate well in the pick-and-roll. The sooner they learn each other’s likes and habits, the better.

Check in on Jeff Taylor: The Bobcats’ second-round pick a year ago, Taylor made a splash at summer league. He had a more uneven rookie season, but there’s potential there as a defender, driver and long-range shooter.

Zeller watch: Had the Bobcats drafted one of three injured lottery picks – Anthony Bennett, Alex Len or Nerlens Noel – they wouldn’t have had that guy for summer league. A good summer can speed a rookie’s development. Take advantage, Cody.

Lay the template: Clifford has been associated with some tough defenses in Houston and Orlando. Defense is about organization, trust and effort. Summer league isn’t too soon to start establishing a culture.

Make this a place players want to be: I hear Tyrus Thomas was disappointed to be amnestied because he was so impressed by Clifford in their initial meeting. I think Clifford has strong people skills – he’s smart, articulate, but humble.

Get more from MKG: When I asked Clifford about Kidd-Gilchrist’s limited offense, he said there might be better ways to find him shots. MKG might not yet be a solid shooter, but he’s a strong ballhandler, so there should be more ways for him to finish at the rim.

Integrate Jefferson’s game: Jefferson is a pure post scorer. He isn’t a particularly good defender. Clifford must figure the best way to exploit him at one end and mitigate his limitations at the other.

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