As coaches go, Larry Brown might best be described as a fixer – most comfortable in the practice gym, cleaning up the little flaws that add up to a bad team.
The Charlotte Bobcats were a bad team last season – 32-50, and as sloppy as that record suggests. There's much to be fixed in Brown's first season here. So Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell sifted through last season's statistics for five key areas to be addressed.
1 THEY MUST BE BETTER REBOUNDERS: This team has never been good in this area, but last season was gruesome. They averaged 3.11 fewer boards per game than their opponents, fourth-worst in the NBA.
Gerald Wallace put it well the day before training camp opened, saying the rest of the team puts an unfair burden on Emeka Okafor to grab all the boards. Interesting Wallace made that point, since Brown sees him as the primary solution.
“We should have the best rebounding 3-man in the league,” Brown said of Wallace.
The problem, in part, is Wallace hasn't always been a 3-man (small forward). He's had to fill in as a power forward for long spans of the past two seasons. Brown hopes not to use Wallace as a power forward this season, but that's no given with the lack of depth at that position.
Brown suggests Wallace and shooting guard Jason Richardson are such good leapers, they should combine for more than the 11.4 rebounds per game they did last season.
“We could have as good a rebounding 2(-guard) as anybody in the league,” Brown said. “And our point guards (Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin) should be good because they're athletic and tough kids. But we've got to get everybody” involved on the boards.
2 THEY NEED TO SCORE MORE AT THE FOUL LINE: The Bobcats shot more free throws last season than their opponents, yet scored 61 fewer points at the line.
The obvious explanation is they're lousy foul-shooters, second-worst in the NBA at 71.4 percent. Brown is already tinkering with how Okafor releases the ball at the line. He made just 57 percent of his free throws last season, so there's huge room for improvement.
The subtler fix is creating more trips to the foul line. Brown isn't entirely comfortable with a roster so in love with the jump shot. He said Friday this might be the best jump-shooting team he's coached, but the best way to get fouled is to drive the lane.
In particular, Brown wants Richardson driving more. He led the league in 3-pointers made last season (243), so teams will defend him first from the arc. With Richardson's quickness and hops, he'll get to the rim and to the foul line.
3 THEY NEED TO STOP GETTING SO MANY SHOTS BLOCKED: No team in the NBA had more shots rejected last season, an average of 5.8 per game. A study published on espn.com showed 12 percent of the shots Okafor took were swatted away, 9 percent in the case of Wallace.
In part, this dovetails the free-throw problem. Okafor and Wallace combined for nearly 2,000 shots last season, most of them close to the rim where the shot-blockers are.
Why wouldn't a shot-blocker go after Okafor's post-up shot aggressively? Until he makes his free throws, there's little disincentive.
4 THE BENCH-SCORING MUST IMPROVE: Charlotte's reserves averaged 24 points, worst in the NBA last season. That's 13.6 points fewer than Chicago's reserves, who led the league.
Some of this is self-correcting, as players recover from injury. Forwards Adam Morrison and Sean May missed last season following knee surgeries.
Injuries are inevitable, but as the roster now stands the Bobcats have three reserves – Morrison, Matt Carroll and Augustin – who will be dangerous scorers.
“Not to knock anybody else, but the bench scoring just wasn't there without Sean and myself,” Morrison said. “(Recovering that depth) takes so much pressure off J-Rich and Raymond and Gerald to have to play 38 to 40 minutes a night.”
5 CLEAN UP THE BALLHANDLING: For all their other faults the first three seasons, the Bobcats took care of the ball. That dropped off last season under coach Sam Vincent – they had more turnovers and fewer assists than their cumulative opponent.
The point-guard situation was a mess last season. Vincent didn't commit to Felton as the primary ballhandler until March, after cutting Jeff McInnis.
The Bobcats committed a top-10 pick to select Augustin (instead of Stanford big man Brook Lopez), so the depth is there at the point. Brown is known for coaching point guards first and for demanding smart ball distribution.
If they listen to what he teaches, history says they'll be less sloppy with the ball.