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Posts Tagged ‘Al Jefferson

Some thoughts on Al Jefferson and the Bobcats defense-driven improvement

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After finishing with one of the two worst records in the league last year, the Bobcats spent big on Al Jefferson (paying him 15 million a year) and are now cruising to a playoff spot on the back of his career best season.

However if the NBA was played on paper, there’d be reason to doubt Big Al is responsible for this impact. In 2012-2013 the Bobcats finished 28th in offense (ORTG) and 30th in defense (DRTG), in 2013-2014 they are 24th in offense and 8th in defense. Big Al is known as an offense-first player who’s a defensively liability at C. Furthermore while Jefferson is averaging 21.5ppg it’s on .529 TS, one of the big movement in analytics is to claim high volume, below average efficiency players, are overrated. So an analytics-first person may say Jefferson has not improved the Bobcats offense much because of his inefficiency, while the team’s leap forward is on defense where he’s not contributing outside of rebounding.

But a case can be made Al has an in-direct impact on the team’s defense. I’ve been of the opinion for a while, defense is connected to energy. Not every team can play as hard as they can at all times on defense. If they due it may lead to a woeful offense, such as most Larry Brown and Scott Skiles teams. A team like this year’s Pacers may be one who is playing so hard defensively it may cost them on the offensive end.

The argument for why Al helps the Bobcats may start with this concept. By the offense leaning so hard on Al Jefferson, the Bobcats may have more energy to put on defense, both mentally and physically. Players like Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Bismack Biyombo may have a greater defensive focus because Al is on the team.

That’s in addition to tangible ways for a team to build more defensively now that they have Al. Last year Ben Gordon and Byron Mullens, two of the worst defenders and lowest impact players in the league, may have been playing because the coach thought “someone has to take shots”, pushing him to give minutes to shot jackers who are efficiency and defensive sieves. Big Al filled that volume hole on his own, allowing them to play more defensively competent and efficient role players.

The Bobcats are 1st in defensive rebounding % in the league this year (after finishing 29th last year) but are only 27th in offensive rebounding % which is probably a sign of coaching strategy. The Bobcats may not be going for offensive rebounds because they want to guard in transition more, or they may just be exerting more energy on the defensive glass than the offensive glass. When the Bobcats were 18th in offensive rebounding and 29th in defensive rebounding last year, they may have been likewise strategically targeting offensive rebounds more.

All in all, I’m of the opinion that talent often finds a way to win to their talent level, if they are well coached and play together. The Bobcats paid the money to improve their talent level this summer and reaped the benefits, in one way or another. They have a team who’s very good at defense and with enough offensive liabilities that the team may fall apart on that end without Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson using so many possessions at an OK level. That tells me Walker and Jefferson are important to their success. Every team still has to score enough to win.

Of course none of this is a guarantee. It’s possible the immediate picture the stats provide are right and the Bobcats improvement comes from coaching, an improvement of other young players and getting rid of Gordon and Mullens. But I lean towards Big Al having as important a role in this team’s step forward as it seems.

Written by jr.

March 31, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Looking at the Bobcats’ coming improvement in 2013-2014

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The Bobcats have become the league’s punching back the last few years, with the all-time bad 7-59 season after the lockout followed by a still dreadful 21-61 last season. Over the last 3 seasons they’ve managed to put together a group of young prospects like Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, but they are widely expected to be bad again, even after signing Al Jefferson to a huge contract.

I feel the Bobcats could make a large leap next year. Here’s why:

First, the Bobcats continued their long offensive incompetence by finishing 28th in the league with a 101.5 ORTG. Of the Bobcats’ roughly 8708 possessions (using FGA + .44*FTA + TOV), here is the distribution between the players:

 

Players over league average 105.9 ORTG (using Dean Oliver’s individual ORTG):

Gerald Henderson 1101 poss (12.64%) – 107 ORTG

Ramon Sessions 933 poss (10.71%) – 109 ORTG

Jeffrey Taylor 492 poss (5.65%) – 107 ORTG

Josh McRoberts 158 poss (1.81%) – 113 ORTG

 

Players under league average ORTG, but over the Bobcats’ 101.5 ORTG:

Kemba Walker 1607 poss (18.45%) – 105 ORTG

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 765 poss (8.78%) – 102 ORTG

Jeff Adrien 244 poss (2.80%) – 105 ORTG

Reggie Williams 160 poss (1.84%) – 102 ORTG

 

Players under the Bobcats’ 101.5 ORTG:

Ben Gordon 952 poss (10.93%) – 96 ORTG

Byron Mullens 681 poss (7.82%) – 94 ORTG

Bismack Biyombo 490 poss (5.63%) – 98 ORTG

Brendan Haywood 295 poss (3.39%) – 95 ORTG

Hakim Warrick 230 poss (2.64%) – 94 ORTG

Jannero Pargo 174 poss (2.0%) – 96 ORTG

Tyrus Thomas 167 poss (1.92%) – 88 ORTG

Desagana Diop 35 poss (0.42%) – 74 ORTG

Cory Higgins 20 poss (0.23%) – 90 ORTG

It’s easy to see what an offensive disaster the Bobcats frontcourt was. Mullens, Biyombo, Haywood, Warrick, Thomas and Diop combined for just under 22% of the possessions at a disastrous efficiency.

Al Jefferson used about 1436 possessions at 109 ORTG last year, above league average and way above the Bobcats’ average last year. Furthermore McRoberts who was added late last season, had great efficiency in a small sample size. Cody Zeller was one of the most efficient players in the NCAA last year, making it reasonable to expect at least average ORTG next year. The Bobcats also signed Anthony Tolliver who had a 102 ORTG last year on 274 possessions. Overall, the Bobcats should replace many inefficient possessions in the frontcourt with average or better ones. Bismack Biyombo will likely still be in the rotation among inefficient players, but is young and could hypothetically improve.

Other than the bigs, Ben Gordon’s combination of volume and inefficiency also killed the Bobcats. It’s unclear how much Gordon will play this year, but the Bobcats would be wise to sit him down and replace his minutes with Jeffrey Taylor, who’s both more productive on both ends and a young player worth developing. The Bobcats are also not done filling their roster and could sign more wing depth to take Gordon’s minutes.

Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist improving their slightly below average efficiency is also plausible, if they improve their shooting and general experience.

Overall, a lot is pointing towards the Bobcats offense getting a lot better this year, if not jumping all the way to league average.

What about defense? The Bobcats finished a dreadful 30th in DRTG last year. Certainly Al Jefferson is not known as a defensive ace and nor should rookie Cody Zeller or Josh McRoberts. However, it’s hard to expect they’d get any worse defensively in the frontcourt, with both their 30th DRTG and Byron Mullens taking so many minutes up front last year. Biyombo has the physical tools to be a good defender, thus if he doesn’t start making an impact on that end this season to compliment Jefferson, he may as well pack his bags for another league early.

More important defensively is the perimeter. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have great athleticism and motors, which should presumably lead to them to pressuring the other team defensively. Jeffrey Taylor also has defensive potential due to his positional intelligence. The Bobcats perimeter is built to be their defensive core and hypothetically, are a great defensive fit beside Jefferson and Zeller up front. Defense is also an area where making Gordon a DNP player or buying him out would help. It’s also possible that Mike Dunlap was out of his element as a coach in the NBA and is responsible for their dreadful defense last year, while Steve Clifford could provide an improvement. As a whole, amount of perimeter athletes the Bobcats have drafted lately could pan out on the defensive end this season. They may not be a great defensive team, but production closer to average next year shouldn’t be a shock.

Simply replacing all the inefficient offensive players with average players on that end, could be enough to push the Bobcats towards 30 wins. When adding in the potential for players like Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist and Biyombo taking their careers to another level, or a dramatic turnaround in team defense, the Bobcats could really make a rapid turnaround. My guess is that the Bobcats are closer to the 10th pick in the draft than 1st next year and that they have a puncher’s chance at challenging the playoffs. The most favorable comparison for the Bobcats would be the 2009-2010 Grizzlies, who improved to 40-42 after 24-58 the season before and a string of losing seasons before that. That Grizzlies improvement was spurned on by the addition of Zach Randolph and development of players like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Jr. improving the offense, while Lionel Hollins’ system and internal development lead to a defensive improvement. The Grizzlies didn’t make the playoffs that year, but they surprised by becoming respectable, foreshadowing great success in following seasons.

Written by jr.

August 13, 2013 at 11:39 am

The Building (and the Luck) of the Celtics

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The Sloan conference, as one would expect, is producing tons of great food for thought. The latest article on TrueHoop reports on Boston Celtic co-owner Wyc Grousbeck‘s statements about building the current stellar Celtic teams. The gist:

Grousbeck and his partners bought the team in 2003 and apparently decided that while the team was good it wasn’t good enough to win a title, so they tore it apart and re-built it with the specific idea of acquiring a Big 3 with one true superstar among the trio. These guys sound like visionaries don’t they? The TrueHoop piece mentions the risk involved in such a move, but that just makes the ownership group look all the more bold and unwilling to accept any form of mediocrity

I don’t mean to knock the Celtic management, but I think it is wise to look at the details here to get a more nuanced perspective on thing.

Rebuilding not with a bang, but a whimper

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