Charlotte Bobcats: First NBA Summer League Game Extremely Encouraging
I can't believe what I'm about to say...
After Friday night, I am actually proud to be a Charlotte Bobcats fan. Seriously proud. Proud to the point where I am almost giddy with excitement at what I just watched.
Yes, I know it was a summer league game. Yes, I know it was against the Sacramento Kings and a bunch of guys who won't be on their roster. And yes, I know the NBA season is still three months away and a lot can change.
But boy oh boy, did the Bobcats impress me Friday.
In a 40-minute game (eight short of a regulation game), the Bobcats managed to score an astounding 121 points. They kept the Kings completely out of sync, forced a ton of turnovers and for the first time in, well, several years, looked like a good basketball team.
Let's take a look at some of what we can take out of this first game.
(Note: I know the summer league is relatively inconsequential, and it is entirely too early to call the Bobcats a good team. This slideshow is merely to look at some things we can take away from their first game, from some rookie debuts and from Mike Dunlap's new coaching scheme.)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's Debut Was Astounding
Stats for the night: 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 21 minutes played
I think those numbers say it all.
What a remarkable NBA debut for this 18-year-old young man, and it gave Charlotte fans a glimpse into the type of player Kidd-Gilchrist will be for years to come.
He played relentlessly every moment he was on the court, attacking the rim, taking a few jumpers (including a long three-pointer that he nailed), and defending tenaciously. He got the better of Thomas Robinson several times, stealing the ball from him and showing how truly sensational he is in transition.
I will be the first to tell you that I was one of those who thought the 'Cats should have drafted Thomas Robinson over MKG, and now I will be happy to tell you I was wrong.
Robinson is going to have a great career, and didn't have a bad night (aside from the eight turnovers, many of which were caused by pressure from MKG), but Kidd-Gilchrist definitely got the better of this rookie showdown.
He played so hard that it appeared, if for only a few moments, that he may have been injured on a physical play at the rim. He limped for a few minutes, but stayed in the game, and later had the leg rubbed. After this, he continued to dominate, so thankfully it wasn't anything serious.
MKG has officially begun to change the culture of Charlotte basketball, and if Friday is any indication, he's hopefully in for a fantastic career. He truly did it all in the game.
Jeffery Taylor May Be One of the Year's Biggest Steals
Stats for the night: 17 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 26 minutes
As I watched the game, the announcers seemed shocked at how good Taylor was. At times, he even seemed to outshine MKG, offensively and defensively. MKG had the better stat-line, but what Taylor did for the team Friday night extended far beyond stats.
He proved how good of an athlete he is, as he applied constant defensive pressure on whoever he was guarding. He created many of Sacramento's 20 turnovers, and helped open up others on the court.
Taylor also shot pretty darn well.
He went 7-10 from the field and 3-4 from three-point land. It looked like every time Taylor shot he was going to make it, and he proved to anyone who was watching the game that he should have gone in the first round.
Maybe he's playing with a chip on his shoulder, but I doubt that's it. Prior to the draft, Taylor was one of the guys I was hoping and praying would fall to the Bobcats at 31. Sure enough, he did, and the Bobcats got a true steal.
He isn't going to score 17 PPG in the regular season, and he was a bit weak on the rebounding front Friday (his one knock). Taylor, however, will be valuable to the Bobcats moving forward, as having him come in behind MKG gives the Bobcats an excellent pair of small forwards.
The Bobcats are also likely to experiment with moving Taylor to SG and playing MKG at SF at points during the season too, because they seemed to have a natural chemistry on the court Friday night.
He came at a remarkable value with the 31st pick, and he's going to give the Bobcats valuable minutes right from the start this year.
Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens, and Bismack Biyombo All Look Excited
Kemba Walker stats: 16 points, 2 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 22 minutes
Bismack Biyombo stats: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 17 minutes
Byron Mullens stats: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 29 minutes
Going 7-59 can be pretty demoralizing. Even on the face of Kemba Walker, someone who always smiled, the crushing blows of losing seemed to phase him by the end of the season. Byron Mullens, given his first real chance to play meaningful minutes on a team looked dejected by losing, and Bismack was outwardly frustrated by his play, and with how poorly the team played together.
But, for at least one night in Las Vegas, Charlotte's own "Big Three" (that's a joke, for the record) looked happy to be there. They looked re-energized. They looked downright excited.
Kemba's seven assists is an encouraging number, even though he's still taking shots he shouldn't take. At least he's beginning to realize that he's a point guard and not a shooting guard, and that it's his job to create for other players, which he did tonight. He also had a couple of seriously fantastic drives to the rim, displaying just how good of a ball-handler Kemba is.
Bismack was as physical as ever, and personally I thought he had a couple of questionable calls against him, but I'm obviously biased and not a referee. Still, he played well in the paint, his defense was solid, and he actually flashed a few signs of offensive capabilities. Some post-up hook shots, a few put-backs... it was quite encouraging.
Once Mullens got the three-point bug out of his system (he went 2-7 from three point land), Mullens settled into a decent groove. He is not a physical player, and at 7 feet, you'd expect a few more rebounds out of him, but he is what he is. He has a good shot, and aside from the cold streak to start the game, it was on full display for about 20 minutes of his on-court time. He also managed to get into the paint for a few put backs. Byron is turning into a Brook Lopez type of center—a good scorer, but not a great physical presence. He still had a great first game.
The long and short of it is, these three players, who by season's end looked dejected and ashamed, looked happy and excited right from the start. They loved being on the floor, they played well, and they have all made improvements. There's still work to do, but seeing them excited is a great sign.
Mike Dunlap's Up-Tempo Defense and Offense Is Working so Far
Right out of the gates the Bobcats were pushing a half-court press. I've re-watched the game now, and more and more I see the amount of pressure that the Bobcats were putting on the Kings.
Coach Dunlap wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to play quick, and that he wanted his players to be in the best possible condition. They're going to need to be if they keep playing games like this.
This is a team full of young, fresh legs with tremendous athletes like Kemba Walker, MKG, Jeff Taylor, Gerald Henderson, etc. who can all pull off the type of pressure it looks like Mike Dunlap wants to pull off.
It looked like every offensive possession for the 'Cats was a transition play, and like it threw the Kings completely off-guard.
Simply put, Dunlap is making his players run. A lot.
And if Friday night's game is any indication of what's to come in the regular season, the Bobcats are going to be winning a whole lot more than seven games. If for no other reason than they'll tire the other team out by the third quarter.
I mean, seriously...they scored 121 points in a game that was eight minutes short of regulation time. This, the lowest scoring team in all of basketball last season, poured it into the rim at a rate that is seldom seen in summer league.
They made the young guys on the Kings look old and under-conditioned.
I know it's just a summer league game, but this is exactly what the Bobcats needed. With a team this young and energized, up-tempo is the way to go, and Dunlap understands that.
His new system is going to make basketball exciting in Charlotte, and I'm sure the players are loving it right now. At least until Gana Diop comes and realizes he's actually going to have to run.
Are the Bobcats Going to Be Better Than We Think This Year?
I know. I keep telling myself it was just a summer league game against the Kings. But you have to understand my point of view here: I just spent a season cheering for the worst team in the history of the NBA. I'm looking for any reason to be optimistic.
I'm very excited to see what happens over the course of the next week or so with this team. I can't wait to see if MKG and Jeff Taylor can keep pouring it in like they've played in the NBA for years. I can't wait to see Kemba continue to pull off acrobatic lay-ups, and watch him open up other players on the court. I can't wait to see our very own seven-foot Byron Mullens take deep threes.
Are they going to be better than everyone seems to think next year? I'm leaning toward yes.
They still have pieces of the puzzle to fill in. They need at least one more big man to come in and help the team.
I hope Antawn Jamison was watching the game last night to see what he could be working with in terms of potential. Adding Ramon Sessions was also a big deal for Jamison, as they are former teammates and friends.
There's also Kris Humphries, a low-scoring, high-rebounding power forward. Humphries seems likely to re-sign with the Nets, so that's a long shot, and there will be many teams trying to scoop up Scola, so that also seems like a long-shot.
There are a few others that could come into play, including Brendan Haywood who was just waived by the Dallas Mavericks, but our best bet is Antawn Jamison.
Though, there is the outside shot that they sign both Jamison and Haywood, filling two holes at once, and giving the Bobcats some much needed depth in the frontcourt.
Regardless of what happens for the rest of the offseason, Friday night was extremely encouraging to me as a Bobcats fan. This team is headed in the right direction, and I have a good feeling they won't be the worst team in the NBA again this year.