The rosters don’t look similar and it’s only a couple weeks into the season so take this in the spirit that it’s intended, but this Bobcats team reminds me a lot of the way the Timberwolves played last year.
After so much mediocrity, the Wolves became a scrappy bunch that played an exciting brand of basketball. The Wolves were fueled by Kevin Love’s emergence as one of the top players in the NBA, Ricky Rubio’s creativity and electricity, and the discovery that Nikola Pekovic was a wrecking ball out of nowhere. This Bobcats team doesn’t really have any of that. They have a coach who decided losing wasn’t going to be acceptable anymore. They have a guard trio that has fueled their offense most nights, and their offense most nights is really good this season. They have a rookie swingman who is probably going to be the next great defender in the NBA.
The Bobcats don’t have much in terms of interior scoring or presence. Byron Mullens and Bismack Biyombo are the two key big men for them. Brendan Haywood is playing a lot of competent minutes. And this team is doing a fantastic job of hitting the offensive boards, taking care of the basketball, and finding a way to get shots at the rim. The Bobcats scrappiness and frenetic style are what reminds me of the Wolves of yesteryear.
This Bobcats team legitimately scares me tonight. It’s not that they should win this game, even with the Wolves banged up. It’s that they legitimately could win this game, even if the Wolves weren’t as banged up as they are. They win off hustle, and that’s the kind of thing that can bite a wounded team such as the Wolves. I think we’re in for a far more entertaining and tough game than you might assume.
(Quick note: I promised a Derrick Williams post by today but decided I wanted to wait and see how he played tonight, first. Based on what he does tonight, I may have to edit it just a bit and then I’ll post it tomorrow. But the majority of it is written. Some good comments in the game recap the other day by you guys. Wide range of emotions on Derrick right now and it’s making for much better discussion than I was prepared for. Great job, gang)
For today’s 3-on-3, the gents at Queen City Hoops were proactive and had their request for a 3-on-3 with me emailed to me before I even woke up this morning. So we agreed to go with the questions they’ve come up with for their preview and just shared the responses in both preview posts. Sharing is caring, folks. Spencer Percy and Brett Hainline are the brains behind QCH. They endured last season’s horrible team (ravaged by injuries also) and are enjoying the early success of the 3-3 Charlotte Bobcats. Both guys have phenomenal insight into this organization and the direction it’s heading. FYI: we did this before the news that Pek would be out tonight.
Let’s do it to it.
1- STATS: Bobcats depend on offense heavily and playing at as quick of a tempo as possible (14th in PACE- 95; 9th in Off. Efficiency- 102.6). The T’Wolves, on the other hand, depend on solid defense and slowing the game down (4th in Def. Efficiency- 95.5; 27th in PACE- 92.4). Identifying these differences in styles, what’s the most important aspect of the game for each team to focus on in order to have success tonight?
Spencer Percy, Queen City Hoops: The Bobcats have to be competitive on the glass and force some turnovers in order to stay competitive. On the contrary, if the T’Wolves win in the rebounding category and take care of the ball (12 or less turnovers), forcing Charlotte to operate more in the half-court then I don’t see Minnesota having too much of a problem winning tonight.
Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: The Bobcats need to push the pace given the opportunity. The offense still has a tendency to stagnate in the half-court, with Sessions or Walker forced to create at the end of the shot clock, coming off a screen. MKG and Kemba both put lots of pressure on the defense when they get an advantage on the break, and the Bobcats will need those easy points.
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: For the Wolves, it’s been limiting turnovers. When Barea or Rubio or Shved are at the point, they seem to push the tempo quite a bit. With Ridnour out there, they’re a much slower team, mainly because his passing and driving ability isn’t what it needs to be for a fast system. When the Wolves limit their turnovers, they’re a pretty good offensive team (which most are, I guess). For the Bobcats, it’s going to be defensive rebounding. Charlotte is a good offensive rebounding team but give up the second highest rate of offensive rebounds. Wolves are the eighth best offensive rebounding team in the league, even without Kevin Love. Take care of the ball and win the rebounding battle. Pretty simple basketball.
2- OPINION: Derrick Williams and Bismack Biyombo have both been a bit underwhelming following their lottery selections in the summer of 2011. Assess the early season performances so far this season from each and make a case for which guy you’d take moving forward.
Percy: This question boils down to upside with me. Biz, although struggling and seeing limited minutes under Dunlap this season, definitely has far more upside than Williams does at this point. To me, at least. I don’t know that Derrick Williams will ever develop into a true SF or PF. Biz will always be a difference maker on the defensive end- especially if he learns to stay on his feet vs every ball fake that’s thrown his way. Offensively, Biyombo is going to be a project for a long time, but it’s good knowing the Bobcats knew that going in.
Hainline: Williams and Bismack are both young, with good traits – Williams has the ability to play the 3/4 and can move out to the 3-point line. Bismack is springy, with long arms, and the potential to be a game changing defender. And so far, they’re both more potential than production – last year and continuing into this season. Which to take? I’ll go with the consensus wisdom entering the draft last year and take Derrick Williams for the long term, but I am not throwing in the towel on Bismack.
Harper: Both players have a problem doing something with the ball once they catch it. I love the way Williams is playing this year. He’s attacking the glass, he’s played really good defense against guys like David West and Carlos Boozer, and he’s taking better shots. He just can’t make anything. The problem for him is Dante Cunningham is playing out of his mind when he comes in, so Williams has a short leash. For Bismack, he just doesn’t look confident with the ball. It’s not the same player we saw developing in Summer League in July. Going forward, I’d probably take Biyombo because I like a guy that can rebound and protect the rim. Also, he would fit Minnesota better than Williams currently does.
3- PICK IT. At 5-2, the T’Wolves seem to be figuring out how to survive until the return of Rubio and Love. At 3-3, and on a two game winning streak, the Bobcats have started to establish their new and improved identity. Who takes the next step forward tonight in Minnesota and why?
Percy: Minnesota. And easily. This has the smell of a classic letdown game for the Bobcats. Played last night, had to fly overnight to Minnesota, changing time zones and going up against a team on one night’s rest. As I pointed out in the first question, as long as the T’Wolves take care of the basketball and force the Bobcats to play more in the half court than they like then I don’t think this will be a very stressful game for Minnesota.
Hainline: I’ll take the home team, Minnesota. The Bobcats are 3-3, but that includes 0-2 on the road, and coming off a game last night. Ben Gordon will have fresh legs, but the rest of the team may not – Henderson is out, and both MKG and Kemba were slowed last night by various ailments (never did figure out what Steve Martin was referencing about Kemba). Actually, I just realized the Wolves are now without Love, Rubio, and Buddinger (and maybe Pekovic?). I’ll take the healthier team, the Bobcats.
Harper: I’ll probably go with the Wolves winning
because I think Pekovic will play. Even if he doesn’t, this team has been resilient and playing phenomenal defense, which isn’t something I expected out of them. The Bobcats are on the second night of a back-to-back and on the road. They also haven’t won on the road yet. It wouldn’t shock me if Charlotte won tonight. I love what they’ve done to change the culture there. It’s just hard to win on the road in back-to-backs when you’re a young team. Even if they’re going against The Wolves’ second and third strings and Kirilenko.
Place: Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Time: 7pm Central Time
Viewing and listening pleasure: FS North tonight and you can listen to it on 830 WCCO.
Records: Wolves are 5-2 and Bobcats are 3-3.
We basically just have the Russian national team left on this Wolves roster right now. I’m granting Dante Cunningham honorary Russian citizenship because I have that kind of power. The injuries keep coming and the Wolves keep winning. I’m not sure how long that can last, especially against a team like the Bobcats who like to push the pace and attack you constantly.
We could be looking at a loss we didn’t expect coming into tonight. Hopefully, AK, Shved, DC, and the rest of the gang can make up for Love, Rubio, Barea, Chase, Roy, and Pek being out. Good god, that sounds like a lot of guys.