It looked like we were in for another tough ride this season if you watched Charlotte’s opening preseason loss to the Atlanta Hawks. A close loss in which no one played exceptionally well. Concepts discussed by coaches and players in interviews were clearly not coming to fruition early on.
Then came the loss to the reigning champs, the Miami Heat. The Bobcats played worse in this game, and in the process lost Al Jefferson for at least the rest of preseason with a sprained ankle. If you were watching that game and you’re a Charlotte fan, your heart absolutely bottomed out, because it looked bad. Jefferson, the $40 million dollar man and starting center for this team, being helped off the floor without putting any pressure on his foot.
With Big Al out, that put him on the injury list with fellow veteran center Brendan Haywood, Charlotte’s third-option center, leaving only Bismack Biyombo as the natural roster center for the Bobcats who isn’t injured.
Then, finally, the Bobcats got a bit of good news. Al Jefferson’s x-rays came back negative, and while he’s on crutches and in a walking boot, Jefferson believes he will be ready to play by opening night for Charlotte.
Cody Zeller, after a hot spring training, has cooled off significantly in preseason. In the Bobcats’ first win (an ugly win) this preseason in a game against the Bucks, Zeller scored a whopping zero points in over 25 minutes.
Oh God, Bobcats fans are thinking. Bismack Biyombo had over 20 rebounds in that game though, so there was some good news.
But finally, in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it seems like the Bobcats are finally finding their stride. Players are realizing their roles. Coach Steve Clifford decided to start Josh McRoberts at PF instead of Zeller, likely to make sure the rookie out of Indiana realizes that this is preseason, and he’s trying to do too much. McRoberts played well, scoring 11 points and grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing out 2 assists, while playing stout defense and notching an impressive 4 steals.
Zeller came in playing more as a center than a PF due to depth at the center position, and while he only scored 7 points on 3 of 6 shooting, he did grab 9 rebounds, and looked much more comfortable on the floor in his 26 minutes. He’s still working out the kinks, but the zero point game seems to be something that won’t happen often. Zeller simply has too much talent and is too smart to have games like that very often.
It doesn’t help that his main frontcourt partner, Big Al, is out indefinitely.
Further, tip your hats to well played games for Kemba Walker, who led the Bobcats in scoring with 14 points, and went head-to-head and managed to hang in with Kyrie Irving, who most consider to be one of the three best point guards in the NBA.
The final stat-line for Kemba: 14 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block.
Kyrie’s stat-line: 15 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
Point: The two point guards went head to head, and kept each other at bay. For Kyrie that may be considered a disappointment, because while Kemba Walker is, without a doubt, one of the major bright up-and-comers in the league, he’s not considered anywhere near the same tier as Kyrie.
For Kemba, a job well done, and easily his best game of the preseason. Bismack Biyombo also did well, scoring only 5 points, but grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking 2 (though, technically, I saw at least 3) shots.
The real winner here? You won’t be able to tell statistically, but it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He may have only scored 9 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and recorded a block and a steal, but he hit a couple of long-range jumpers, and was extremely active on the boards, blocking out and helping Biz and Zeller get their combined 20 rebounds. He also did a great job defending, and penetrating. It wasn’t a statistically impressive game, but it was a game in which MKG proved that he is improving.
Aside from Ben Gordon’s puzzling double-technical and automatic ejection after a made shot, everyone on the team seemed to play up to what Clifford wants them to do. They played fast, moved the ball well, penetrated with ease, got to the free throw line, and played very good defense after the first period.
It gave me hope as a Bobcat fan that this team, despite the lack of flashy statistics, is improving with every game, and it seems like they are finally starting to play into the system Steve Clifford has set up for them.
Thank Goodness. Things were scary there for a while.