(DA -- From the FanPosts. I've added a comment at the end.)
This was the Bobcats' first win of the season, and their earliest road victory, by my recollection. So why am I displeased?
It was a scrappy fight at the end and we won with a score that was typical of many of last season's victories - with neither team reaching the 90 point plateau. So why am I more concerned than I was when we fell to 0-3?
Let's take a closer look.
The squad had several key players continuing to languish in various causes of subpar play. Jackson is either playing hurt or his youth abandonned him entirely in the off season. Perhaps someone damaged his portrait in the basement. (A Dorian Gray reference. Obscurity number 1.)
When Gerald Wallace rolled his ankle off of Nazr's foot and had to be assisted off the court the gasp of terror from Bobcats fans (and gameday threaders) was almost audible. When he came back, he was obviously tender and he's likely to feel a lot worse after the locker room dose of canned ice or zylocane wears off. I'm already putting a question mark next to his name for Friday's game in Detroit. But there was something about the injury that was even more jarring to me than the possible loss of the Predator for a game or two.
I really need someone to explain to me the bench decisions Coach Brown is making this season. Derick Brown has had one of the hottest hands on the team in this brief season, yet when Crash got sent to the locker room, Derrick remained on the bench. Jackson was playing like he has all season - slower than Jabbar during the farewell season and as accurate as Stevie Wonder in a blindfold. Yet Derrick remained on the bench. We finally have a bench with some depth. It's far from perfect, but Thomas, D Brown, Henderson, and slowly but surely, Livingston, are all capable of giving quality minutes. Quality-wise, I would probably use them in that exact order. But that's moot because Brown is barely using them at all. Crash came back from the locker room and was obviously not feeling strong at all but Brown tossed him right back out there. I'm fully aware that Crash would have pitched a major fit and might have torn out Coach Brown's spine for a trophy, but that's part of a coaches' role. When it's better to give your star a chance to rest and heal, you do it. For the first time in 3 seasons we have a bench that has options that are quite capable, in one rotation or another, of weathering a half or even a couple of games without Wallace playing 40 minutes per. We're better with him, but we can get along without him fairly well on any given night. All it takes is some creative usage of the bench and other starters.
For that matter, Jackson has been largely a cypher thus far. If he is indeed injured, we now have the luxury of being able to sit him for a couple of days (if he had gotten a DNP-CD tonight it would have given him almost a full week off while only missing one game) without it being a complete disaster. We've all but played our first 3 games without him to begin with. What's more important? A healthy start that results in our losing 2 of the legs of the tripod that holds up the team indefinitely or having all 3 legs healthy and strong throughout the season? Even the most casual fan knows the answer to that question. When he's at his best he's essential, but there are at least 3 pine-riders that are playing better than he is at the moment. Let's use them and let Jax come back when he is again able to make love to pressure in the way that delights the fans and gives pressure a nice warm afterglow.
Coach Brown's bench choices have puzzled the crap out of me thus far and the examples I gave above are the primary reasons. My concern is deepening because these choices seem to be getting more perplexing with each successive game.
Also, when DJ scores his assists fall away. When he dishes the ball like a "true" point guard his assists climb but we seem to lose his offense. There has to be a happy medium. This young man is playing with a confidence and intensity that is rapidly silencing even his most vocal preseason critics and I'm thrilled to see it. Yet I still feel we need to find that place in the middle or there will be more than a few games lost this season because the wrong Augustin showed up. It looks like our point guard situation has resolved itself to at least being adequate but as everyone looking at the Cats can readily see...
The play at center is simply unacceptable. A lot of people have burned up ink and bandwidth discussing it, so I won't redundantly be redundant with my redundancies. It's easier to make a stew from snake knees and chicken fangs than it is to find a quality center without winning the draft lottery, but something must be done.
The Bobcats are rapidly becoming one of those teams that that has a couple of players lighting up the court and a couple of players stinking up the court at the same time. The cast members a varying from game to game, which makes us initially difficult to defend against, but look at the way the games are trending.
Defenses simply lay back from about the 5-minute mark of the game until the half. They identify which Bobcats have the "hot hand" going and which Bobcats couldn't score if the basket were double-sized. The opponents then come out in the second half and flat shut us down and driving through the holes at the other end. If you doubt me, look at how our games have trended thus far. Ice cold for the first few minutes, followed by offense to spare until the half, followed by a steadily declining performance during the third and fourth quarters. For the most part we've been able to scramble back into things late in the game, but not enough to fully recover until tonight. You aren't going to get away with that for long in the modern NBA.
It's fairly obvious that Coach Brown worked hard on improving our defensive play and turnovers during practice the past several days, and it really shows. We played particularly well on that level tonight. Part of that was because the Nets kept running the same weakside baseline ball rotation that has been so effective against us so far. Tonight we read the rotation and shut the play down. If you're uncertain what play I'm referring to, it's the exact play that caused the scrum at the end of the game. Most of it was because the guys played D up to the levels we came to expect from the Bobcats last season.
I believe that even if Crash is hurt we can grab another win in Michigan on Friday. We need to get 'em while we can because until we pick up a starting center by hook or crook the better teams in the league are going to pound us down low (yeah, Greg Oden joke, I get it) and as soon as we commit to the paint they will kick it out to the perimiter for easy jumpers.
I still have great expectations and hopes for our team this season. But the observations above explain where we have problems and the first half of the season may well result in another uphill climb into the playoff seedings rather than laying the groundwork that will let us rest our starters and truly prepare for the post season.
(DA -- The observations about playing time for bench players are an ongoing concern going back to last season, when I and many commenters here expressed fear that Brown was giving too many minutes to Wallace and Jackson. Assigning motive is tricky, because Brown is a complicated dude who's broken calcified conceptions of him in his time as Charlotte's coach, but I suspect he simply doesn't trust enough players on the roster to spread the minutes in a way that balances winning now and gaining experience for the future.
In Larry Brown's world, it's probably less anxiety-inducing to risk Crash 'n Jax's health by playing them 40+ minutes per game than it is to put a young 'un like Gerald Henderson or Derrick Brown out there for 18-20 minutes every night.)