It always began the same: I'm holed up at my desk at my apartment with a lone companion: a solitary bottle of Cheerwine. A desk lamp lights my keyboard. I navigate through the internet to watch the night's Bobcats game. The day matters not; this is an everyday event.
And then the broadcast cuts and all goes black.
"Pick your poison," the Council of Basketball Gods say. "Death by perimeter scoring, or by points in the paint."
The venom the Charlotte Bobcats picked changed by the day, but it never took long to realize that both poisons contain the Points In The Paint toxin regardless. The relationship between perimeter and interior defense is a symbiotic one: help one another, and you will succeed. Cut off driving angles and ball movement, and players don't get into the paint as much. Defend the paint well and challenging entry passes can kill the north-south ball movement that helps create space for scoring outside. The Bobcats did little of this anywhere near a mediocre level.
In fact, the Bobcats were so bad defending in that little rectangle, they were arguably the worst at it. Despite the Kings' fantastically terrible 69.3% opponent FG percentage at the rim (compared to the Bobcats' 63.3%), Charlotte was targeted more, resulting in their ultimate gold medal in Giving Up Points In The Paint. With a narrow 48.3 to 48.1 ppg given up in the paint margin, the crown belonged to the Queen City.
Frustrating. Embarrassing. Hilarious. It was awful. Bismack Biyombo seemed to be the only big man giving a crap, whether that was throwing himself at driving opponents or just being in good physical shape (coughdiawcoughdiopcoughtyruscoughcough/dies of coughing).
But it's a new season! And a new world! And what a world it is! The Bobcats solidified their perimeter defense in drafting defensive phenom Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and another aggressive wing defender in Jeffery Taylor.
Then they hit a home run (THIS IS A CROSS-SPORTS REFERENCE I HOPE YOU GET IT) and signed very large human being, Brendan Haywood! Brendan Haywood, who stands 84 inches taller than an earthworm, also has long arms and is good at blocking shots. I'm not sure how good he is at shocking blots, but that's neither here nor there. What matters is that he is an inexpensive defensive presence with size that isn't DeSagana Diop. HOME RUN, SAYS I!
OK, but realistically, Haywood is 32 years old with 11 years' worth of NBA mileage on his bones. I would bet every penny I have (they're all somewhere in my car, don't you dare try to steal them) that he misses more than a Walter Herrmann's handful of games with aches and pains. And he's not even a gamechanging defensive presence when healthy. He's serviceable and a good veteran presence, but we can't kid ourselves.
So with a frontcourt very similar to last year's, what changes?
No. 1 is the Bobcats' current paradigm shift. As far as we've seen, Mike Dunlap instills in his players an energy that we didn't see consistently last year. The defense has looked more quick to smother looking to force turnovers and in general, just make ball movement difficult for opponents. With an offensive flow struggling, shot selection weakens and ball penetration becomes easier to defend. Furthermore, Dunlap has said he's going to commit more to teaching zone this year to help the big men, uh, not get embarrassed as small children look on eagerly.
No. 2: a more committed Byron Mullens. Mullens just kinda went through the motions defensively last season getting caught flatfooted quite often, but with Mike Dunlap there to further his defense, he seems to have gained more enthusiasm for the largest weakness in his game this offseason. Here's hoping the starting PF/C/whatever makes the necessary changes to become a better defender.
No. 3: Bismack Biyombo continues to develop. He's already a good defender, but some work on fakes in the post would be pretty cool.
No. 4: Tyrus Thomas not being ridiculously horrible. Don't hold your breath but maybe he could be not a human ugh-maker. He did put on some weight after losing so much last year. But his game needed a lot more than strength last season. At the least, seeing Tyrus not being thrown around like a ragdoll would be a sight for sore eyes.
At this point, that's all the Bobcats can really do to drastically improve their frontcourt defense. These changes may seem small, but adding a defensive set that may seem foreign and getting a mostly one-sided talent to learn new tricks while asking for young players to develop on an expected path is a good deal to ask for. Thankfully, I think we can know without a doubt in our heads, that we can't get any worse.
But may the Basketball Gods have mercy on our souls if it can.