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These are the Bobcats we're used to seeing, is it?
Trading for Josh McRoberts didn't exactly set the NBA universe on fire or crash any servers. Though not the blockbuster trade anyone had hoped for, the minor tweak was not pointless roster reshuffling. Charlotte flipped a mostly useless Hakim Warrick for a player with a smaller contract and more diverse skill set. The Bobcats didn't need to make the move. Prorating the yearly salaries for the last few months of the season barely saves the team all that much money, regardless.
In a move that essentially turned Matt Carroll into McRoberts, the Bobcats made their team better. Carroll and Warrick were (and are, I suppose) simply one-dimensional players. Carroll made earnest attempts to become a better two-way player and not just the jumpshooter we knew him to be, but he was well past his prime as a shooter and as an athlete. Warrick is who he's pretty much always been: a high-usage forward that likes to get to the rim but can't rebound or defend or really do anything else well. At best, Warrick was a minor plus on offense, but rarely gave the Bobcats a boost, all things considered.
And this is where Josh McRoberts comes in. Hardly a dynamo in his own right, McRoberts isn't going to be the defibrillator to revitalize a team completely, but his versatility adds wrinkles to Charlotte's offense, which desperately needs some.
At this very moment, Josh McRoberts could very well be the Bobcats' best big man. For some fans, this statement might be a bit outrageous. The idea of a player who could barely find playing time for our fellow bottom-feeding Orlando Magic to come in and quickly be recognized as such might be preposterous.
Whatever any of our feelings on the matter may be, Mike Dunlap clearly feels he's good enough to warrant a spot in the starting lineup. His emergence has proven positive not only when he's on the floor, but when he's off it, too.
For all his improvements on defense and as a rebounder, Byron Mullens is a streaky, often poor shooter. His inconsistency is frustrating. You might see a seven-foot replica of Kobe Bryant in one quarter and Larry Hughes the next. His shot selection and basketball IQ may pay off on occasion, but the occasions are rare. It seems moving him into a prominent role off the bench could be a wise move. Mullens can still get plenty of playing time and his errors can be minimized and value possibly maximized in this role.
When McRoberts is on the court, he adds a dimension Mullens and any other Bobcats big man cannot. McRoberts versatility plays very well in transforming their offense. Mullens' streakiness as a shooter can result in big gains at times, but he impacts the offense mostly in just that facet. Like Mullens, McRoberts has a decent jump shot and can really elevate and finish at the rim. But McRoberts has better shot selection and, more importantly, he is a pretty solid ballhandler for his size. He can move around the floor with ease with the ball in his hands and constantly is aware of where his teammates are, which leads me to my next point. He's also an above average passer. HoopData's current average assist ratio (a similar statistic to Basketball-Reference's assist percentage, aka rate of assists per 100 possessions) for forwards who have played 20 games or more with at least 10 minutes per game is 12.34. Their database seemingly hasn't been updated in a bit, but through six games in a Bobcats jersey, they have his assist ratio at 22.14, which is even down from his career average.
His basketball IQ, unselfishness, mobility with the ball and passing acumen make for a dynamic big man that permits the Bobcats to create much more off-ball movement to create scoring opportunities. Charlotte's shooting guards have been the main recipients, it looks like. Since emerging from Mike Dunlap's doghouse, Ben Gordon is back to old tricks, scoring 14.5 points per game over the past 8 games. The other main recipient seems to be Gerald Henderson
As has been mentioned countless times before, the Bobcats' offense relies heavily on backcourt production. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon are the lifeblood of the team's scoring, more often than not. As such, Charlotte normally got its shots from dribble-drive penetration. It's not often that the team's offense creates fluid scoring chances engendered by crisp passing and it's no coincidence the Bobcats are dead last in assist ratio (assists per 100 possessions, per NBA.com).
Unfortunately for Charlotte, the team's offense still seems like a futile effort on many nights, the most recent two games aside. But is that not to be expected when your No. 2 scorer suffers a knee injury that takes him out of the game for a few weeks? The team's off-ball movement has improved, though. Gerald Henderson has become a more prominent scoring threat in the past 20 games or so and Josh McRoberts has given Charlotte a useful big man.
Henderson may not have a dominant particular offensive skill, but he does a lot well. He's a good cutter with soft hands, can finish at the rim and through contact, is a decent passer and can shoot well. This year has been quite intriguing for Henderson and looking at his development. Henderson is getting 13.5 percent more free throw attempts and has increased his free throw shooting to about 83 percent, which is up from his career average 79 percent. And perhaps most impressively, Henderson's three-point shooting has increased dramatically, rising a full 13 percentage points from the previous season to an encouraging 36.5 percent. Of course, all that comes with the caveat that this is a contract year and contributions on a bad team can be somewhat misleading. Regardless, I think we're seeing some solid improvement on the offensive end from Gerald Henderson.
Another thing he's improved is his passing. It's not incredibly significant to witness a jump in assist percentage from 13.5 to 14.7, but coupled with a decrease in turnover percentage from 11 to 9.3, it's nice to see. In fact, since the All-Star break, Henderson's assist percentage is at about 18 percent, his turnover percentage at 8 percent and his true shooting percentage at 54.7.
The Bobcats' already poor scoring has taken such a hit with Sessions' injury, Henderson would have to put up superstar performances on a nightly basis to push them to the league average, which is especially difficult in the offense we normally see from them. I'm also wary to completely buy in that the Bobcats have completely turned the page. The wins against Washington and Toronto have been extremely encouraging, but I cannot simply forget the previous games in which the team's opponents stomped them with much less resistance. They may look like a completely different team, but I'm not sold that other team won't return.
However, make no bones about it - the signs are there - the Bobcats' offense seems to be improving and evolving from the rut of playground-style with Gerald Henderson and Josh McRoberts as the driving factors.