When Mike Dunlap was fired by the Bobcats after the season ended, one particular bit of information stood out to me and helped me understand why the team did what they did.
Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions)
Despite completely overhauling the small forward position from Corey Maggette, Derrick Brown and out-of-position Tyrus Thomas to defensive-minded rookies Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor, the Bobcats managed to permit their opponents to shoot more efficiently than in their historically bad season.
This isn't a complete story as the rookie transition is difficult, even when dealing with two athletic wings that are frenetic defenders, and a complete defensive shift with a brand new coach is easier said than done. But regardless, it's a piece of the evidence against Mike Dunlap.
For all the intensity he brought, he could not change the culture of this team that so desperately needs to turn a corner. Going from a 10.6 winning percentage to 25.6 percent and increasing team energy is a great improvement, but outside of that, the fit didn't end up to be a good one. Dunlap was not a great player manager. Ultimately, reports out of Charlotte indicate that the players didn't exactly buy in to his philosophies and the Bobcats organization didn't either, resulting in a new head coaching search for a coach that could bring a culture change in Time Warner Cable Arena.
New Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford's colleague and fellow former Orlando Magic assistant coach Brendan Malone said Clifford is "defense-first," but he also knows his way around an efficient offense. The other thing people know about Clifford is his managerial and communication skills. He doesn't overwhelm players, but instead tries to talk on the same level so they grasp his understanding. Couple with that his playful, sometimes joking, nature and you have a guy who isn't dreadful to work for - a coach who can connect with a wide variety of people and personalities.
In hiring Clifford, the Bobcats clearly saw the values they wanted to reflect in their team: a devotion to connecting with each other with respect to improve themselves and certainly not without emotion. And they wanted his focus and skill with defense. The Bobcats view Clifford as a square fit to be the coach dedicated in the respects they desire most to lead the team for the future. And the future is exactly why they didn't stick to Dunlap, as Rod Higgins said in an email to fans shortly after Dunlap's firing: "In order to reach our goal of reshaping this franchise into one that can sustain long-term success, we needed to make this change."
With this in mind, the roster moves Charlotte makes are reflections of their vision of the direction toward eventual sustainable success. So when people ask which draft prospect best fit with Clifford's style, it's not necessarily just that, but also which prospect they view best fit's the organization's future. I'm not sure you can exactly parse one from the other at this point, to be quite honest. Though people love to label a draft pick as a "Cho guy" or a "Jordan pick" or a "Larry Brown guy" the draft is a much more organizational process than people want to believe. The coaching staff gives their input, the scouting department contributes their opinion, and then the general manager and president of basketball operations gather these, discuss them and come to a consensus. Sometimes the coach has more say in the process due to experience or ego *coughLarryBrowncough* but don't think that's going to be the case with Clifford.
Clifford says he's deferring to the experts within his organization about the franchise's newest player.
"To me, the workout is a very small part of the whole process," Clifford said last after last Wednesday's workouts. "As a coach, my experiences are that you're reinforcing things.
"The scouting department has been watching these guys for years. I think the worst thing a coaching staff can do ... is to come in and watch a guy for an hour or watch one film and say, ‘Hey, I like him better.'"
So with these things in mind, it seems the Bobcats are going to look to the draft to find a driven player who can contribute with some semblance of balance between offense and defense talents, but also at least has a foundation to be a very solid defender, if they aren't already one now. This kind of player fits into their needs, he fits into their plans and if the coaching promise holds true, he fits into the coaching style. Unfortunately, it seems this draft lacks the elite talent that would perfectly fill these holes.
With the common predictions that Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore and Otto Porter will be off the board by the time the Bobcats pick, it always comes down to Alex Len, Victor Oladipo and Anthony Bennett at No. 4.
Len and Oladipo seem to be two players who fit the Bobcats mold very well. Oladipo is a very talented guard that can defend with a tireless motor, great quickness, length and strength; and he has a solid offense including an improving jump shot and an ability to get to the rim and finish there. Len, who grew up practicing gymnastics because he wanted to be like Jackie Chan, is a pretty balanced, though less finished player at center than Oladipo is at shooting guard. He's a talented defender with the stride and quickness to defend pick and rolls well and the instincts and size to be a good shotblocker. Len's offense is still building, but his touch around the rim is solid with either hand and his footwork is pretty good. That dang foot stress fracture is probably the main concern, though.
And then there's Anthony Bennett. Bennett's an exciting prospect thanks to his explosive athleticism, strength, soft hands, finishing ability at the rim, offensive rebounding presence, and his offensive versatility in general.
But his offense is far from being the biggest problem scouts, analysts and fans see with Anthony Bennett. His defense is the issue here. It seems he has the athletic gifts to be at least a solid defender given his size, quickness, length and jumping ability, but Bennett lacks the focus to consistently put it all together on this side of the ball. He's Diaw-esque in his hustle to get back on defense in transition, and frankly, just shows a complete lack of awareness. Bennett doesn't contest shots well, often complacent in his lackluster defense by not even raising his arms to contest his opponents' shots. He doesn't slide his feet well as an on-ball defender or in the pick and roll. The combination of not sliding his feet well and lack of awareness raises a bunch of concerns in the pick and roll. If he can't hedge to save his life, team pick and roll defense is going to struggle. As an off-ball defender, he gets caught watching the ball and loses his man. Even in the post, where he should be a fine defender due to his strength and length, Bennett isn't physical enough defending entry passes.
Considering this plethora of defensive issues, I'm not sure I can see the Bobcats picking Bennett. The team could use scoring -- they were still 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency last year -- but it's easy to forget the team got worse on defense from the abysmal lockout season to last year. For all that Biyombo does well, playing the basketball equivalent of a free safety isn't going to work if you want a complete interior defense.
More than that, with Bennett's lack of balance between skills on offense and defense has to raise the question of whether he fits the team's vision for the future: toughness and becoming a much stronger defensive team that makes opponents have to work harder to score.
There is the chance he makes strides on defense, but at this point it's hard to say if that's likely to happen. Maybe Clifford can be that guy to instill the concentration and focus Bennett needs, like a Spoelstra or Thibodeau. From all we've heard, Clifford has the personal skills to get players who can lapse into laziness to work harder, like Hedo Turkoglu in Orlando.
I talked to our other editor Josh Priemski, who went to Canada's U19 junior team tryouts a few years ago, and he had an interesting story from watching Bennett at practice:
He was getting one-on-one coaching on post moves. Even there, just no attention to detail. [He's] very talented, just doesn't get "it."
To explain (I don't want to paint him too negatively), he just wanted the stuff to be done. Once he felt he had a handle on it, he moved on. Wasn't interested in perfection.
Granted, this was years ago, but that's pretty eyebrow-raising concerning his motor and work ethic. And he knows it, too.
When asked about the comparisons to Larry Johnson, another slightly undersized power forward big man from UNLV with great offensive versatility, Bennett said "I think we basically do the same things. But his motor was just crazy. I've got to get that."
Perhaps Steve Clifford is the man to get Bennett to become a more balanced player and one that can consistently bring more defensive effort and skills than we've seen from him thus far, but right now I think it's worth questioning if Bennett fits into the Bobcats' future.