Charlotte Bobcats (40-37) – 7th Place
by Kyle Grand
Offensive Four Factors
eFG%: 47.9% (25th)
ORB%: 21.8% (26th)
TO%: 11.7% (1st)
FT-FGA: 0.219 (14th)
Defensive Four Factors
eFG%: 49.0% (9th)
DRB%: 77.4% (1st)
TO%: 12.6% (27th)
FT-FGA: 0.184 (3rd)
Coming into this season, the Charlotte Bobcats had only one playoff appearance (2009-10). After a subpar 21-61 2012-13 campaign, they needed a change in order to make it back to the postseason. Enter a new coach, Steve Clifford, and marquee player, Al Jefferson. Jefferson signed a three-year, $40.5 million contract and has earned every penny.
Behind his 21.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, the Bobcats finally have a go-to player to drive the offense and hold up the defense. Combine the addition of Jefferson with the steady improvement of Kemba Walker and a better bench, and — seemingly overnight — Charlotte became a much different and better team.
The first half of Charlotte’s season went about as how you would have expected it to. At the end of January, they were 21-27. But, then the Bobcats found their stride, going 6-4 in February, 9-7 in March, and are 4-0 so far in April. Charlotte is entering the postseason just how it would like – playing its best basketball of the season. In some ways, they appear to be the polar opposite of the Pacers.
Since the start of March, the Bobcats are scoring more than 100 points per game. Don’t look now, but the lowly Bobcats of the last three years are dead and gone, giving way to what could be a dangerous postseason squad.
The best thing the Bobcats do is get the ball to their stud big man and let him go to work. When Jefferson is on the court, he uses about 30% of Charlotte’s possessions. Outside of Jefferson, the Bobcats play defense, allowing just 97.1 points per game (4th in the league) and 103.8 points per 100 possessions (6th in the league).
Despite their recent successes, Charlotte, like Indiana, is by no means an offensive juggernaut. Even with their recent scoring upswing, the Bobcats remain just 25th in the league in points per game (95.7) and 24th in offensive rating (103.5 points per 100 possessions). If Jefferson or Walker are struggling, the team struggles. Having to rely on Josh McRoberts or Gerald Henderson to score is something Charlotte wants to avoid.
Gary Neal has only been with the team for 18 games (traded from Milwaukee), but he’s making an impact. He brings a boatload of playoff experience from his days in San Antonio and is solid offensively. He is definitely a player opposing teams need be wary of. He may come off the bench, but if he gets hot, he will cause the defense plenty of problems. If Charlotte is going to shock an opponent in the playoffs, it will need Neal to provide a spark off the bench.
Head to Head with Pacers This Year: Indiana 2, Charlotte 1
The first matchup, on November 27, was a 99-74 blowout in favor of Indiana. The Pacers smothered Charlotte, and C.J. Watson hit six three-pointers, including five in the fourth quarter to put the Bobcats away.
The second game, played on December 13, was much closer, but Indiana was victorious again, 99-94. Lance Stephenson was too much for the Bobcats, dropping 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
In the third and final matchup of the season on March 5, Charlotte came out the victor. Behind a monstrous game from Jefferson (34 points, eight rebounds), the Bobcats pounded the Pacers, 109-87.
Are they a Threat to the Pacers?
If the November/December Pacers walk out of the locker room, then no. But, as we all know, Indiana is far removed from those days. Because Charlotte is firing on all cylinders and Al Jefferson is one of the league’s best offensive bigs, this series could be a battle, even with Roy Hibbert down low.
Let’s not forget that the Bobcats can buckle down on defense. And, as the Pacers offense has come to a standstill, a very good defense is not a good matchup for them. Still, Indiana should win a possible series against Charlotte, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it took six games to get the job done.