The Wolves host the Bobcats tonight at 7:00 pm Central. The Bobs are in the think of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and make their only visit to Target Center tonight.
David Walker from the excellent Rufus on Fire answered a few of my questions via email yesterday. We thank him for his time.
We were pretty high on Cody Zeller heading into the draft, but it looks like he's struggled as a rookie. What do you see in his game? What's his path to becoming an NBA contributor?
Right now he's not playing like a seven-footer. This (strength) was a definite area of concern when he was drafted and it's proven to be his biggest issue thus far. Too often he makes himself smaller, on both ends, and it never works out well. Whether he's rushing, which seemed to be the case early on, or just out of place, which seems to be the case more often lately, it results in him not gathering himself and making strong, purposeful basketball moves. He runs the floor like a gazelle, or a... ga-Zeller...ok, and when he can get out in transition with Kemba Walker he's at his best. Comparisons to LaMarcus Aldridge were all parts unfair, cruel, ridiculous and too much too soon. He's getting better with his outside shot, if just being more decisive in taking it. But it's not exactly resulting in a lot of hot streak shooting games. He should be able to get stronger and we know he knows how to play basketball so once he gets comfortable that should help in all areas.
We were also huge Bismack Biyombo fans when he was drafted. It looks like his playing time is down, but he's been more effective. Where is his game and what's his future do you think?
Steve Clifford and staff really zeroed in on what Biyombo needed to focus on and that was attacking the boards. He's never been the best guy to catch a pass and hold on to the ball. That's made effective offensive moves a challenge for the big man. But he was so raw, probably more so than anyone could have really expected, when he was drafted that it has taken him such a long time to be able to consistently contribute on the floor. When charged with just rebounding the ball and being a defensive presence Biyombo has been good. Even though he's still learning on defense, early on he would get lost following the ball. He's getting better, but the improvements have been so incremental. Giving him smaller assignments in shorter periods of play has helped. From the day he was drafted he's worked incredibly hard, and has been nothing but ideal from all accounts so I don't think you'll find a player fans are rooting for more than Biyombo. But because he just hasn't played a lot of basketball and has so far to go, it is tough to imagine him developing the type of offensive game Serge Ibaka has. I do think he will eventually get into his own groove on offense and be able to just receive a pass, hold on to it, and go. But it's not something I am betting on. His defense should continue to improve and with his physical abilities, providing the team is still will to be patient, he can contribute for longer stretches.
The Bobcats are 6th in the league in defensive rating: what are they doing well on that side of the ball? Is it sustainable?
You wouldn't think so, would you? I don't think anyone thought they could keep it going this long, especially with the absence of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the dependency inside on Al Jefferson and Josh McRoberts. But Clifford and his staff have done such an outstanding job instilling their system and getting consistent, organized effort from this team that I think they just might be able to keep it rolling. MKG should return in the next week or so, and that should only help matters, or at least keep them playing defense at the current level. Jefferson, much maligned for his defense historically, has been praised by Clifford and the team for his hard work and good play on defense. The Bobcats have been built to stop giving up the fast break points, the easy ones that can be the slight difference in close games. When MKG was playing, you would see pretty much every other perimeter player ignore the offensive glass and get back to thwart potential leak outs. Clifford made that a huge point of emphasis on a nightly basis and it paid off. Like I said, it was hard to imagine that defensive effort sustaining without MKG so if they've kept it going this far, barring other big injuries I think they'll still be a good defensive team this year. And A LOT of credit should go to Clifford for that.
The team made a pretty big investment in Al Jefferson. What was the feeling among the fan base at the time, and has that changed 35 games into the season?
It was split. Some fans hated it because it was going to make the Bobcats too good (first time ever written) and other fans liked it because it was the first significant free agent signing in franchise history. At the time I thought it was a signing the Bobcats had to make. It gave the team a legit low post scorer, something it had never had, in a conference/league that doesn't have many. It set a foundation for potential future free agents that Charlotte could at least be considered a destination, and I didn't think it would make them too good too fast. Of course I didn't really the East would be the dumpster fire it currently is. But once the signing was done there was nothing left to really do but watch, and from that standpoint it's been something most fans have enjoyed. Jefferson has been as advertised once he got his legs under him. He scores down low, and his providing double digit rebounds most nights. He and Kemba Walker have made the team so much more watchable this year. Because of the East being what it is, there is now the feeling that the direction and plan for the franchise has completely changed from building through the draft to building through free agency. However games like the one the Bobcats lost to Washington at home this week leave me thinking the team will still have a good shot at a high draft pick. There is no other choice but to let it play out now.
Obviously, the Bobcats are a better team this year then they have been recently, but still are hanging around the last couple of playoff spots in a weak conference. What's the plan going forward? How does this team get better over the next season or two?
That's the thing, they are either scrapping the draft picks plan or will continue to go that route at least through this year. It seems insane to pick this draft to give up on that strategy, but that's why you love the kooky Bobcats...so unpredictable! It looks as if the team continues to shop Ben Gordon and his ginormous contract (no kidding) to no avail (no kidding). It's possible they can find a trade partner as the deadline gets closer but what would Charlotte be able to get for his expiring contract? Ramon Sessions could be a trade piece as well but that same question remains. I would think Rich Cho would have to give up at least one of his young guys to get anything worthwhile back. They've been hesitant to do that and that's why I won't be surprised if they stand pat and take their chances that they'll have three first round picks (their own if it's in the top 10, Portland's and Detroit's which are also both protected) this year. Charlotte needs a knock down jump shooter. Walker is a scoring point guard, but having a Bradley Beal type player would solve a lot for this team. Gerald Henderson has gotten better but he's not a pure jump shooter. They need scoring from more positions than just one and five. I still think a few teams below them in the East have the talent to do enough to surpass them, and the Bobcats still have nights like the Washington game that keeps me from making the playoffs a sure thing. The team has been better with trades and signings than it has in the draft, but my guess Cho gives it one more shot.