First, the shopping. I didn't go into Lids or Foot Locker or Champs or Dick's, but among all the places we did go, only Wal-Mart had any Bobcats gear, and those were only pajama pants, crappy five dollar caps with velcro straps in the back, and the crappy replica jerseys. Only in orange. Only Okafor. From outside the sports-centric stores, I could tell the Bobcats were low on the totem pole, and I wished I had my camera to record it.
The apparel hierarchy roughly followed the attention hierarchy in Charlotte. The Panthers were front and center. Then Carolina Tar Heels basketball and football. Then NC State basketball and football. And then everything else fell into a mishmash of Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Hurricanes, South Carolina Gamecocks, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Red Sox, and Washington Redskins stuff. The Bobcats simply aren't a part of the Carolina sports scene the way the Panthers are.
Second, the evening. I missed the game, so that means I'm left to piece together a picture of how the Bobcats won, 115-108, in overtime. Pump up Cardinology, and let's get to it.
-- I'm convinced Emeka Okafor will never get his due in the NBA because he's not a dominant scorer and probably never will be. Dude is a walking double-double, and if we don't appreciate how he contributes to winning, a couple years from now someone else will gladly take on his contract. Look at the players drafted after him in 2004: This is the first year Biedrins has really outplayed him (and he's outplaying a lot of stars), this is the first year Devin Harris has probably leaped past him, and while I'd rather have Al Jefferson or Josh Smith at this point, we can't weep over passing up raw high schoolers who weren't even considered to have the most upside in their class (Hello, Robert Swift!). Given more playing time, Kevin Martin's turning into a great scorer, but Emeka's tremendous rebounding and defense make up a lot of value he loses in comparison to guys who pour it in.
All that's to say that the guy got 20 freaking rebounds last night, and no one blinked. In fact, the AP story included Okafor's line almost as an afterthought, as if the writer composed the story during the game and then realized at the conclusion, near deadline, that he should probably include something about the guy with 20 boards. (I guess the Observer chose not to send Bonnell on this road trip.) When he qualifies for the active career list sometime around the end of the 2010-11 season, Okafor will almost certainly be top five all time in Total Rebound Percentage. Please appreciate him.
-- Alexis Ajinca did not play last night. No word why, but he's in the starting lineup against the Celtics, for some reason that only Larry Brown knows, it seems.
-- Let's talk about minute distribution. On the first night of a back to back, against the far weaker of the two opponents, Felton played 47 minutes, Augustin played 36, Okafor played 43, Gerald played 42, and JRich, coming off injury, played 42. Morrison played 17, which looks about right, but Carroll and Mohammed only played 9 each, Shannon Brown played 20 seconds, Hollins played 2 seconds--yes, that's a single-digit 2--and JARED DUDLEY WAS INACTIVE. I'm not intimately familiar with this team's conditioning, but I'm going to look for them to get outhustled and outworked by the hardest working team in the league tonight, especially the starters.
-- About my boy, Jared. There was absolutely no reason to deactivate him, if he wasn't hurt. None. Let's say you want to "protect" Ajinca from the road crowd, then you deactivate the rookie. Simple. Let's say you still want to keep Freedom Fries available. The obvious one to deactivate is Matt Carroll, since the guards are the ones with a logjam, from Felton to Augustin to Richardson to Brown to Morrison, who I consider a two-three combo. Carroll only does one thing better than Brown, and that's popping threes. Everything else, Shannon does as well or better on a consistent basis. And even then, Richardson is just as good as Carroll from long distance, Morrison can shoot from outside, and Augustin has shown good range, too.
All that said, Jared has to rebound to be worth playing, and that part of his game has dropped off from last season. When Okafor, Dudley, and Wallace are on the court together, they should be a tenacious rebounding team, because all three have a nose for the ball. If one drops off, that's really bad, because the team needs every possession it can salvage.
-- About Sean May. He played 18 minutes better than he had all season, with only 3 points on 1-4 shooting and 2 turnovers, but an encouraging 5 rebounds. At this stage, I can't make out what's going on between May and Larry Brown. What I'm almost sure of is that Brown was trying to humiliate May in front of the home crowd. For two straight home games, May was in uniform, but rode a stationary bicycle at the edge of the tunnel leading to the locker room, in plain sight of any fan who cared to look, and in plain sight of the court, sweating out the DNP-CDs.
I hate Sean May the player, and I've heard plenty of stories about his legendary lack of motivation, but does public humiliation work against most lottery picks with guaranteed contracts? Or does it make the coach look petty and gimmicky?
-- Again, there's no rule that Raymond Felton can't score and distribute, just as DJ Augustin's ability to score is not an indication he can't facilitate his teammates' scoring effectively. The two small guards combined to score three times in the paint, and while JRich got inside a bit, when the jumpers aren't falling, and Okafor is the only one rebounding, we'll be in trouble, because the offense isn't getting guys close to the basket without extraordinary effort.
Tonight, after an overtime game on the road, the Bobcats get the pleasure of dealing with the Boston Celtics and all their transplant fans. There isn't much more to say about them that hasn't been said, but if Larry Brown actually believes that slowing down the pace, playing half court ball, and trying to grind out an 82-80 victory gives us the best chance of winning, he's out of his mind.
Run, dammit. Run. Use our speed advantages.