Stomp - The Roots (Undun)
I recall a short piece by Rick Bonnell a few days after the incident on the Bobcats' lack of toughness in a post-Gerald Wallace world. It focused on how teams out-hustled the Bobcats for offensive rebounds and how opponents out-muscled the Bobcats, "[allowing themselves] to be pushed around."
After two games so far, that cannot be said, at least based on those games. These Bobcats have heart that goes far beyond their talent. Maybe Boris Diaw is having a Contract Season. Regardless, this team and its mindset are seemingly miles away from the mindset they had last year. A young team has an intoxicating attractiveness to it. Everyone is under-appreciated or completely neglected by the general NBA fans, lending the players a need to prove themselves even more. They're more relatable for the fans as the on-court effort is contagious.
One of the ways we can see this is in rebounding. The Bobcats currently lead the NBA in rebounding and are second in rebounding allowed, creating the largest rebounding differential in the league by four per game. Stunning for a team starting a point-forward at center. Which leads me to the man himself. Boris Diaw has been abnormally good so far. He's been more active, a more integral part of the Bobcats' offense (18.8 usage percentage, highest since finishing the season in Charlotte after being traded from Phoenix, via basketball-reference. His assist percentage is at an unbelievable 38.3 percent, too). Further, his rebounding percentages have exploded from grabbing an estimated 9 percent of available rebounds while he's on the court to 21.6 percent. In the last game, Diaw had 16 rebounds. Last year, Diaw started in all four games the Bobcats played against the Heat and didn't have that many rebounds in those games combined.
And it's not just Diaw. Gerald Henderson's long been an undervalued rebounder as a guard. He has good instincts, athleticism and the tenacity to be a factor on both ends of the court earning more possessions for the Bobcats. Kemba Walker does this too, though he doesn't have the height to get as many.
Though this game pits two of the top three rebounders in the NBA (right now Dwight Howard is 2nd in RPG and Diaw is 3rd), Orlando is, on the whole, a very middling rebounding squad. But Howard is a specimen of physical fortitude, speed and agility like very few others in the NBA. He will give Diaw all he can handle, especially in the paint. Howard is one of the most talented rebounders in the league (Kevin Love cannot be ignored) due to his athleticism, quickness and hands in reading how the ball will bounce off the rim. He easily has the tools to keep the Bobcats' catalyst in their effective play in check, especially on defense.
And although the Magic are heading to Charlotte on the end of a back-to-back, this game will be a challenge like any other. Nothing will come easy for this team.
Outside of Howard, the Magic bring Jason Richardson, the aging ex-Bobcat who lives on jumpshots and can no longer be relied upon as good first or second option; Ryan Anderson, a pretty underrated valuable rotation power forward who can stretch Orlando's offense with excellent range and mediocre rebounding; Hedo Turkoglu, who brings what can only be described as incredible Turkoglu-ness (plays inconsistently, has poor shot selection, but is quite versatile as a Diawian point-forward) and can be the difference in Orlando being first series fodder or going further in the playoffs; Jameer Nelson usually rounds out the starting five, but he suffered neck spasms and left early in the game against New Jersey last night, and will be assessed this morning.
Their bench squad is, well, nothing I'm too impressed with. Glen Davis is there, replacing Brandon Bass in an offseason trade. He can knock down jumpers every now and again, and he's not the worst defensively, especially if you have Dwight on help defense. J.J. Redick fills in as the first swingman off the bench, in to add the three-point specialist threat as a spot-up and off-screen shooter. The rest is mostly underwhelming guards. Chris Duhon may be starting at point guard? Yikes. That leaves Larry Hughes at the backup! Fun times lie ahead. There's also the aforementioned Quentin Richardson, though he didn't see any time against the Nets.
The Bobcats will need Diaw's versatility to help find open teammates with pinpoint passes to take Dwight Howard out of plays to open up the interior defense. Gerald Henderson, as always, will need to bring his best to on both sides of the ball in shutting down Jason Richardson and finding the holes in Orlando's defense on weak side help and taking advantage of Richardson's lackluster defense.
Key Matchup: Other than the Boris Diaw - Dwight Howard matchup, which will undoubtedly be important, I'm focusing on the point guards here. Duhon is a subpar point guard with decent passing ability and is mediocre on defense. If Nelson is out, the Magic don't have another true point to back up Duhon, leaving Larry Hughes as the most viable option, I'd imagine. Larry Hughes was once a good defender. Alas, he's gotten old and is undoubtedly feeling the aging process. If D.J. Augustin and Walker cannot take advantage of such a weakness, I would have some nagging concerns.
Fun Stuff: Boris Diaw once won a dunk contest in France when he played in the French Pro-A League, prior to his NBA career. This video claims to be footage of Diaw's dunks: a baseline between-the-legs slam, a between-the-legs-bounce-alley-oop-off-the-backboard-360 dunk, and a free-throw line jam. It's grainier than the Zapruder Film, but it could very well be a young, trim Diaw. How the years fly.